N9NE Closes: Is Dining in Victory Park Dead?

Mario Batali was in Dallas a few months ago. SideDish asked him if he planned to open a restaurant in Dallas. I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but his message was clear. He said Dallas has a reputation for “spanking” out-of-town restaurants that open locations in Big D. He intimated that Dallas was a mean restaurant town and we didn’t like big dogs coming in from larger markets and doing business here.

I’m sure the folks at N9NE, Bice, Il Mulino, Nove, and countless others agree with him.
The downside of our bravado is that the whole Dallas dining scene gets a bad rap. Our super star chefs have a tough time winning national awards. Why? Because the judging panels are filled with folks from New York, L.A., and Las Vegas.

The death of N9NE brings up a lot of emotion. It hurts to see any restaurant fail, but N9NE, in particular, was doomed from the start. Rumors of its closing started the day it opened. I spent most of my time yesterday on the phone talking with restaurant folks. Most were saddened and scared by the high-profile loss. The comments below yesterday’s post on N9NE’s demise ranged from happy to helpful. One wrote:

The solution is so easy: beer. People want to drink and hang out down there. Screw these restaurants and stores. I don’t want a $60 steak dinner or a new pair of jeans before a Mavs game. I want beer. And lots of it. Put in bars. Fun bars. Sports bars. Casual bars.

That remark reminded me of this article that ran last spring in the Dallas Business Journal. Nobody deep in the corporate hills and woods will go on the record, but I understand that there are “perhaps five” less expensive, locally owned restaurants either under or readying for construction at the south end of Victory Park. Perhaps there will be plenty of beer, and bars, and cheeseburgers. And pedestrians. I see a little light.  I just can’t tell if it’s Millers or Coors.

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Comments

33 responses to “N9NE Closes: Is Dining in Victory Park Dead?”

  1. Margaret says:

    My reservation about going to Vic Park? Parking. It is a hassle. I don’t mind valet, but to go to a place where you have to pay 10 dollars (or whatever) to park when all you want to do is grab a beer and a burger and go? No thank you. Especially when there is not a game and you just see empty lots everywhere?

    We drove by the Boardroom on a Sunday, wanted to go watch the Cowboy game… The entire area was dead, looked like the restaurant was dead, and the sign out front said, parking 10 dollars. No thanks.

    We drove on by, went to Christie’s, parking easy and free, food, good and hot, place crowded.

    But then again? Maybe all the restaurants are depending on the people who live in the apartments there?

  2. towski says:

    Isn’t what you describe just the west end, closer to the AAC?

  3. Bill says:

    The new Chili’s, even on a day when there is not an event at the AAC has customers. Sometimes it is quite full. I have never understood the branding of Victory.

  4. JG says:

    Amen Margaret. It’s the parking. That’s a big reason why I avoid Victory.

    Ideally, a shopping and dining destination needs self parking and valet, and both need to be easy to find. See Highland Park Village and the West Village two examples of how to do it. (They also have a few medium priced places to go with their high end places, but that’s another topic.)

    At Victory, the only parking that is easy to find is $10 and up Valet. There are of course garages and surface lots, but it’s never clear when you can simply pay to park in them, how much it costs, or when there is an event at the AAC that means a permit is required to park.

  5. Daniel says:

    N9NE might also have done better if they had relaxed (or nearly abolished) their dress code on game nights. Maybe even had a game-night menu that included stuff like a $15
    burger (or sliders) or a $20 flatiron steak.

    I hate to see any business fail, but this restaurant’s approach was gallingly arrogant. Their main distinction amid the herd of high-end steakouses was their proximity to the arena, and they apparently thought they were above having to capitalize on that.

    Not at all schadenfreude, just the truth.

  6. Mark says:

    Are there really enough people with enough coin in Dallas to support this many high end spots.One would think as these newcomers fade away the crowd would switch elsewhere, but it seem everyone is hurting .
    Hell even Brothers Chicken had to shut down.
    Very scary out there.

  7. JB says:

    Parking. It’s what killed Deep Ellum. When are restaurateurs going to get it? They lose more money by turning people away with expensive or valet parking then they attract. Dallas was not built on a confined space like Manhattan. It’s in the middle of a prairie and we Texans view our cars as part of our homes. There is plenty of room here for your automobile and we don’t want strangers in our property. Even when a restaurant pays for valet parking, one still has to tip the weirdo/kid who drives their car. The majority of people do not like that. The marketing seems to have overshot the demographic of people here in Dallas, who attend Victory Park. Dunston’s steakhouse would have been a better match, then N9NE steakhouse. The majority of Dallas is a blue-collar town who likes sports. Instead of trying to model itself after Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, Victory Park should attempt to look more like a 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica.

  8. VM says:

    i don’t know all the street names but if you walk out of Haven, turn left and walk about 40-50 yards there is a large free parking lot on your right good for four hours. I think on game nights you may have to pay but the rest of the time i always park there. Not hard at all.

