By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
What can I tell you? Clair de Lune is definitely not going to make it through the summer."
I've been waiting for this call for weeks. Not sitting by the phone, exactly, but knowing it's coming. And when it does, it's like hearing that the relationship is finally over. Like getting a message from the hospital saying that you better come quick, because the end is near.
This started, what...a month ago? Middle-of-the-afternoon chat with Sean Kelly, owner/chef at Clair de Lune, talking about the all-time great food flicks. Sean's pick was a scene toward the beginning of Big Night, with the two brothers standing, arguing, in their restaurant's empty dining room. And then Sean -- a guy I consider a friend and one of the best chefs I know -- just popped. Just blew up.
"I cooked six dinners on Thursday night, man! Six fucking dinners," he said. "I come in the morning, spend all day cooking, getting ready, and for six dinners? I may as well just pop open a can of Campbell's, go home and cook for my family."
I knew that was it: Clair was done but for the announcement. And now, this call from Kelly.
"As it progresses -- I don't know," he says. "I'll keep you updated. But things are week-to-week at this point. If someone comes in and says, 'I got another job,' that's it. We're closed. I can't hire anyone else. I can't sell gift certificates, because I don't wanna have to tell anyone that we might not be fucking open in three weeks. And I'm obviously bleeding here at the end of every week as it is."
Bleeding -- and for what? For want of twenty covers a night. That's what the math comes down to. That's the reality of what it took for Kelly to cover Clair's nut every week -- pay the staff, keep the lights on, pay the produce man. Not twenty tables -- twenty heads. Twenty seats filled each night by twenty paying customers. And that's an average of twenty, so if Kelly cooked for thirty on a Friday, he only needed ten on a Wednesday. Two four-tops and a deuce. But last week, he now tells me, he'd only done 35 covers by Friday. Too few by half.
"Mario Batali, you know," Kelly says of the New York über-chef and Food Networkfrontman. "He says he won't even look at a space that can't do three turns a night. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday here, we were lucky if we got one turn. In April it was like we put up the white flag. We just surrendered. Every night that we're here and we're slow, I'm not thinking about what my accountant is going to say. Or even what my wife is going to say. It's that I know I should just be home with my kids, because what's the point? I'm at the point where I just don't want to embarrass myself anymore in an empty room."
Kelly is a nice guy even when he's pissed, so he won't say the things that need to be said here. But I'm not such a nice guy, so I'll say them for him.
This is your fault, all you self-professed foodies with your moldering stacks of Gourmetback issues, your dining cards, your fussiness and constant fretting about Oh, when is Denver going to step up and do something about all these chains? All of you who never went to Clair de Lune when you had the chance, who never did anything but complain, who moaned to your friends about not being able to get reservations when the only reservations you ever asked for were at 7:15 on a Saturday night, who wouldn't go for dinner because you couldn't use a credit card, who had microwave lasagna and a glass of Beaujolais in front of the TV on a Tuesday night instead of just dropping in at Clair de Lune and saying hi -- this is your fault. The prices aren't high, not even for a scene as deflated as Denver's, so don't lay that trip on me. Dinner for two in one of the best houses in town, with wine and tip, and you can get out the door for well under a hundred. Try that in Manhattan. Christ, try that in Chicago! I've had bigger bar tabs here.
Yeah, the restaurant is small, but it doesn't feel small when you've got the place to yourself -- it feels special. And Sean Kelly was -- is -- one of the best chefs we've got. He's been there every night waiting for you -- Lord Jim of a one-man galley, every plate his own -- and in any other real food town, the trade from the neighborhood alone would have been enough to keep him afloat. The locals would've protected the place like treasure, and I would've gotten a raft of angry letters after my review came out from regulars worried about having to fight outsiders for a table.
But in Denver? Nothing. Six covers on a Thursday night. It's enough to make a fella wonder why he bothers, why he shouldn't just chuck it all, throw in the towel and get a job heating alfredo out of the bag at Olive Garden. If that's what people really want (and they certainly fucking seem to), then that's exactly what they deserve.