On the day The Palm in Center City shuttered its doors for at least half a year, General Manager Jim Haney said he had to wrestle steak knives out of three people’s hands who tried to carve their own faces out of the walls of the iconic chophouse.
“Saturday night, there was a lady on a chair with a steak knife trying to carve her husband’s picture off the wall,” he said Monday night, the final night of The Palm as Philadelphia will remember it.
The Palm will undergo a major renovation in the coming months. For weeks, rumors had swirled that The Palm would not reopen – that the Bellevue Hotel, where its been couched for almost three decades – was asking too much in rent, and that one of Center City’s favorite restaurants would look elsewhere for occupancy, or close completely.
The Palm has been the destination spot for political powerhouses, lawyers and litigators and movers and shakers about town for almost 30 years.
Its walls are adorned with caricatures of smiling, familiar faces, many of which were drawn when the subjects had twice as much hair and half as many wrinkles.
Those who tend bar and wait tables are not promised jobs when The Palm reopens in the fourth quarter of 2016, or early 2017.
Palm Restaurant Group Chief Operating Officer Jeff Phillips said the Philly branch will be the seventh in the company’s portfolio to receive the new design.
“Unfortunately due to the nature of the renovations, we’re basically taking the restaurant back down to the slab,” said Phillips.
“Everything’s coming down, including the walls. The pictures themselves, in their current state, will not be going back up. However, what we’ve done is taken video and individual photos of all the pictures.”
Phillips said a photographer is scheduled to do photo catalog of each, so everyone featured will get a photo image of their caricatures if they want one.
The new Palm will feature a hand-painted wall of Philly’s famous landmarks overlooking the dining room. A new, expansive bar will serve as an anchor in the middle of the dining room. The private dining room will move from the second floor to the main level of the restaurant with seating up to 36 and include a state-of-the-art audio-video system.
Phillips said there will be a fresh, new array of signature caricatures produced by Zack Bird, the Philly artist whose family has crafted caricatures for Palm restaurants for decades. Folks will have the option to fall back on their old portraits or get new ones drafted.
“Some people want to keep their old photos ‘cause, heck, everybody looked better 25 year ago,” said Phillips.
“It’ll be a process and we’ve gone through this several times in older restaurants and there’s obviously some emotion, some history built up there, but at the end of the day, we want to be around for the long haul and sometimes that means you have to refresh the restaurant, and the pictures on the walls have to be refreshed as well.”
The caricatures at the new Palm will once again be painted directly onto the walls, just as they were in the beginning.
Asked why The Palm would close before the Democratic National Convention comes to town with no set renovation date and no set reopen date, Phillips said it was more important to the company to have the restaurant open for the fourth quarter and the holidays than for one busy week in the summer.
“The DNC will be great for the city, and I would certainly hate to miss that, but when we’re talking about the extensive scope of work – it’s not a fixer-upper – it’s not a couple of weeks or a couple of months’ job – if we had waited until after the DNC and fixed it up afterwards, we probably would not have been open for the fourth quarter or the holidays, and that’s much more lucrative than any week of the DNC.
“We want to be around for another 27 years. With a 90-year family-run business, you have to reinvent yourself,” he said.
Kathie Meadows and Nick Fausto met at The Palm 25 years ago. They have seen each other through several relationships, children and endless cocktails.
Meadows is a regional recruiter for the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District and Fausto is a Center City lawyer. Both were there Monday night for the final goodbye.
“This was our little Cheers, for years,” said Meadows.
“We came and we had a ton of fun and it’s really like the end of an era. I’m a suburban mom now with three teenagers, but I felt like I had to come here, pay respects to The Palm, reunite with old friends, and raise a glass.”
“It’s like a wake,” said Fausto.
“We’re probably never going to see the same people, the same atmosphere. You just can’t.”