News

After two decades, Empire taps out

Empire Grill and Tap Room in downtown Palo Alto plans to close shop

Empire Grill and Tap Room, a chic and polished fixture of downtown Palo Alto for more than 20 years, is preparing to close its doors later this month.

The Emerson Street restaurant, well-known for its beer selection, patio seating and formal, old-school aesthetic, is planning to shut down just as the city is making an effort to protect retail along the block between Hamilton and Forest avenues. Over the past year, several businesses on the downtown's periphery -- including Blue Chalk Cafe and Jungle Copy -- have closed down or relocated, typically because of high rents.

The recent trend prompted the City Council to pass earlier this week a special ordinance requiring retail use on this block of Emerson Street. The change was made upon request of Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Karen Holman and Greg Schmid, who wrote a memo last November warning that the restaurants on this block are "now vulnerable to office conversions."

Planning Director Curtis Williams also said this week that he has heard from at least two property owners on the block about plans to convert to office space, which typically draws higher rates.

Scharff told the Weekly that the council's action came at an opportune time, given Empire's pending closure.

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"I think we were lucky with our timing," Scharff said. "With the Empire Tap Room going out, we will have to have a new retail or restaurant establishment there. They won't be able to put offices here."

He praised the restaurant, saying it was one of his favorites in the city because of its outdoor patio and wide beer selection.

"It's just really unfortunate that they're going out of business," Scharff said. "They're a Palo Alto institution."

Holman expressed a similar sentiment and said she was concerned about the closure of the restaurant, which she said occupies a "key property" on the Emerson block. Though there have been rumors for some time that the restaurant was struggling, Holman said she was surprised to learn Thursday about its pending closure.

"It's a unique venue in Palo Alto, especially with its outdoor garden," Holman said. "It's a real loss to the community."

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After two decades, Empire taps out

Empire Grill and Tap Room in downtown Palo Alto plans to close shop

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 12, 2013, 9:43 am

Empire Grill and Tap Room, a chic and polished fixture of downtown Palo Alto for more than 20 years, is preparing to close its doors later this month.

The Emerson Street restaurant, well-known for its beer selection, patio seating and formal, old-school aesthetic, is planning to shut down just as the city is making an effort to protect retail along the block between Hamilton and Forest avenues. Over the past year, several businesses on the downtown's periphery -- including Blue Chalk Cafe and Jungle Copy -- have closed down or relocated, typically because of high rents.

The recent trend prompted the City Council to pass earlier this week a special ordinance requiring retail use on this block of Emerson Street. The change was made upon request of Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Karen Holman and Greg Schmid, who wrote a memo last November warning that the restaurants on this block are "now vulnerable to office conversions."

Planning Director Curtis Williams also said this week that he has heard from at least two property owners on the block about plans to convert to office space, which typically draws higher rates.

Scharff told the Weekly that the council's action came at an opportune time, given Empire's pending closure.

"I think we were lucky with our timing," Scharff said. "With the Empire Tap Room going out, we will have to have a new retail or restaurant establishment there. They won't be able to put offices here."

He praised the restaurant, saying it was one of his favorites in the city because of its outdoor patio and wide beer selection.

"It's just really unfortunate that they're going out of business," Scharff said. "They're a Palo Alto institution."

Holman expressed a similar sentiment and said she was concerned about the closure of the restaurant, which she said occupies a "key property" on the Emerson block. Though there have been rumors for some time that the restaurant was struggling, Holman said she was surprised to learn Thursday about its pending closure.

"It's a unique venue in Palo Alto, especially with its outdoor garden," Holman said. "It's a real loss to the community."

Comments

The-Sun-Is-Settng-On-The-Empire
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2013 at 9:58 am
The-Sun-Is-Settng-On-The-Empire, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2013 at 9:58 am
Like this comment

If the Empire is such a Palo Alto "institution"--why is it going out of business? Has it lost its lease because of a greed property owner, or is it that Palo Alto residents are not patronizing the establishment in numbers large enough to pay the bills?

