Joe Black's Restaurant and Pub had been a grand vision: a $4 million investment to convert a 19th-century downtown bank into a classy, multiroom eatery, watering hole and banquet hall.
Those great expectations, though, were crushed under the weight of heavy debt. After roughly two years in business, the restaurant closed Saturday.
"If you walked through there, I think you have a sense for the investment that was made," said Brendan M. Fox, attorney for the restaurant's owners. But that work cost money, and not all of that money has been paid to the contractors, he said. "It was a challenge to generate the return necessary to maintain all the obligations."
In its brief life, Joe Black's was host to politicians and business executives, magazine launch parties and arts campaigns. Its five rooms — a modern bar, the two Victorian dining rooms, the Cottage Pub, and the Society Room banquet hall — transformed the 1893 Society for Savings Bank when the Pratt Street eatery opened in 2006.
Since then, other restaurants have opened downtown and some have closed. Joe Black's is the third Pratt Street restaurant — including No Fish Today — to close since the beginning of 2007. Fox said Joe Black's demise had more to do with the building's debt than it had to do with the strength of the downtown restaurant business.
Former city Councilman Mike McGarry worked with the restaurant's owners at Mac Duff Inc. when they were scouting a place for a Hartford home.
The owners had hoped to have the biggest Irish pub in New England, but, in hindsight, they didn't stick to the idea and never really became known as an Irish destination.
"It never really achieved an identity," McGarry said.
One of the bank building's owners, Phil Schonberger of Alkon Pratt Street LLC, said in a press release that the facility will honor existing banquet reservations and events, working with former Joe Black's staff members.
"The renovation of this building into a restaurant and banqueting space is an incredibly unique addition to Hartford's ability to be special," Schonberger said. "We respect the great care that the owners of Joe Black's put into the renovation of the building and the difficult business decision that faced them."
Schonberger did not return calls for comment and his statement made no mention of the building's future.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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