End of The Empire

From the Palo Alto Daily News  a little while ago: “End of an Empire: Downtown Palo Alto pub closing its doors after 21-year run” by Jason Green:

For two decades, the Empire Tap Room [aka the Empire Tap and Grill] has injected a bit of East Coast flavor into downtown Palo Alto.

It’s been a favorite of movers and shakers like Congresswoman Anna Eshoo [whose office is across the street], San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen.

But on April 28, an empire will end, so to speak, when long-time proprietress Josie Jelks closes the doors forever.

Jelks said she made the decision with a heavy heart. Costs have increased prohibitively across the board, from rent to liability insurance to the supplies necessary to run the pub at 651 Emerson St.

April 28th is today, and the Empire is essentially out my back door — a very pleasant place, with a wonderful long bar and a fabulous patio / courtyard, and inventive simple food. It will be much missed.

(I had a valedictory drink with Josie last night.)

More details from PADN, then some words about Tap and Grill.

Jelks and her former business partner Chip Truett, who died last year, opened the Empire Tap Room in 1992. It replaced Le Meursault, a rundown restaurant named after a French parish. [not quite accurate; see below]

… To Jelks, a Brooklyn native, the original windows looked like they had been ripped out of an East Coast pub. They ultimately influenced the atmosphere of the Empire Tap Room, from the 38-foot-long Honduran mahogany bar to the mainstream jazz that plays softly in the background.

“There wasn’t a place like this and there still isn’t a place like this in Palo Alto,” Jelks said.

Despite the classy vibe, the pub wasn’t intended to be a “four-star-type” of place, said Jelks, who describes the cuisine as American with French and Italian “regional influences.” There are 16 beers on tap, too.

… “Now it has to be replaced with another retail use,” Mayor Greg Scharff told The Daily News. “And given its configuration, I would expect another restaurant.”

Scharff said he’ll miss the pub’s patio in particular. The ivy and wisteria-covered trellises give it a garden-like quality.

“It’s got one of the best outdoor seating areas in Palo Alto,” Scharff said. “It’s really unfortunate it’s closing. It’s an institution.”

The patio is indeed delightful, and the staff got the trick of quick-grilling fish (browned on the outside, moist and just barely cooked on the inside) down perfectly — something that’s really hard to do at home. And there were really fine crispy vegetables and pureed soups and inventive salads. (I have a foodie friend who thought the place was superior to Spago, back when we had a Spago in downtown P.A.)

Now, Le Meursault. Mersault is in fact “a commune in the Côte-d’Or department in Bourgogne (Burgundy) in eastern France” (link), but the restaurant (which seems to have opened in 1978) was named after the wine:

Meursault wine is produced in the commune of Meursault in Côte de Beaune of Burgundy. The Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) Meursault may be used for white wine and red with respectively Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the main grape variety. The production of white Meursault dominates, with around 98 per cent. There are no Grand Cru vineyards within Meursault, but several highly regarded Premier Cru vineyards. (link)

The restaurant was by no means tatty when I first knew it (in the early 1980s), but it was always homey: a crêperie with an enormous wine cellar (a hobby of the owner’s). My man Jacques was very fond of it.

Finally, on tap and grill. Both probably truncations of compounds. (Material from OED2.)

on (in) tap, on draught, ready for immediate consumption or use (lit. and fig.) [first cite 1862]

tap-room: A room in a tavern, etc., in which liquors are kept on tap. [first cite 1807]

tap: A tap-room or tap-house. colloq. [first cite 1725]

The semantics suggests that tap is a truncation, despite the datings; but it could be a direct nouning of the older verb tap, in the sense ‘place where liquors are tapped’. Then:

grill-:  attrib., as grill-cook, grill-stove; grill-room n. a room in a restaurant in which chops, steaks, etc., are grilled; also more generally, an informal restaurant. [first cite for grill-room 1883]

grill: Short for grill-room. [first cite 1896]


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