The half-life of the radioactive restaurant location at 1512 West Alabama remains short -- as proven by the March closing of Rio de Janeiro South American Grill.
On Saturday, March 28, the twentysomething brothers Allen and Nathan Rosas (see "The Boys from Rio," July 3, 1997) hosted one last banquet to say good-bye -- and quite possibly good riddance -- to the luckless locale. On the night of the party, the parking lot was fuller than I'd ever seen it during the reign of the Rosas.
One year before, almost to the day, the boys relieved Mrs. Cortez of the remainder of her lease on the then-empty building and set up shop with a former Churrascos chef, Rodrigo Juarez, as purveyors of Cordua-style South American cuisine. Alas, it appears that their combined lack of expertise (Allen's prior food-industry experience was at Randalls' deli counter; Nathan was apparently a novice) did them in. Rio suffered from uneven performances from the kitchen, frequent outages of key menu components, almost comical serving screwups and surprisingly high prices, all of which unfortunately cast a pall over some honestly good numbers on the appetizer list -- tasty cornmeal arepas, flaky little empanaditas, flawless ceviche -- and a decent house wine.
The two-story house itself seems a marvelous site for a Montrose restaurant. It's got spacious rooms with lots of windows, high ceilings, hardwood floors and a pleasant brick patio fronting onto busy Alabama, surrounded by an attractive ironwork fence and big old shade trees. And -- wonder of wonders! -- it's got plenty of off-street parking. Despite all these natural advantages, though, the house has become the Amityville Horror of restaurants, slowly and painfully killing off seven struggling establishments in almost as many years.
So on March 30, a small, cheap, hand-lettered "For Rent" sign appeared at what had been Rio's. The grills could hardly have cooled before the landlord was showing the place to a new pair of prospective restaurateurs on April 2. The bright-eyed potential partners dream of an Italian menu for their as-yet-nameless new cafe. "I want to create a place where everybody feels welcome: students, families, downtowners, everybody," said one of the gentlemen, who preferred to remain nameless during this presumably delicate phase of negotiations.
It will be at least a month, the prospective partners and landlord agree, before the new venture is ready to open its doors. If they can come to an agreement. If they aren't frightened off by the bloody history of the haunted house. If....
The landlord looks confident, as owners of prime real estate generally do. "Good location," he says, with a genial smile. "Bad management."
-- Margaret L. Briggs