Melbee’s shuts the lid on its piano

MelBee’s was an interesting case study. It was a sophisticated, upscale restaurant in a neighborhood populated mostly by inexpensive diners (Town Topic, Village Inn), hardware stores, shoe-repair shops and Apollo Hair Replacement System. I once asked MelBee’s owner Lloyd Boothe if “downtown” Mission was somewhat blue-collar for the MelBee’s crowd, who drank martinis and not only knew the lyrics to Cole Porter songs but could — and did! — sing them along with the restaurant’s piano players.

“I was told many, many times that MelBee’s was the right concept in the wrong location,” Boothe says now. Last Friday, he announced that he was closing his six-year-old restaurant at the end of July. “Even one of our Mission city councilmen said that Mission’s residents were newlyweds and newly dead. They don’t want upscale cuisine. It was really difficult. I had Stroud’s at one end and Applebee’s at the other.”

Technically, the new Stroud’s is in Fairway, but Boothe’s point is that the closest neighbors to his cozy little restaurant preferred home cookin’. Meanwhile, the Fairway and Westwood homeowners he thought would clamor for his tasteful little boîte weren’t coming in often enough for chef Tyler Van Slyke‘s dinners.

MelBee’s regulars (upper-middle-class professionals over 35) loved the restaurant, and Boothe was hoping that an upscale condo-retail development planned for the site of the old Mission Center would bring in more of that business. Weeds continue to grow on that property, though, and the discussion about building an aquarium as a regional tourist draw didn’t bode well for MelBee’s. The families who would visit the proposed aquarium, Boothe noted, were more likely to eat at Applebee’s than MelBee’s.

“This wasn’t a restaurant where customers brought children,” Boothe says.

Would Boothe ever consider opening another restaurant?

“I suppose,” he says with a sigh. “If someone came along and wanted to invest as a partner, I might consider re-opening MelBee’s somewhere else or reopening in this location as a family-style restaurant. I’d be open to discussion.”

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