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Closure of Banquette Cafe Brings an End to Unique Social Space

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, January 05, 2011, at 07:55AM
Banquette Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Banquette Cafe's patio sits empty on Monday

Bring up Banquette Cafe with people who have spent time around Downtown’s Old Bank District, and you’re not likely to hear them bring up a specific dish or drink.

Instead, they’ll probably tell you a story. likely one that takes place on the cafe’s patio.

On Monday, we asked to hear your memories from Banquette's patio.

It’s those stories and the regulars who tell them that owner Monica May will miss most. She had kept the cafe open despite poor cash flow in hopes of selling it, but made the decision to shut the doors this past weekend once the announcement of a deal with Bäco meant that the prospect of an extended lease was off the table.

“I’m sorry it had to end this way, I really am,” said May. “We’ve lost a piece of our community that was inclusive.”

It’s not like those regulars will have to go far to find May, who spends most of her days one block south at the Nickel Diner.

The Nickel wouldn’t have existed without Banquette, the place where May met partner Kristen Trattner and most of the folks who ended up investing in the pair’s diner venture. “The reason the Nickel started was that we didn’t have a kitchen at Banquette,” May said.

Banquette was originally put on the market as a way to fund the Nickel Diner and was left there later because the pair didn’t have time to put into the cafe as the Nickel’s popularity exploded.

Still, the hot diner can never serve the same community role that Banquette did. “You can’t hang out at the Nickel,” May noted. Banquette became a place where Downtown residents would leave their keys when they went out of town, have their mail delivered or even leave numbers for a friend soon to get out of jail.

The cafe predates even Pete’s Cafe next door. Bar owner Cedd Moses and several partners opened the coffee shop in the summer of 2001 as “Acapulco Gold.” May took it over in 2004.

She looks back fondly on the place that she refers to as the “Island of Misfit Toys.” The cafe was “definitely a crossroads.”

That social business model was never very profitable. "Banquette never made a hell of a lot of money," said May.

While several potential buyers expressed interest in Banquette, in the end a deal could not be worked out that satisfied both May’s needed purchase price and Gilmore Associates’ requirements for a lease extension.

“It was the social center of this new Downtown,” Old Bank District developer Tom Gilmore noted Tuesday. In the beginning, “it was just Banquette.”


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