Eatery signs bad omen for Bangor

Posted Feb. 27, 2009, at 7:39 p.m.

The most overused cliche during economic downswings may be “it’s a sign of the times.” But for some eateries in downtown Bangor it’s become depressingly appropriate.

The message? Closed for business. Or services reduced.

J.B. Parker’s Cafe and Catering on Main Street? It’s just catering now, said co-owner Brian Foss.

Christopher’s restaurant and Red Martini nightclub at West Market Square? Closed, at least until somebody buys the building. The much hailed and much more upscale New Moon Cafe just up the hill on Park Street is also closed for now.

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A sign on that door says it will reopen with a new name — the Luna Bar and Grill — on March 15.

Bangor’s first serious Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, Ichiban? The sign on the door of the restaurant at the corner of Hammond and Union streets states it won’t be serving dinner tonight. The sign has been up and the doors have been locked for a week.

The much beloved and a personal favorite Cafe Nouveau on Hammond Street, across from the Penobscot County Superior Courthouse? The sign on that door says the restaurant is closed at least until the end of February.

Opus, an upscale restaurant on Broad Street? Closed shortly after the start of the new year.

Giacomo’s, a specialty Italian food market at the corner of Main and Central streets? It closed unexpectedly last week and the big sign in that window says “for lease.”

Rod McKay, Bangor’s director of Community and Economic Development, said Giacomo’s closed after technical problems arose as owners Stephen and Milva Smith tried to remodel the store. On Friday, McKay said he thought all of those licensing- and permitting-type issues had been cleared up and said he hoped the store and deli would reopen.

A call to the Smiths at Stephen Smith’s law office was not returned Friday but a posting on the store’s Web site said the store would not be reopening.

“No one likes to see businesses close,” said McKay. “I think there are probably a variety of reasons why some of these establishments have closed, but the bottom line is that people complain that there’s a lack of places to eat in downtown yet I’d tell them that if they came down here and ate they’d probably still be in business.”

Christopher Geaghan, owner of the Whig and Courier Pub at West Market Square, is trying to weather the storm but says even the future of his long-standing restaurant is questionable.

His plan for survival?

“I’ve got to cater to the people who are spending the money,” he said.

In the food-and-drink business that appears to be the 20- to 30-year-old set, he said.

“It’s certainly not the people in our [unmentionable] age bracket,” he said.

That I must agree with. My husband and I like to think we did our part helping a lot of local pubs and eateries survive during our 20s and early 30s. Last night my family of five had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Gibran Vogue Graham is 35 years old and lives in downtown Bangor. Last week he was walking to work at the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau when he began pondering the seeming culinary collapse of his corner of the world.

So Graham started the “Bangor Lunch Mob” on the Facebook online social networking site. Graham plans to pick one downtown restaurant each week and ask that those who live and work in Bangor spend their lunch hours there.

This coming week the common lunch day will be Tuesday, he said. On Tuesday morning the members of the Bangor Lunch Mob will be alerted by Graham as to which downtown restaurant they may want to consider patronizing that day. It will be a random selection meant to eventually include all downtown eateries.

So far about 105 people have signed up to get his alerts.

It’s a noble idea, I told him, very innovative and revolutionary.

I hope it helps. If not, the Bangor Lunch Mob might find it doesn’t take long to cycle through its list of dining choices.

The bottom line is that the restaurant business is a difficult one in the best of times. There is a heck of a lot more profit in alcohol sales than food, and the 20-somethings drive that market.

It’s also true for some reason that the people of Greater Bangor continue to shun the idea of parking in a parking garage, even if it’s free and convenient. That fact is as clear as the growing number of signs popping up on the front doors of downtown restaurants.

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