There was a time when serious restaurants gave serious thought to taking on serious rent to locate in Uptown. Those times are no more. The neighborhood that gave local birth to modern Italian dining at Figlio, pan-Asian cuisine at Chino Latino and farm-to-table fare at Lucia’s has become the place where food-focused restaurants go to die.
The latest victims were upscale Italian Parella in January and chef-driven Scena Tavern, which gave up the ghost in May. Scena’s operator, Paul Dzubnar, who controls the Green Mill restaurant group as well as a number of one-off local restaurants, did not return phone calls, but is said to be reconcepting the restaurant at the corner of Lake and Girard to appeal to the hordes of heavy-drinking 20-somethings who now dominate the ’hood.
Michael Larson opened Parella at Calhoun Square not long after his time with Parasole Restaurant Holdings, where he managed four Uptown restaurants—Figlio, Chino Latino, Il Gatto and Cafeteria. “My 25-year-old daughter lives in the neighborhood,” he says. “She came into Parella and said ‘Dad, if you don’t cater to the douchebags, you’ll never make it here.’”
Larson remembers closing Parella at 11 p.m. on a lively weekend while lines were forming to get into Stella’s (the concept for which was birthed by Parasole and Larson). “It’s young adults wearing sunglasses at night looking for two-for-one drink specials,” says Larson. “That is Uptown right now—a neighborhood that feels like a nightclub.”
If he had it to do over again, Larson says he’d open Parella in the North Loop, the current address for serious dining. Or perhaps at West End in St. Louis Park, where parking is free but the clientele is very adult. “I thought Uptown was ready for its comeback,” Larson says. “But it was probably wishful thinking.”