Businesses are organic. There are reasons why they thrive, and reasons why they don't. So--what's the real story here?


j99
Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:11 am
j99, Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:11 am
Like this comment

Probably closing because there is so much construction and streets with construction prohibited parking in downtown Palo Alto that there is no parking left for patrons. The City Council is killing the city. I tried to go to an Indian restaurant on Alma near Lytton and at least two blocks were coned for construction work. Terrible.


commonsense
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:33 am
commonsense, Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:33 am
Like this comment

It's too far from University and has a big patio/rent bill to support. It went out of business because it was not run well enough and/or enough people chose to eat elsewhere. Why is always the greed of the developers that is the root cause of downtown's "problems"? It's called capitalism and it's a lot better than the alternatives.


chris
University South
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:46 am
chris, University South
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:46 am
Like this comment

It could have something top do with the quality of the food.


Kate
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:57 am
Kate, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:57 am
Like this comment

There's never any nearby parking. And parking is an issue at night in very unsafe downtown Palo Alto.


Silly
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:03 am
Silly, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:03 am
Like this comment

There's NO parking. Does the city ever wonder at the lost tax revenues?


sparty
Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:21 am
sparty, Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:21 am
Like this comment

First and last trip to Empire Tap Room we were ignored by the bartender. So we went to Gordon Biersch. They were just fine with selling us something there. This was maybe 15 years ago. I won't miss them.

Looks like things are the same. Plenty of mentions of how rude they are in the yelp reviews over the last year


Spud
Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:35 am
Spud, Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:35 am
Like this comment

It's sad to see them go, but when you look at sites like Yelp, it seems like their popularity (and possibly quality and service) have been declining for quite some time.

Parking may be a problem, but other places nearby (Tacolicious, Gordon Biersch, Old Pro, Nolas) seem to be doing ok, I think. Tacolicious was packed last week, I can attest, so those people found parking.

I think it's just the invisible hand. If you can't adapt to draw clientele, you can get left behind, I'm afraid. Just a theory. What happened to Maddelena's/Cafe Fino? Something similar?


Jean
Triple El
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:47 am
Jean, Triple El
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:47 am
Like this comment

We loved it, and took visiting friends there for leisurely summer lunches. We will miss it.


emily
Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:53 am
emily, Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:53 am
Like this comment

Hopefully a great establishment will make great use of the wonderful patio. Empire Tap room had poor service and over priced food. And really, really odd bartenders.

I'd love to see something that truly embraces the patio there, and makes it more accessible for people who want a drink and a light meal. I'd love it to be a more casual hangout, rather than upscale dining - we have plenty of upscale dining downtown.

As for all these people complaining about parking, why not try one of the lots or the surrounding neighborhoods? There is PLENTY of parking in downtown PA, as long as you are willing to walk 2 or 3 blocks! Gosh, people are lazy!


Yo, Yao, Yogi
Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:55 am
Yo, Yao, Yogi, Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:55 am
Like this comment

"There's NO parking. Does the city ever wonder at the lost tax revenues?"

Reminds me of the Yogi Berra quote, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."


Floyd
Green Acres
on Apr 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm
Floyd, Green Acres
on Apr 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm
Like this comment

I was turned off by the food early on and I tried it many times when it first opened. The old wooden booths inside were hard on my back. Add to that the parking problem.
As I recall it replaced a wine restaurant.


Mike
University South
on Apr 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Mike, University South
on Apr 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Like this comment

The place just didn't seem inviting to us short wearing engineer types, especially with the Rose & Crown nearby.


Stan
another community
on Apr 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm
Stan, another community
on Apr 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm
Like this comment

We stopped going there ages ago because of the pompous attitude of the owner and the poor service.

I'm amazed they survived as long as they did


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:52 pm
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:52 pm
Like this comment

We had some lovely patio meals there throughout the years, but the only time I sat inside it was strange. I was dining w/someone very well-known & the bartender kept coming over & interrupting our meal to talk to him. Then we've skipped it in recent times based on the poor Yelp reviews - bummer because we did like that patio.


Henry
Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm
Henry, Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm
Like this comment

Yes, the patio is lovely. I hope the next establishement will keep the patio and improve the food and service.


Native
Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2013 at 2:12 am
Native, Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2013 at 2:12 am
Like this comment

We went to Bucca tonight and notices Empire was packed. Wouldn't guess it's closing later this month. Perhaps it's the atmosphere people enjoy.


