More Bad News for Cleveland Park Restaurants – Palena Could be Evicted

3529 Connecticut Avenue, NW

I had been hearing some scuttlebutt that Palena could be closing after this Saturday’s service. I was unable to get any confirmation but yesterday CityPaper’s Jessica Sidman reported:

“An eviction notice dated Feb. 6 states that the restaurant owed a total of $125,779 in rent and other fees as of Jan. 31. The court approved a writ of restitution—which allows the landlord to take possession of the property—on March 7. Per that order, the U.S. Marshals Service must schedule an eviction within 75 days of that date.”

Very sad news if they can’t come up with the money. If Palena is forced to close they’ll follow the closing of longtime Cleveland Park restaurants Lavandou and Dino. More info on Palena when it becomes available.

81 Comment

  • This is sad news. I remember when Palena was a really difficult reservation to get. Back then, they had a lot less competition.

  • That’s a shame. I always liked Palena Cafe better than the high end restaraunt. The new bakery/cafe is mighty fine too. My friends and I in North Columbia Heights cut across rock creek to go there a lot for brunch or a casual dinner. Too bad. Maybe they can cross the park? They’d make an excellent compliment to Chez Billy. And the rent won’t be so damn high! Haha

  • Is the shutdown a result of rent going up or a rent dispute? It looks like Palena has owed back rent since January.

  • I agree with the commenter above. Palena’s cafe is awesome. They should open up in another part of town. The city ought to raze this strip mall and parking lot and put in a development that makes far better use of this valuable real estate. Ditto for the strip mall just south with the horribly designed service lane. I know it won’t happen any time soon because of the nimbys in Cleveland Park has so much more potential than what it currently is.

    • maxwell smart

      What like Shaw? Or 14th? People on the west side of Rock Creek Park need places to eat too!!

    • Why not just get rid of all of Cleveland Park and start from scratch? Seriously though, it is true that the service lane is worthless, confusing, and annoying, but that’s a nice strip of places. A great pool hall, a good Irish Pub, an excellent mussels place, a well stocked liquor and wine store, and one of the best restaurants in the city. I think that strip has character and lots of great businesses.

      • I agree! It’s no 14th Street, but it’s a really nice little strip of businesses, and in some ways a well kept secret, because the kiddies won’t venture up there, thinking it’s just a bunch of geriatrics driving around.

    • The service lane is terrible. I think it’s a vocal minority of older, car culture folks who support the service lane. That being said, Jemal’s Park-N-Shop is “historic” I think (as is the strip along the service lane). I like to call the sandy mess next to the Metro “Cheh Beach” since Mary Cheh obtained the funding ($1 mil?) of the Cleveland Park transportation study, swore that the city would abide by the results, and then promptly went back on her word after car culture folks bemoaned the potential disappearance of an anachronism.

      Also, while not exactly relevant, Palena’s outdoor seating consisted of a view of a parking lot, Connecticut Ave, and a gas station.

      • The Park and Shop is considered by architectural historians to be one of the best examples of a very early strip mall, and it sits within the Cleveland Park Historic District (as does that service lane to the south), but I don’t recall that specific property being on the list of historic structures in DC (I could have missed it). Try to take it down, though, and you’ll see preservationists try to get it on the list right quick. Kind of like what the NIMBY anti-development crowd did with the Giant on Wisconsin and the old Italian Embassy on 16th, but with even more zealous fervor.

      • clevelanddave

        Car culture? You mean people who like cars, or own them, or use them? Sounds like you aren’t one of them, I guess…

        • I use them and love them for nontransit friendly trips. Do you have a different term for people who refuse to use public transit? We have a very good bus system in DC and a decent subway during the week.

      • The is arguably historic, but it has been altered. The south end and the rear of the building are pretty different. There’s also precedent for major changes in adaptive reuse, including turning parking lots into plazas, etc.

        • All true, but lately historic preservation has been used as a tool by NIMBYs to try to stop redevelopment altogether. Two recent examples cited above are the Giant on Wisconsin and the old Italian Embassy. They were both ultimately unsuccessful but in the case of the Italian Embassy the project stalled for a while after the property was declared to be historic (against the ANC’s and most neighbors’ wishes, BTW). I don’t have a crystal ball in front of me, but it’s easy to see the same people screaming about the possible elimination of the service lane go nuts about any attempt at adaptive reuse of the Park and Shop. If for no other reason because they think *any* alteration will destroy their little piece of paradise. I don’t pretend to know exactly what should go there, but as all the restaurant closures in that area show, what’s happening now in CP isn’t working.

  • There are so many more restaurants in DC than in years past. If the restaurants in Cleveland park and other established NW neighborhoods want to compete with all the new places opening up in NE and other gentrifying areas, they are going to have to step up their game. I don’t feel bad about these Cleveland Park restaurants closing down. Innovate or die. Survival of the fittest. The market takes care of these things.

    • Screw CP – just move further east into eastern Shaw/Bloomingdale and mint money.

    • This isn’t about Palena’s quality – though it might be about overexpanding two years ago or hiring a bad management company in the past year.

      • It’s amazing what terrible management can accomplish. 13 years of success, less than 1 year of poor leadership and whoop, out of business and 125k in the hole

        • I’m not in the service industry, but I’d heard that this management company was sort of known for running good restaurants into the dirt. If they’re known to do this, how’d they get hired?

