There’s been a lot of hubbub about the closing of Gilmore’s in West Chester this week. The restaurant was once considered the class of the western suburbs by many diners, so its closing is probably the Main Line equivalent of Le Bec Fin closing (and yes, Peter Gilmore worked at LBF for many years). The thing that so many others seem to be afraid to say, however, is that it was past due. Gilmore’s was a dinosaur from another era, and was no longer a relevant player in the local restaurant scene.
Reading between the lines of Peter Gilmore’s comments after the news came out, it’s obvious that the restaurant’s financial results back up this assertion. Though they had a reputation for being a tough reservation, sellouts were far less common over the past few years. Gilmore tried gimmicks like adding small plates, and offering a discounted mid-week prix fix menu to get more people in the door, but nothing could save the business.
The problem, clearly, is that very few people want to eat in a restaurant like that on a weeknight (or a weekend, for that matter). It was too stuffy, too traditional, too boring, even after it tried to embrace some more modern techniques. (No restaurant that serves the same side dishes with every meat entrée can be considered anything but boring in today’s world.) West Chester’s restaurant scene has boomed in the 11 years since Gilmore’s opened, offering up more interesting, more casual, more fun dining in many different formats. As such, there was little reason to go to Gilmore’s anymore.
Jason Sheehan wrote a great article in Philly Mag this month (“No Jacket Required”, July ’12), in which he asserts, comically, that the real reason for the American restaurant renaissance of the 90s and 00s is not the rise of California cuisine, the focus on local and fresh ingredients, or even more disposable income. Nope, according to Sheehan, the real impetus was dress code. “Or,” as he writes, “more to the point, the refusal of my contemporaries to adhere to one.”
A dress code, however, is just a microcosm of a restaurant’s personality. Formal dress is part of a bygone era, the stuffy, white-tablecloth, sit-up-straight and mind-your-manners dining. Predictable menu, traditional dish dining. Le Bec Fin dining. Gilmore’s dining. This is the old way. This is not fun.
Which is why, after all the hype dies down, very few of us will actually miss Gilmore’s.(image via Mystic County CT on Flickr)