  9. Daniel says:

    JB,

    Crime is what killed Deep Ellum. Parking was expensive and/or hard to come by all through its glory days. The people who went there didn’t secretly wish it were Addison. By the end days, two-thirds of them were from Addison. Enter gangbangers stage left. Goodbye, credit cards from Addison. Adios, Deep Ellum.

  10. Darren says:

    The residential units at Victory marketed to the luxury customer, a customer who was looking to buy a 2nd or 3rd home — not 365 days a year people. The rents/prices of those places are so far out of touch with reality. I live in Uptown. In my building there is a pizza place, a sub shop and a Starbucks. I eat in one of those places 3-4 times a week for dinner. (Note: I said for dinner!) VP is touting all the new business that will be occupying office space there. That’s fine for lunch business, but after 5pm, it will still be a ghost town (with a ghostbar) that no one will visit.

  11. CC says:

    For those of you that commented that parking is the main problem, you’re right on. However, don’t blame the restaurants. Blame Hillwood Development. They have the stranglehold on all the parking lots and garages and hold all the restaurants on a very tight leash regarding their contracts with the (Hillwood selected) Valet company. The restaurants (some of them anyway) have been trying to negotiate the outrageous valet fees down for some time and some have ended up subsidizing the steep valet fee so it appears cheaper to the customer. My guess is that Hillwood is concerned about parking competition and losing lucrative parking revenue during event nights, so they keep the prices high. Maybe losing their two top restaurant tenants (N9NE and NOVE) will give them a dose of reality and wake them up.

  12. Don in Austin says:

    As these business evolve the really good news that the area is no longer a mothballed powerplant built on top of an old city landfill. There was plenty of parking, though, by that Mexican grocery store/dance hall.

  13. SB says:

    My comment made it on FB’s main page! Booyah!

  14. Buck says:

    Look at Sundance Square in Fort Worth.

    It started with a Lombardis.

    That space is now Riscky’s BBQ.

    Victory needs to find its market.

  15. SB says:

    I vote for a Fox and Hound and a Flying Saucer to take up residence in the spaces vacated by N9NE and Nove. I’d go down there any time a game was being played at the AAC and just hang out at the bar. It’d be fun to just be a part of the atmosphere, even when you’re not actually going to the games.

  16. Joseph says:

    Required $10 valet parking (plus $2 tip) is one problem. Aiming at a demographic two or three socio-economic levels above the traffic is another. But a larger problem – a planning problem, really – is posed by the entire Victory Park’s disconnect from the street grid of the surrounding area. The entire project seems designed as an island of hoity-toity studiously separated from the flotsam-jetsom of ordinary middle-class folks. The peasants are allowed onto the island on game days, when they are spending their bucks on sports, but made to feel unwelcome when the jousting is over. Turkey leg, anyone?

  17. amandacobra says:

    I don’t get why they didn’t call it what they really meant to call it: The Dubai of the West.

    Seriously, their perception of who will buy a condo in VP or who attends Mavs games is so comically off. Except that it has caused good people to lose their jobs which takes the comedy part out of it.

  18. bill h says:

    I agree, Beer is the answer for all of our problems. Good beer and places to drink it. That and enchiladas. Put them together, ‘what stinkin recession?’

  19. bill h says:

    oh, and amandacobra, I like that Dubai of the West, well put.

  20. Rob says:

    Why is it only an option between high end steak houses and Coors Light burger/wing joints? The only options before a Stars game are Hooters/Dicks or pay $7 for a 10-ounce Heineken served by a pretentious bartender. That is not diversity.

    I want good beer at fair prices with good food. At some point the people at VP will figure that out.

  21. John M says:

    Everyone says lower priced bars/restaurants/stores but ignores why those lower priced places would want to move to Victory in the first place. When Henderson/Uptown/Oak Lawn are thriving and have available space, why would you want to move to Victory?

  22. Puddin'Tane says:

    I’d like to see Vern’s Place move in there. Soul food and beer work better for times like these.

    Btw, the price of valet parking should be comp’ed with a validated dining card. Tip would be on the diner.

  23. Daniel says:

    I think it’s their perception of how much money average people have that’s comically off. (Not unlike some people who have posted in these very pages that $250,000 a year is “middle class.”)

    Maybe I’m wrong and they thought this demographic was underserved in Dallas — in which case they’re not clueless, but stupid. The market is glutted with upscale retail.

    Well, water will find its own level with VP. The truly colossal flop hasn’t even opened its doors yet: Park Lane Place, the “West End on Steroids” (per their marketing lit) across the freeway from North Park. “Heaven’s Gate on Steroids” is more like it.

  24. Daniel says:

    Not West End — West Village on steroids, they claim.

  25. East Dallas Eccentric says:

    You know, y’all could take a cab instead of parking, then you can drink beer. Costs a little more than the valet. But it’s still pretty cheap, unless you live in some far-flung sprawl-land. Of course DART will soon be opening a station there to go with the TRE station.