          • What other restaurants have they run?

          • Red Sage, Zola, I think others. They are called Star Restaurant Group

          • Ah, thanks. That explains it. My baseline for tips is usually 20%, but the only time I’ve ever written $0 on a tip line was at Red Sage some time around 96 or 97. And I think I might have written something else about the waiter being an asshole — because he was a major dick.

    • +1. Gentrification doesn’t go on forever. At some point, a neighborhood has to maintain itself and revitalize. This is a key challenge for this area, and soon Dupont as well.

    • Innovate by diluting the quality of their product or charging more for the chicken (it’s almost twice as what it used to cost)?
      Smaller independent restaurants don’t have the same purchasing power as Chipotle.

      • I don’t know if they actually doubled the price of chicken, but it did seem to go up in price. Once they got the espresso machine taking up 1/3 of their Palena Cafe space (I was told people would not want to sit in the original Palena Cafe space nor the original bar for dinner with the machine there), they sorta shot themselves in the foot. Watching Palena attempt to reinvent itself the past six months (under new management?) was like watching Pulpo flounder.

    • That’s rather simplistic, isn’t it? This is (or at least was when I went prior to the 14th/H Street crazes) a fine restaurant. But there’s no reason for people to trek to CP anymore to go to a good restaurant, and there’s not enough density there to support places like this. I think more fault lies with the NIMBYs than anyone else.

      • I think you’re underestimating the density. There are a ton of large apartment and condo buildings in the area. And while there are a handful of other restaurants in CP, there aren’t a ton and few of them fill this niche.

  • As I recall Dino did not close, it just moved.

  • maxwell smart

    Really hoping that the Connecticut cooridor doesn’t became a ghost town – not everyone wants to traverse all the way over to 14th or god forbid H street (might as well get a hotel ro). Honestly I can’t help but think that getting rid of the worthless service lane that all the business fought to keep would have really helped to turn CP around.

  • Cleveland Park wants to remain stuck in time, and thus will continue to die. I just hope we (Norfeast, Norfeast) get Vace when the final nail goes in the coffin 🙂

    • From my cold dead hands….

    • You should convince Vace’s to expand to NE. I, for one, would welcome them taking over every mediocre pizza and sandwich joint in the city. I would welcome our Vace pizza overlords. I would also consider voting for Vace’s pizza for mayor.

    • What the heck are you talking about? Cleveland Park isn’t in a battle with Shaw and Eckington to be cool.

      • Responding to the wrong thread? The coolness quotient wasn’t raised, neither was Shaw (nor Eckington, specifically).

        • The coolness quotient is tacit in almost every post, especially when West v. East of the Park comes up. Shaw and Eckington just means anything East of the Park.

  • This restaurant is old school DC, and by old school I mean they don’t pay their bills and defraud their creditors. Just wait for the news that these dudes are going to jail for tax evasion. Reminds me a lot of stories that used to be daily headlines for the downtown Washington restaurant scene in the early 2000’s.

    • Old school in that they pay their employees before the landlord.

      • I ate there last week and the bartender said he doesn’t even get his own tips unless he hides them. The restaurant takes them like Amy’s Baking Company!!

  • That’s a real shame. Frank Ruta is an amazing chef. I hope he finds a new space if this one closes.

  • Noooo… Their new coffee shop has some of the best pastries in the city!!!

  • They do NOT pay their employees. Trust me, I’ve been through this.

  • The early 90s to 2000s incarnation of the Cleveland Park strip was the best in town… I’d spend my whole weekend within those 4-5 blocks: Vace, of course, but also the quirky old Roma restaurant, gyros, Uptown Bakery, a chocolate shop, Lavandou, the best bagel shop in town, a gym, Kenny Rogers roasters, People’s drugs, the library, the Uptown theatre, 4Ps, a record store, Quartermaine coffee shop, Radio Shack, ice cream, Pam the butcher at Brookville, the liquor store, the vaccum cleaner store, an OK BBQ joint. I trade most of today’s 14th street for the old CP.

  • The one thing the legal papers finally out to rest is the well used canard about “those greedy landlords and their sky high rent). Palena pays $60 a foot for 6,000 sf of retail space above a metro stop. Retail rents are over $100 a foot in DuPont and more than $200 a foot in Chinatown. Retail rents in Bloomingdale are now 45 a foot, and considering how snooty and knifey it is compared to Cleveland park, and how much lower the incomes are, I think the rent strawman has finally reached the end of its useful life.

    • Saying Bloomingdale is “snooty and knifey” tells me you don’t spend anytime in Bloomingdale. What the hell are you talking about?

  • Man! I am so bummed. My husband and I got a great gift card here for our wedding and only used 1/2…looks like I’m spending the rest on pastries tomorrow am.

  • We need a bike shop in Cleveland Park/Van Ness/Woodley (basically somewhere along Connecticut) really badly. Maybe one of those vacant store fronts can get a real neighborhood need?

    Restaurants in CP are nice, but honestly there are just too many on that strip… I think it could use some local/boutique retail to fill out the space between the eateries.

    Also if someone suggests replacing Palena with a Panera/Cosi/other cafe chain I will throw bread at them. I’m already irritated that I like Firehook 😛 There’s a lot of disposable income in the area and it could healthy support some local business.

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