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The troubled birth, triumphant revival, and peaceful death of Capitol Hill steakhouse Manhattan

If you’re looking for signs of a neighborhood food+drink bubble, yet another death announcement for a Capitol Hill restaurant won’t provide much useful evidence. The story behind the Manhattan steakhouse is just too weird and its end, too calm, and controlled.

But here’s the real question — who gets the Peter Gronquist sculpture that has become the 12th Ave restaurant’s symbol and mascot?

“He’s probably going to go home with the owner,” a woman who identified herself as a spokesperson for Manhattan and owner Boyoon Choi tells CHS.

The golden gun-horned ram’s head will certainly make a fun conversation piece.

Manhattan’s story starts with drugs — the original steakhouse project started with an edgier Manhattan Drugs brand that grew out of the from-out-of-nowhere, instant empire of Chris Pardo and Laura Olson, the duo behind the Po Dog chain and a series of now-shuttered food and drink ventures including the infamously doomed The Social nightclub on E Olive Way.

The 2013 meltdown at The Social revealed other financial issues behind the quickly eroding empire. Lawyers for one of Olson and Pardo’s partner in Manhattan, Jin Yong Park, filed a $500,000 lawsuit in 2012 alleging fraud and financial shenanigans. “Today, although Manhattan Drugs is a successful restaurant, Pardo’s false representations have been at least partially exposed and he has defaulted on every obligation to Park,” the complaint in the case read.

8445297875_07938073b8_oPark’s lawyers also said that Pardo did not disclose his multimillion bankruptcy to their client. The lawyers documented a cascading series of financial problems the Manhattan partnership encountered, each, Park contended, putting the partner in deeper and deeper to try to salvage the restaurant. As Pardo scrambled to have the restaurant completed by a 2011 year-end deadline, Park’s lawyers wrote that another deal was struck making Park a 74% owner of the business as Pardo was forced to cede his share. Pardo’s lawyers denied the allegations brought by Park in the lawsuit and accused the partner of mismanaging Manhattan and charging personal expenses to the company. Both parties agreed to settle the case in July 2012.

It was a triumph, of sorts, then — and a chance to recoup investments and legal costs — when the restaurant kept its footing and went forward in 2013 as simply Manhattan.

“What you’re going to see are very subtle shifts,” a representative for Park told CHS at the time. “We think it should represent a higher focus for fine dining.”

Three or so years later, Manhattan announced its planned closure this week:

We regret to inform you that Manhattan will close permanently this Sunday, November 22nd, 2015. On behalf of the Manhattan family, it has been a truly memorable and blessed experience serving all of our wonderful patrons the last 4 years. We would like to sincerely thank everyone for all of your support and love. We will miss being a part of Capitol Hill neighborhood on 12th ave. As a “Thank You” gesture to our patrons, we will be serving our happy hour menu all week long, as well as other reduced-price specials daily. Please stop by throughout this week to share your memories and to dine with us one last time!

The spokesperson for the restaurant tells CHS the restaurant’s lease was coming to an end and “silent partner” Choi was ready to exit the restaurant business that she never wanted to take an active role in to begin with. “She got attached to the restaurant and carried it for four years,” the representative said. “The lease is coming up. I think it’s just time to move on. With new competition, business hasn’t been the greatest either.”

The venture was out in front on the new-era steakhouse trend — Seven Beef from the Monsoon family of restaurants just opened at 12th and Jefferson while Renee Erickson made a huge splash with her opening this month of farm-to-table Bateau on E Union.

The Manhattan representative said ownership also supported Seattle’s new minimum wage law and the legislation had no bearing on the decision to close.

Manhattan is the second larger restaurant venture to announce its end this month on Capitol Hill. Pacific Northwest Chinese concept Zhu Dang closed down earlier in November. Like Manhattan, Zhu Dang’s demise requires a sort of asterisk in the record books as the husband and wife owners were able to walk away from their lease without penalty.

On 12th Ave, there is no tenant yet lined up to take over the Manhattan space in Liz Dunn’s Piston Ring building. With her Chophouse Row development on the other side of the block overflowing with food and drink projects, we expect the 12th Ave space won’t stay empty for long.

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8 thoughts on “The troubled birth, triumphant revival, and peaceful death of Capitol Hill steakhouse Manhattan

  1. That’s a shame. I’ve been to Manhattan a few times and I liked it a lot. Good food, friendly service, and not particularly pretentious for its price point.

  2. While I always hate to see a neighborhood business close, Manhattan’s menu wasn’t unique and it was expensive. IMO, too many restaurants put so much emphasis on their ambiance that they forget they’re selling food.

    • I did like their half-price Sat/Sun early brunch happy hour. Nowhere else could touch the breakfast quality for that offering.

  3. Chris Pardo…where to start. The guy is a con-man. His PB Elemental projects are literally falling down. He has bilked investors out of millions of dollars. He has moved to Palm Springs to do the same. Hopefully this guy will be stopped soon

    • Hate to burst your bubble, but he hasn’t been involved in the project for a few years now and has nothing to do with Manhattan closing down. Let the dude do his thing elsewhere, so you can bitch about something else.
      The owners of Manhattan decided to move onto other projects and cities…as we all do.

      • The owner forgot to mention that she continued to bounce her employees checks (wage/tips) for well over a year. They were forced to close because her whole staff quit.