Big news: Boca’s moving downtown to the home of the long-loved and lamented Maisonette on Sixth Street. My reaction is, “Yay!” in a word, but for everyone of a certain generation who says yay, there are dozens of younger people who say, “Huh?”
People who started college this year were born in 1993. I have underwear that’s older than they are. The Maisonette closed in July of 2005 — when those freshmen were 12 — and a lot has changed since then.
On the downside, there’s that whole pesky collapse of the economy thing. On the upside, Downtown is happening. Only an idiot would say there’s nothing to do in Cincinnati at night and on the weekends. Maybe the Boca announcement will spark my downtown wish-list item — the return of an indie movie theatre to the city center.
Boca has been filling its tiny space in Oakley with devoted followers for a long time now, and I’m predicting that they’ll make a great transition to the home of our former five-star eatery. In a column I wrote when the Maisonette closed, I poked fun at its Mobil stars and fantasized about the restaurant that should take its place. Ironically, I didn’t mention Boca, but some of the pieces are there:
“It would have the respect for food that I love at Slims in Northside … the mischievous décor of Newport’s York Street Café, the saucy barmaid from JeanRo Bistro, the outrageous maitre d’ from downtown’s Redfish and the music from Dee Felice on Covington’s Mainstrasse… the eagerness of Otto’s, the friendliness of the Oriental Wok, the fresh ginger martini that my friends bought me in New York.”
Of course, craft cocktails have caught on here, and while Slims is gone, its legacy is all over town. When I talked to Boca’s owner, David Falk, for CityBeat’s Dining Guide this spring, he spoke about his philosophy of “blowing people away” and how his staff has passion.
“Our success is the success of our team,” he told me. “We live it, we breathe it, we believe it, and I think it has made Cincinnati love us and embrace us. Being independent, that gives us the flexibility to spontaneously create an amazing experience — to run out and get something to surprise and delight our guests — and we encourage that. We give our staff every tool imaginable to make that happen, and we celebrate it. … That energy, I just love it.”
Sounds like that just about covers the rest of my fantasy restaurant ideals — eager, friendly, maybe even outrageous. Judging by Falk’s Nada, which is just around the corner from the Maisonette site, he’s got a clear sense of what makes a restaurant great without sacrificing approachability.
The Maisonette was a “dining institution in Cincinnati.” As I said in 2005, people remembered fondly that they loved the place when their grandparents took them there to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah or First Communion, but somehow in the 20 years that followed, they only made it back once or twice. Falk wants people to eat, drink and enjoy, and he wants them to be able to come back often. I doubt that he’s going to plan his menu around dishes your grandparents considered a treat, because often those dishes weren’t really the things people liked — they were the things people thought they ought to like. That’s a big difference.
People mourn the memory of the Maisonette, but serious special-occasion “dining institutions” are history. Time for a new era. The king is dead! Long live the king!
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: [email protected]