Too bad
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2013 at 10:55 am
Too bad, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2013 at 10:55 am
Like this comment

I liked walking downtown and eating a burger in their patio space. I liked the waiter that was typically there weekend afternoons.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Like this comment

I really miss Bistro Elan ... even though it supposedly moved to that hole in the wall with 2 tables farther down off California on Birch St ... that would be the perfect place for a new incarnation of Bistro Elan. If they could re-create the incredibly wonderful patio they had at the California St. location it would be perfect! I've never eaten at a better place overall than Bistro Elan!


Timothy
Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm
Timothy, Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm
Like this comment

I recall going there years ago for a happy hour. Our group was told, after being seated on the patio for a few pictures of beer, that we would have to stand if we didn't order dinner. We left, never went back, won't miss it.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2013 at 11:47 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2013 at 11:47 pm
Like this comment

Well Timothy, I am sure they did not miss your patronage and you are not the reason Empire Grill and Tap is going out of business. You don' think it is a little selfish and immature of you to think that a restaurant with finite seating and a staff to pay ought to allow your and your friends to drink beer there and use the facilities probably not leave a tip too. Why would you think that is a smart or relevant thing to say anyway? There is a certain quid pro quo to being a member of society that I think you are missing. Since I assume you were of legal beer drinking age you seem kind of old to be missing that point.


Mike
University South
on Apr 15, 2013 at 7:12 am
Mike, University South
on Apr 15, 2013 at 7:12 am
Like this comment

CrescentParkAnon,

Why is Empire going out of business?

Please enlighten us.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 9:13 am
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 9:13 am
Like this comment

Mike, a resident of the University South neighborhood
> Why is Empire going out of business?

Mike, now how would I know the details, but I'm fairly sure it ain't because Timothy and you and your beer drinking friends did not go there often enough to just drink beer and exercise the handles on the urinals.


AAA
Mountain View
on Apr 15, 2013 at 10:23 am
AAA, Mountain View
on Apr 15, 2013 at 10:23 am
Like this comment

"We stopped going there ages ago because of the pompous attitude of the owner and the poor service.

I'm amazed they survived as long as they did"

-- YES! I loved the outdoor patio and food was decent, but the staff and owner in recent years were just rude! We went several, several times hoping for a different experience but finally decided to just stop going because we would leave frustrated. I hope a new restaurant goes in there, with better service! We would start going again.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 11:14 am
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 11:14 am
Like this comment

> but the staff and owner in recent years were just rude!

I think this is an interesting patter that we see in Palo Alto. Someone opens a nice business, but it will eventually be a victim of its own success as the local customers are more and more displaced by in many cases around Palo Alto an arrogant professional class and their "entitlement to be rude" attitude of themselves and their children until the place is just insufferable and no fun at all. Perhaps that is what happened. Blaming the servers while they are the ones we see is easy, a lot of times servers are responding to being treated like "servants" by people who think they are or are pretending to be Silicon Valley big shots. There are many many wonderful people in Palo Alto, but when the "pretenders" get to critical mass they take over and ruin it for everyone.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 11:15 am
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 11:15 am
Like this comment

Excuse my typo .... "interesting patter" above .... should be "interesting pattern"


Mike
University South
on Apr 15, 2013 at 8:48 pm
Mike, University South
on Apr 15, 2013 at 8:48 pm
Like this comment

CrescentParkAnon says, "Mike, now how would I know the details..." If you don't know the details, then how can you be "fairly certain" that is wasn't due to lack of good paying customers?


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm
Like this comment

Timothy and "good paying customers" are mutually exclusive.


Timmothy
Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm
Timmothy, Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2013 at 8:48 pm
Like this comment

crescentparkanon, do you know what 'happy hour' is? it's mostly drinks and usually precedes dinner. we were seated buy the host for happyhour, the waiter, not the host or manager, didn't like the situation, made his demand, and we left. we were there maybe 5 minutes. the place is called the empire TAP room, you know, they sell drinks, or did you not understand that bit about being a bar and restaurant. I don't think everyone who entered their doors was required to buy dinner as you suggest, do other bars demand the same of their customers? you don't seem to understand what people do at bars. no matter.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


moved away long ago
another community
on Apr 18, 2013 at 7:54 pm
moved away long ago, another community
on Apr 18, 2013 at 7:54 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


bru
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm
bru, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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