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Bongo Johnny’s Moving Into Former Café Europa Space; Antigua Opens in Former Gyoro-Gyoro Spot

When it comes to some restaurant spaces in downtown Palm Springs, the only constant is change.

Witness the second-floor space at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, across from the Hyatt. In recent years, it’s housed both Crave and Plate | Glass; about two years ago, restaurateur Mike Stoltz moved his popular Café Europa in there during the daytime, and introduced a bar/small-plates concept, jusTapas, for the nighttime.

The move turned out to be a mistake, it seems: Café Europa/jusTapas recently closed its doors. However, the space will not be vacant for long: Bongo Johnny’s, the Arenas Road mainstay which has been closed since a fire destroyed its kitchen back in March, is moving in, and could be open by January. Owner Robb Wirt had originally planned to remain in the space at 214 E. Arenas Road, but abandoned those plans, he says, due to a lack of responsiveness from his landlord.

Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away, Antigua Kitchen and Bar has opened at 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in the spot most recently occupied by Gyoro-Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise. It’s a new venture by the owners of L’Olivo Palm Springs—an Italian restaurant that’s called 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive home for years—offering “quality American dishes, with locally sourced ingredients and a casual desert dining vibe.” A recent visit revealed tasty food, a décor largely unchanged from Gyoro-Gyoro, and a bar only serving beer, wine and low-alcohol cocktails, since a full liquor license had not yet been obtained.

Oh, and adjacent to Antigua—in the space occupied for years by Starbucks before it moved into new, fancier digs across the street—El Patron Taqueria and Bar is supposed to be coming soon.

Got all that?

All of these changes and moves, naturally, lead to some questions about whether these restaurants can succeed where others have failed. I have no idea what will happen with El Patron—although I am discouraged by the fact that a sign has been up for weeks encouraging people to follow the restaurant’s progress on Instagram and Facebook pages that don’t seem to yet exist—but I am cautiously optimistic about the chances for Antigua and Bongo Johnny’s.

As for Antigua: Gyoro-Gyoro, despite a fantastic location, seemed to be poorly managed throughout its run—including an embarrassing and lengthy closure by the health department. Given the location, and the fact that the owners have a proven track record with L’Olivo, Antigua seems primed for success.

As for Bongo Johnny’s … I do have some concerns. The restaurant had a good, long run on Arenas, but it really flourished when Wirt deftly expanded the hours until 3 a.m. on weekends—taking advantage of its location in the midst of bars and clubs—and started offering delivery. Will he be able to duplicate that success in a location that’s blocks away from all those clubs? I am concerned … but optimistic.

Stay tuned.


In Brief

The Shop Café, the family-owned restaurant located at the Aqua Soleil Hotel at 14500 Palm Drive, in Desert Hot Springs, has closed. Management announced the closure on the restaurant’s social media on Nov. 19, but said the family would continue to offer catering services. … New to Palm Desert: Trattoria Mezzomondo, at 73850 Highway 111. Owner Elio Cavallari formerly owned Mezzomondo in Studio City; he closed it, moved to Palm Desert and opened the new place. Get details at mezzomondopd.com. … New to Palm Springs: Taka Shin Japanese Cuisine, at 641 N. Palm Canyon Drive. We have not yet been able to visit this authentic sushi joint ourselves, but our friend Miho Suma, the incredible owner of Shabu Shabu Zen, raves about the place—a worthy endorsement indeed. Call 760-600-5806 for more details. … New to Cathedral City: The Desert Queen, a café serving Southern fare at 35400 Date Palm Drive. All three meals are offered at this cute little place, and we can’t wait to try the homemade meatloaf, as well as the fried chicken … with cornbread! More info at thedesertqueen1.com. … New to La Quinta: The Roblero Pit, serving up “Santa Maria-style” barbecue, Napa Valley dishes and other fare at 79410 Highway 111. View the menu and get details at www.robleropit.com. … And now for something completely different: The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort, at 74855 Country Club Drive, in Palm Desert, has opened T&T Innovation Kitchen. From a news release: “Dishes change daily, inspired by both time and temperature, encouraging the team to get creative with everything from their produce choices to their preparation process. Furthermore, there’s an unconventional entrance through the restaurant that takes guests through the massive resort kitchen and in through the back of the restaurant—a nod to the anticipation and mystery of speakeasy restaurants.” T&T offers five-course dinners every Friday and Saturday; learn more at www.facebook.com/timeandtemp.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

FIND Food Bank Celebrates 35 Years of Feeding Coachella Valley Residents in Need

The statistics are staggering: Each month, FIND Food Bank—which supports the communities of the Coachella Valley, high desert and Salton Sea area—helps more than 85,000 people, both directly and through its partner agencies. In a year’s time, more than 10 million pounds of food will be given to those in need—more than half of that fresh fruit and vegetables.

