Le Bec-Fin to close

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Georges Perrier, chef-owner of the Philadelphia restaurant Le Bec-Fin, which many say started the city's culinary resurgence.

Georges Perrier said he planned to close Le Bec-Fin - his world-renowned French restaurant - by next spring as he starts a new chapter in his culinary career.

His decision, following the closings of Susanna Foo last year and Brasserie Perrier in 2008, removes the last of the star players on what was once the city's premier Restaurant Row, which Perrier himself created when he moved into 1523 Walnut St. in 1983.

"I have owned this for 40 years," Perrier, 66, said Friday. "I have had a lot of good times and maybe I realize that Philadelphia is ready for something else."

Perrier said he was developing three new restaurants - two in the city and one outside of the city - that would open next year. He declined to divulge the concepts or locations but said they would be contemporary.

"I think our beautiful decor is not on the right path for today," Perrier said, referring to the 14-foot ceilings and hushed grandeur of Le Bec-Fin. Business is not what it was; he declined to be specific.

This week, Perrier put Le Bec-Fin's landmark art deco building on the market, with an asking price of $3.9 million. Perrier founded Le Bec-Fin in 1970 in a much smaller space at 1312 Spruce St.

The business itself is priced separately at $600,000, including liquor license.

On Friday, Perrier called a staff meeting during which he emotionally assured employees that they would all have jobs at the new properties.

The Lyon-born chef has garnered countless accolades from every ratings organization that awards a bell, star, diamond, or tip o' the toque.

"I've thought about this for a long time," he said. "The food is still spectacular, but I think it's time to move on. When you close," he said of his decision, "you certainly can't feel good about it. It is what it is."

Le Bec-Fin - idiom for "the good taste" - built its fame on luxuriant, leisurely dining experiences that put the prix in prix-fixe.

In recent years, as fancy dining fell out of vogue, Perrier began offering a la carte menus, and last summer even instituted a "pay what you wish" arrangement to expose chef de cuisine Nicholas Elmi's cooking to more of the masses. Many took advantage of a $15 burger special at lunch.

The dress code was relaxed; it is possible to dine at Le Bec-Fin in jeans. Still, the signature all-you-can-eat dessert trolley patrols the dining room.

Le Bec-Fin had 125 reservations on the books for Friday night, most of the patrons would order the $40 anniversary menu. That tab is less than one-third of the old pricing.

The sales brochure from Mallin Panchelli Nadel Realty describes a "handsome sandstone facade, vintage 1926. . . . The building was renovated in 2002 and the interior restaurant and bar spaces are beautifully appointed and in excellent condition."

The building's four levels include the downstairs bar and full kitchen; the 90-seat dining room, which has 14-foot ceilings, and kitchen on street level; a mezzanine with dining area; and a fourth level with offices, a wine "cellar" and a chocolate and pastry kitchens.

According to the brochure, all the wine, office equipment, pastry oven, chocolate making machine, ice cream machine, all chandeliers on first floor, glass and china, a leased coffee machine, mixers, and small wares are not for sale.

The building's sales history is hazy, according to a review of city data. Perrier came into sole possession in 1996, when he paid $235,000 to the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development.

It was Perrier who helped elevate the block, which 27 years ago was regarded on the seedy side after dark, into Philadelphia's Restaurant Row.

The block boasted the restaurant destinations Striped Bass (now Butcher & Singer), Susanna Foo, Circa, and the still-operating Il Portico. Facing rising rents, Circa closed in 2004. Foo sold her building across the street last year for $5 million; the Mexican chain Chipotle is building out that spot.

Over the years, Perrier also created Table 31 at the Comcast Center, Mia's in Atlantic City, and the former Brasserie Perrier, at 1619 Walnut St. He still owns Georges' in Wayne; has launched a catering operation; and with his wife, Andrea, and her brother and sister in law is selling a line of sorbets.

 


Contact columnist Michael Klein at mklein@phillynews.com.