  26. Geronimo says:

    I’m surprised no on has pulled the city into the parking equation which has played a big role in the ghost town effect (do they not control the streets and parking lot contracts i.e. part of the parking problem?). That was the real issue with Deep Ellum. When the area started to become more popular (yes, it was a lot of fun in the day and I mean in the late 80’s note the mid 90’s), the city totally f**ked it up by bringing in the meters with evening only fees (not during the work hours). Totally reflective of the money grabbing buffoons at city hall.
    If the city had really wanted VP to succeed, they would have thought about trading the easy money (the valet parking permits and contracts), for a longer term utility plan, which might have included enticements to allow people to park on their own for a nominal rate. Didn’t the valet parking situation at Craft cause a hulabalu about a year ago? Cleraly, not many people were listening.

  27. Cellarmaster says:

    So ok all here’s my take: Parking, yes has been an ongoing issue. Beyond that, I feel Dallas hates the arrogance and the attitude, especially from outsiders. The Victory Park, uptown, downtown, Oak Lawn and Park cities areas have More than enough wealth to support the scene, they’re just not going to put up with it. Schmooze me. Make me happy to spend my money. I’ll go back. I promise. Overlook me. Gouge me. Good Luck! El Molino’s prices were outlandish. N9NE was so enraptured by its sparkle that it didn’t let its inner beauty shine through(it apparently didn’t have much-sorry Wade, but Good luck in the future).
    Victory Park’s dilemma is twofold. First off it’s a luxury development targeting those with deep pockets. It didn’t know that Dallas doesn’t do high end Italian(I still don’t get it..)and Hates foreigners that think they know restaurants. The flip side is that you do have the Dart attendees, myself included. The fancy condos and steep rentals aren’t geared towards us. Fine. I get it. A combination of upscale AND casual seems to be a logical compromise. Give us parking(The Bentley drivers still have limits as to how much dough they’ll spend). Crisis averted. Be nice to all of us and give us a reason to come back and we will. The tragedy in this simplicity is that it eludes most restauranteurs from outside the 214 area code. Be nice. It’ll get you far! Watching this development mature has been interesting to say the least. I hope the next round of out-of-towners has been paying attention.

  28. alex says:

    First off Victory Park started off all wrong. It made claims of having larger screens than New York and restaurants like Las Vegas but one oversight; we are in Dallas! Dallas needs to forget about what every other city is doing and just be Dallas. Restauranteurs are trying to make Dallas into mini LA or Ny. Nancy, you say Dallas chefs are not garnering accolades due to the fact that judges are from NY,LA and Vegas. Wrong, they are slighted because they are not innovative, they tend to follow the leader. Fearings has nothing creative on the menu other than the prices. Abacus is a mish mash of dishes from around the world and York Street is very repetitive.

  29. Cellarmaster says:

    @ Alex: Victory Park did start off wrong that’s obvious, and yes many restaurants aren’t as innovative as they could be, but: Sharon Hage’s Salve was years ahead of the trends; Steel Restaurant took SF’s Slanted Door to the next level with sushi, 80 sakes(when people thought hot was good)and went crazy with wine and even put out a kickin CD; Dunia Borga with La Duni and now Alo are as innovative as latin cuisine have been. Tei An is at the forefront of asian cooking right now as well. Avner. He cooks with the best of them is still fearlessly chooses to use the best ingredients available. Stephen Pyle has taken SW cuisine and gone global(mish mashes can be brilliant when excecuted well and with original thought).Anthony Bombaci in all his spanish influenced glory with his foams and what not..Lola’s wine program modeled after Verite NYC was underpriced before anyone in Dallas thought a 3x markup was excessive. Dallas restaurantuers have been and continue to push the envelope. Too bad not enough people get it.

  30. Geronimo says:

    Cellarmaster, great review of the culinary scene. It’s a shame so many of the developers (and city government) think by creating new, supposedly hip areas, such as VP, everything will fall into place and people will automatically flock to it. Dallas needs to struggle through redevloping some of the architecturally rich areas that remain in our city (i.e. not build fake plastic trees)and encourage some of the wonderfully creative talents and chefs to open great eating establishments which so often can become the center of a neighbourhood.

  31. alex says:

    Cellarmaster, in your post you actually bolster my argument. Your words “lola modeled wine program after Verite”. Anthony Bombaci foams are knockoffs of Ferran Adria, la Duni is an overhyped brunch spot and Alo is doing food that Douglas Rodriguez put out 15 years ago! As for Tei An, have never been but I know it is the previous owner of Tei Tei which is my favorite restaurant in Dallas. I agree with Geronimo in the need to redevelop the historically rich areas of Dallas. Our past can be the path for our future.

  32. Mr. McGuire says:

    Foams

  33. DTD says:

    VP needs a quick influx of mid-price point spots before the shutters start going up.

    Give us a chef-driven burger or a wine bar. Places like Mercy, Jasper’s, Porch. Nice without being N9ne.