We're saying goodbye to these delicious nights out.
For foodies, one of the biggest losses in 2020 was a decadent meal out–whether an innovative and fun brunch or a multi-course dinner extending late into the evening. Due to concerns about catching or spreading the virus, and city- or state-mandated orders for limited occupancies, that all came to a screeching halt.
Some of those places never reopened—a sad demise. We’re not talking about celeb-chef, hard-to-get-a-reservation kinds of places. It’s those soup counters, classic date-nights out, and family-run diners that have been institutions for half a century or more. Quite a few were launched by immigrants new to the country and eager to share their country’s cuisine.
From pierogis to French food, here’s a snapshot of some of the iconic and legendary restaurants—all independently owned—that shuttered this year. While many temporarily closed due to the pandemic, these are instances where owners publicly declared they are—for now—calling it quits.
New York City
If you’ve seen the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, you’ve glimpsed interiors of this tony-but-casual restaurant tucked into Central Park and hugging a lake. Despite a commitment to reopen this past season, Loeb Boathouse remained closed and media outlets, including Eater, reported this past fall it’s shuttered for good and employees permanently laid off. Built in 1954 and funded by Carl and Adeline Loeb, the boathouse’s dining featured entrees like red-wine braised lamb shank and cast-iron chicken, paired with lake views. There was also an outdoor terrace.
San Francisco, California
Although leased through the National Park Service, the true stewards of this all-day diner concept were its owners, the Hontalas, who owned it since 1937 before closing in July. Bill and Tom Hontalas continued the legacy begun by their grandfather, a Greek immigrant. Cozied up in a booth, you really felt like you were on a cliff over the bay. The menu spanned classics (like root-beer floats, egg benedicts, and hot cakes) to new twists to keep up with the city’s cutting-edge dining scene and dietary needs (like a veggie burger) while retaining signature favorites like Shrimp Louis Salad, Lucas’ Chiliburger, and Greg’s Cheesy Cheese Omelette.
John’s Famous Stew
The country, including Indy, was an entirely different place in 1911. But the constant, up until July, was sitting down to a bowl of Macedonian-style stew here. Two brothers, immigrants from Macedonia, opened John’s Famous Stew hell-bent on serving their mother’s hot beef goodness in a bowl. Mary Caito was the current owner when it closed and had been so for the last 40-some years.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
New Orleans, Louisiana
Before celeb chef Emeril Lagasse brought his “Bam!” cooking to live TV, he learned to cook Cajun and Creole cuisine at K-Paul’s, under the tutelage of Paul Prudhomme. After giving it a long run (from 1979 to 2015), Prudhomme handed over the apron to his niece (Brenda Prudhomme), who announced she and chef Paul Miller would be closing in July. But before going completely dark, they offered a rare gift: the opportunity to buy the restaurant’s artifacts, listed here.
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
It’s not easy to find Johnny Cakes (cornmeal flatbread) outside of Jamaica, but Rhode Islanders knew to go to Oatley’s for the hook-up. Until June, that is, when owner Vaughn Oatley announced he was closing the diner-style, breakfast-centric restaurant as a casualty of COVID-19. From 1976 to 2000, Oatley’s parents (Vernon J. and Phyllis) ran the restaurant, until he took over.
Jeanne d’Arc Restaurant
San Francisco, California
In July it was an unfortunate “au revoir” to this longtime French bistro in the city’s Union Square neighborhood, tucked into the lower level of Cornell Hotel de France and named for France’s Joan of Arc. Since 1972, diners were treated to delicacies like lamb loin accented by truffle sauce, or Grand Marnier soufflé, orchestrated by owners Claude and Micheline Lambert. The four-course, prix-fixe menu changed every day to reflect what was in season and fresh.
Plum Tree Inn
Los Angeles, California
Blaming “these uncertain times” this Sichuan-style Chinatown restaurant closed its doors for good in July, after 40 years in business. Owner Mark Ting dished up success not just here but also across Los Angeles and in Las Vegas and Toronto (via Plum Tree Express). Even in a city like L.A., Peking duck is a rare delicacy and Plum Tree was known for it.
Highland Park Cafeteria
Don’t be fooled by the name: this restaurant in Dallas’ ritzy Highland Park neighborhood may have meant sliding up to the cafeteria line and parking yourself in a green leather booth but the food was way better than any mess hall. And its roots stretched back to 1925. But in May locals could no longer get their mac-and-cheese, Waldorf salad, or chocolate-icebox pie fix.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Operating an all-night restaurant in Vegas is not only normal but crucial. The loss of Vickie’s Diner—along South Las Vegas Boulevard, just north of The Strat and Sahara, and also known as the former Tiffany’s and, before that, White Cross—in August hurts. The diner operated in some capacity since 1955. Owner Vickie Kelesis is actually the niece of the diner’s founder, dishing up everything from hotcakes to gyros, topped off by a banana split.
Charleston, South Carolina
Despite Charleston’s status as a major culinary destination, with chefs opening restaurants left and right and nabbing the attention of the entire country, long-standing Low County staples like Jestine’s Kitchen were never pushed aside. Nor were they forgotten. Named for the late Jestine Matthews (owner Dana Berlin Strange’s family’s housekeeper) the menu folded in fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, brown-sugar glazed ham, and classic sides like collard green and okra gumbo—and even Jestine’s “table wine” (sweetened tea). The restaurant announced in June it was closing after 24 years.
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Since 1930, Fox Valley locals rushed to this diner for clam chowder and iced cinnamon rolls, but in May a Facebook post by its owners went viral with the news of its closure. The most recent owner (Paul Cunningham) launched his history with Schreiner’s in 1969 when he took a busboy job, working under Bernie and Maureen Schreiner. His wife, daughter, and son-in-law all chipped in to keep the business humming. What they were most proud of—perhaps more than the food—were the long-time employees, some from the same family, showing up to work for between 20 and 40 years each.
The Windy City’s on-trend culinary scene can largely thank Michelin-starred Blackbird for opening 22 years ago, bringing top-notch contemporary cuisine (like roasted quail with chanterelle-mushroom porridge) to locals. But the West Loop restaurant came to a sad close in late June, however, when its owners announced no more meals would be plated. According to the Chicago Tribune, COVID-19 is to blame, making it nearly impossible to follow social-distancing and limited capacity guidelines in such a small space.
Markovski’s Family Restaurant
Dearborn Heights, Michigan
Many of the country’s immigrants from Poland landed in the Midwest. Some families even opened restaurants, like Markovski’s, to spread the love for their country’s food (stuffed cabbage, pierogis, kielbasa, etc.). The Markovskis opened their namesake restaurant around 50 years ago and, like other restaurant owners, chose to share on Facebook in June that the end of its chapter was near.
San Francisco, California
Steakhouses are in every major city, but they come and go. Alfred’s was that rare exception, staying open for 92 years—even reverting back to a member of the founding family in late 2018, three years after he sold it—before closing in October. Al Petri strove to honor the concept that Italian-immigrant Alfred Bacchini created, and his father later bought in 1973, with dishes like an Alfred’s Cut steak, washed down with martinis, of course.
Known as Kansas’ oldest restaurant, Brookville Hotel opened in 1870 and was owned by four generations of the same family before closing up shop in October. The loss was so hard to swallow for many Kansans that they reportedly drove for miles to get their last family-style chicken dinners with a cup of coleslaw.