On the morning of Dec. 23, a passerby peeped through the window of the British Bankers Club, then entered the building. A few minutes later, he left with a dinner reservation for the same night.
The British Bankers Club, a renovated restaurant inside a historic Menlo Park building at 1090 El Camino Real, has been shrouded in mystery even while its prominent location as the visual terminus of Santa Cruz Avenue and neighbor to Cafe Borrone and Kepler's Books means that the spot has been under the close scrutiny of many eyes through nearly three years of renovation.
Renovation plans for the restaurant showed an expanded mezzanine and three floors for dining, including an outdoor dining area with a bar and grill on the roof.
The restaurant, as confirmed by Eric Beamesderfer, director of operations, had a soft opening planned at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 23, and is currently accepting reservations.
For now, the restaurant is only serving dinner, and it is expected that lunch service will begin later in January, he said.
Reservations can be made in person, but the restaurant's capacity will be very limited during the early opening days, he emphasized.
A sign posted near the entrance says: "We are currently training in preparation for the opening of the British Bankers Club. We will be opening soon and look forward to being part of the Menlo Park community."
The Almanac acquired an early copy of the menu, but no prices were listed yet. The menu listed entrees such as pan-roasted sea scallops, house-made ricotta gnocchi, hibiscus brined pork porterhouse, mushroom and foie gras agnolotti.
Listed starters included charcuterie and artisan cheeses, oven-roasted beef marrow bone, line-caught hamachi crudo, and burrata and country ham crostini.
A salad selection listed ingredients such as truffle tremor cheese and watermelon radish. Beamesderfer said that the restaurant is still working out final details of the menu.
The building housing the new British Bankers Club restaurant has served many purposes in its roughly 91 years.
According to the Menlo Park Historical Association, the building was constructed in 1925 by the Bank of Palo Alto and operated as a bank and as a Menlo Park city hall for several decades, housing the library and police department, before they moved to the city's civic center.
Several lawyers and a real estate company later were located there before the building became the British Bankers Club, which opened in 1977, the historical association says.
In January 2012, the previous British Bankers Club had its liquor license suspended by the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control agency and was closed for remodeling, former owners Lance White and Richard Eldridge said. They later announced online that it would not reopen.
According to previous Almanac reporting, the state agency suspended the club's liquor license because of a list of 39 incidents from 2009 and 2010 that included "sexual battery and sexual penetration of an 'unaware victim' on the premises; a terrorist threat; assaults with a deadly weapon; battery with serious injury, including battery on a medic; and numerous public intoxication and disturbance calls."
In January 2013, the Almanac reported that plans fell through between landlord Dennis Grimsman and Owen Van Natta, a social media entrepreneur and former Facebook executive, who had applied for a new liquor license at the restaurant.
In February 2014, the plans for the restaurant renovations were first unveiled by the new owner, Rob Fischer, who also owns several other local restaurants: Palo Alto Creamery, Gravity and Reposado in Palo Alto, and Scratch in Mountain View. Those plans were approved unanimously by the Planning Commission.
During renovation work, a maintenance worker said he found a nickel from 1923.
The restaurant's website is britishbankersclub.com.