The cynical among us right now might be thinking: “That’s great. But this is a restaurant-news column. What does this have to do with restaurant news?”

My retort: Those of us fortunate enough to eat at restaurants on occasion need to realize that a whole bunch of our neighbors need our help to get food on the table, period.

To that end, FIND is celebrating its 35 years of existence during September—which is also Hunger Action Month at FIND and all Feeding America-affiliated food banks—with an ambitious goal: FIND’s management is hoping 3,500 people will donate $35 to mark the Indio-based food bank’s 35 years of service.

Debbie Espinosa, FIND’s president and CEO, said she, her staff and volunteers are proud of what they’ve accomplished over 35 years.

“The accomplishment is amazing,” she said, “from starting with basic food rescue out of a blue Pinto, and turning it into a food bank that serves the Coachella Valley and beyond.”

Help out, if you can, with that $35 or more. Get details at www.findfoodbank.org.


In Brief

Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, the sprawling restaurant located 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, has closed for good. File this one under “wasted opportunity”: The restaurant, owned by now-in-bankruptcy Ramla USA Inc., could not take advantage of a relative dearth of Japanese restaurants in the west valley. While Gyoro Gyoro was a gorgeous restaurant with at-times great food, it seemed mismanaged, including a notorious closure following a bad health inspection, and a lack of community involvement. However, the news is not all bad: The family that owns L’Olivo Italian Restaurant, located at 333 N. Palm Canyon Drive, has already snapped up the location. Watch this space to see how that turns out. … Toucans Tiki Lounge, the popular gay bar located at 2100 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has been purchased by managers who are part of Foundation 10 Creative, the company that owns restaurants including Birba, Cheeky’s and Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. Dave Morgan, of Reaction Marketing and Promotions, is also involved. The new owners are saying Toucans will remain a gay bar focused on entertainment. Let’s see how this goes. ... Newish to Rancho Mirage, at 42452 Bob Hope Drive: Hielo Sno, a shaved-ice/snow-cone joint. Learn more at hielosno.business.site. … Donald “Lucky” Callender has purchased Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, located in Rancho Mirage’s The River at 71800 Highway 111, from the trust fund set up by his father, Donald W. Callender, the man who started both Babe’s and the Marie Callender’s chain. We hear changes are already taking place. … Celebrate Mexican Independence Day, if you’re so inclined, on Sunday, Sept. 16, with $16 tequila flights and live music at Las Casuelas Terraza, located at 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. Watch www.lascasuelas.com for more details. … On Saturday, Sept. 15, The Saguaro, at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, will hold its Beats and Brews Fest. For $45, sample beers and tequilas from well more than two dozen companies, and enjoy great music from bands including The Flusters, Spankshaft and Plastic Ruby. Get more details at thesaguaro.com/palm-springs. … Coming soon to Palm Desert: The Vine Wine Bar, at 74868 Country Club Drive. Watch www.thevinewinebar.com/palm-desert-ca for details. Oh, by the way, it’s right next door to a new IW Coffee location! … Bit o’ Country, the diner at 418 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has reopened. It has new owners and has been tidied up a bit, but the greasy-spoon food and vibe remain (and we mean that in a good way). … There is good news and bad news from Bootlegger Tiki, the craft-cocktail joint at 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs. The good: The Tales of the Cocktail Foundation honored the bar with one of its Spirited Awards, for having one of the 10 Best Bar Teams in the western U.S. The bad: The leader of that team since the bar’s opening, Chad Austin, has departed Bootlegger and the Coachella Valley for greener pastures. Congrats to Bootlegger, and best wishes to Chad!

Published in Restaurant & Food News