There are no more-beloved restaurant and jazz bars in San Diego than Croce’s. Since 1985, the restaurant has been a Gaslamp institution of culinary delights, creative cocktails and home to some of the best live blues and jazz America’s Finest City has to offer -- until Dec. 31, that is.
''We only have five more days at the old Croce’s," owner Ingrid Croce told us on Thursday. "So to anyone who hasn’t made reservations yet: This is your last chance."
Sadly, the iconic spot is set to close its doors after lease negotiations with the building’s landlord fell apart earlier this year. As the saying goes, though, when one door closes, another opens. In this case, it's Croce and her husband, Jimmy Rock, opening a brand new (but still faithful in spirit to the original) Croce’s Park West.
Located on 5th Avenue near Olive Street, the new incarnation will offer a lot of the same menu items and specialty (as well as traditional) cocktails, as well as a 30-seat patio, a 60-foot bar, 14 beers on tap and a focus on small plates, appetizers and half-portions -- all while continuing to host live blues and jazz Wednesday through Sunday.
You would think closing doors to the nearly 30-year old downtown landmark would be excruciating for Croce, since she opened it in homage to her late singer/songwriter husband, Jim, but when she spoke with SoundDiego about its shuttering, we couldn’t help but detect just a little enthusiasm in her voice.
"We’re sad to close Croce’s, but this new one is different -- it still honors Jim -- but it’s got a very different feel," Croce said. "It feels like we’ve been there forever."
Oftentimes, people like myself, when asked about doing anything downtown, spout off about its unabashed commercialism, lack of parking and trendy nightclubs, when, really, we're just longing for a sense of community. And that’s ultimately what Croce and Rock hope to offer at Croce’s Park West.
"It’s more of a Cheers kind of place: It’s got more of a neighborhood feel," Croce said. "It’s the type of place where everyone will know your name. And we’re thrilled about it. I’ve lived in San Diego for 40 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of places come and go. But I really think this location is going to be a gem. Bankers Hill, which used to be called Park West, is really a cultural center -- it’s near the Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park -- it’s no accident we’re there."
Impressively, along with everything else, they’ve also managed to bring nearly every worker (save one, who elected to spend more time with family) from the Gaslamp location to the new space, and actually managed to hire even more staff.
"The Park West location is bigger than the old Croce’s," Croce said. "And every employee but one is coming. We worked very hard to make that happen. It wasn’t easy. And, in fact, we ended up hiring two more people! We’re thrilled about it."
The new location had a soft opening this month for about 10 days, just to test the waters. Croce said they were overwhelmed by the response.
"We just kept getting more and more guests who wanted to come in -- it was hard to keep the number down!" Croce said, laughing. "We’re definitely hoping that continues. Everyone kept telling us, ‘We’ll be back!’ So we’re hoping people will want to come in. It just feels really special -- and it’s something my husband and I have been dreaming of doing for a long time. This is just where we’re meant to be."
Mark your calendars, folks: Croce’s Park West officially opens Jan. 19, the first day of 2014's San Diego Restaurant Week. To make reservations during their soft opening from Jan. 6 through Jan. 18, call 619-232-0077.
Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Diamond Lakes, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.