Boston, MA - When Erbaluce first opened in 2008, it quickly garnered a slew of awards, including “Best Bar Menu,” “Best Pre-Theater Dining” and a fairly consistent rating of “Best Italian Dining” from the likes of Boston magazine, the Improper Bostonian and the Boston Phoenix. Nor was it particularly difficult to see why. With a weekly rotating menu that has included dishes otherwise unavailable in Boston such as a roasted rack of wild boar, razor clams in fennel and duck egg yolk carbonara, head Chef Charles Draghi has been called both “a master at the complex art of simple ingredients” and “one chef to take to a deserted island.”
So when Draghi and co-owner Joan Johnson announced they were likely to close Erbaluce at the end of the year, it wasn’t because of a lack of demand. It was a result of Boston’s constant need for property development and the influx of chain restaurants glutting the market. Nor were either of them afraid to mince words.
“Part of this is that there are just too many restaurants,” said Johnson. “Boston has been taken over by big, corporate chains, and rents are outrageous. Something’s got to give, because you see restaurants closing all the time... People like us who can’t afford half a million dollars are between a rock and a hard place.”
When Washington-based real estate investment developers TJRE Investments purchased the Bay Village neighborhood building that housed Erbaluce for redevelopment, both Johnson and Draghi were invited to resume operations. Yet both feel the ensuing wait would spell the death of business.
“In the meantime, we’re looking for maybe another space. But the rents are just ridiculous,” said Draghi.
Erbaluce is far from alone from being the only beloved restaurant to close in the city. Earlier this year, beloved French staple Brasserie JO announced its last run due to proposed renovation to its home at the Colonnade Hotel. Beacon Hill’s famous Persian landmark Lala Rokh closed its doors earlier in August. Les Sablons. Oishii. Tremont 647. All have closed their doors over the last few months. Even the venerable Amrhein’s—a South Boston historical landmark if there ever was one—is likely to pour its final draft at some point in the next year.
Meanwhile, Texas based steakhouse chain Del Frisco’s announced the opening of their Seaport location back in August. Ruth’s Chris continues their slow creep into the surrounding suburbs. Nor is the trend confined to high end steakhouse chains. Even chef-casual chains like Cava and Shaking Crab continue to mushroom into the greater Boston area. And with the proliferation of both tiers, comes a drain on local talent.
“You literally cannot find help,” Johnson said. “Every restaurant in the area is chronically posting ads trying to fill positions. Big operators are always going to win there. Independent restaurants can’t compete in terms of PR and marketing — it costs a fortune.”
“Right now, the way it looks is we’re going to have to close, and figure it out from there,” said Draghi.
Draghi already has plans for the closing night of Erbaluce; this New Year’s Eve, featuring live music and a wild mushroom dinner.
Erbaluce is located at 69 Church St in Boston and is open Tuesday - Thursday from 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm, Friday - Saturday from 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm and Sundays from 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm. For more information, visit www.erbaluce-boston.com