To the dismay of so many, a trio of beloved restaurants in Kenmore Square closed during the pandemic following a lengthy lease dispute between restaurateur Garrett Harker’s restaurant group and landlord UrbanMeritage. Now, an experienced New York-based restaurant group will be moving into all three spaces, the former homes of 15-year-old brasserie and industry haunt Eastern Standard, esteemed cocktail bar the Hawthorne, and upscale seafood spot Island Creek Oyster Bar.
Bostonians were hopeful that — despite the tremendous loss to the neighborhood — a local operator would come in and open something new and exciting. But as the Globe reported yesterday, an out-of-town restaurant group, New York’s Blue Ribbon Group, will be taking over all the spaces, replacing Eastern Standard and Island Creek with, well, a brasserie and seafood spot respectively. The Hawthorne’s space, meanwhile, will become a sushi restaurant.
Blue Ribbon (unrelated to the local chain of barbecue restaurants by that name) was reportedly among 18 groups that submitted proposals; several local owners were on the list too, including Harker and his team. As UrbanMeritage principal Michael Jammen told the Globe, Blue Ribbon was a good fit in part because of the group’s experience operating restaurants in hotels; these three spaces are located within the Hotel Commonwealth and provide service to the hotel.
Founded by brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg in 1992, Blue Ribbon now has restaurants throughout New York City, as well as in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and South Beach, Florida; this will be the group’s first expansion into Boston. There are brasseries, sushi restaurants, bars, and more under the Blue Ribbon name.
Per Eater NY, the original Blue Ribbon Brasserie in SoHo “has been a reliable standby in the area for decades, and is one of the city’s finer late-night options,” operating until 4 a.m. nightly and “serving up classic options like raw bar platters, bone marrow with toasts, and fried chicken since 1992 in a comfortable, simple space that has attracted chefs and celebrities for years.” It sounds like a similar vibe to Eastern Standard, which was known for its late-night hours — a favorite of industry folks — and similar brasserie fare. But will longtime Eastern Standard fans accept something so similar, but not Eastern Standard, opening in the space? Time will tell.
The fate of Eastern Standard, the Hawthorne, and Island Creek Oyster Bar was murky for months; Harker posted an ominous message in late May 2020, when the restaurants had already been closed temporarily for a couple months due to pandemic regulations. Were it not for COVID-19, there would have been a celebratory party going on for Eastern Standard’s 15th anniversary, and Harker waxed nostalgic on memories of the restaurant over the years. But within the message was also a pointed dig at the landlord for the three spaces, which fueled speculation about whether the restaurants would reopen.
A month later, Harker confirmed to The Boston Globe that trouble was afoot with lease negotiations, which he said had grown “more contentious” during the pandemic, with the landlord failing to “acknowledge that there’s anything special about these restaurants,” which drove the neighborhood’s revitalization over the past decade and a half.
By February 2021, it was clear that the restaurants had closed permanently; later that month, Harker and his partners in Island Creek Oyster Bar and non-Kenmore Square restaurant Row 34 (which remains open) announced that they were splitting and that the second Island Creek Oyster Bar, located in Burlington, would become Row 34 (without Harker).
Blue Ribbon’s new restaurants are all expected to be up and running by Red Sox opening day 2022, with the new sushi restaurant opening in fall 2021, followed by the seafood restaurant in late winter or early spring, with the brasserie soon after.