I'm not much of a Ghostbar type, but I recently visited the club at the W Hotel for a farewell party for one of our writers here at the Observer. It was a Thursday night, and we arrived at 10 p.m. (pretty early by club standards) and the bar was empty. By 11, maybe 20 customers (including my entire group) had walked through the space, and shortly after we were asked to leave. The bar was closed. Go home.
We were left to wonder what the hell was wrong with the place, but a news release I received this morning detailing numerous changes at the hotel answers the question. People quit coming. The release announced that the Ghostbar will permanently close later this month and reopen under new ownership. The change is being billed as a "natural evolution for the space," but based on the activity I saw that Thursday evening, it feels more like a defensive maneuver to stave off the bleeding.
Meanwhile Craft will soon become Cook Hall, an American gastro pub concept with a large bar, small-plates and televisions. The space will be opened up to let patrons pour out into the lobby and pricing will be "moderate to upscale." This change marks a significant departure from the concept that occupied the hotel's dining room since 2006.
I reviewed Craft last summer and over three visits never saw the dining room more than a quarter full. The small bar towards the front of the restaurant had a decent crowd during my evening visits but the dining room always felt empty -- a shame considering both the beauty of the space and the quality of chef Tim Bevins' cooking. And that's why I think there are larger problems at the W Hotel, problems that rebranding and new concepts can't fix.
While swilling whiskey Cokes at the Ghostbar, nearly all of us noted what a great space the club occupies. Thirty-three floors up, you're almost suspended above the city when you sit on their large balcony. The views are tremendous. The space is large, open and modern. Craft's dining room is a stunner too, with big sumptuous booths and generous tables. If quality cooking and spaces like these can't attract customers, I'm not sure what it would take.
The bigger problem is likely the halted Victory Park project and lack of foot traffic that hurts every business in this almost developed area. The sidewalks are dead during the evenings unless an event at the American Airlines Center draws in fans by the thousands. Compared with Deep Ellum, Henderson Avenue, the entire strand of McKinney Ave. in Uptown and the Bishop Arts District, nightlife in Victory Park is nonexistent.
A new concept may draw an initial surge of patrons who are curious to try out the latest and greatest restaurant or cocktail experience, but that would still ignore the root problem. Craft is retooling and Ghostbar is closing because the streets outside the W Hotel are a ghost town. Until that changes, any business that takes a stab in the area is going to encounter some serious challenges.