Sometime this summer, if the jittery rumormongering in the city’s legal-political establishment is to believed, the Palm will shut down temporarily, for renovations. Although the Center City steakhouse won’t confirm details about any plans it may have to redesign its bar area—the Cheers of the pay-to-play set—the open secret has caused a panic among the cuff-linked class. Where will the lunchtime refugees go?
“The question is: Who are we going to make famous next?” says Sean Reilly, a lobbyist who lunches at the Palm between three and five times a week. The predicament faced by Reilly and dozens of others like him — many of whom have their faces painted onto the Palm’s walls — has been complicated by the fact that a natural alternative, the Union League, is engulfed in construction work of its own. “I told the general manager of the Palm that he’s going to have to get a car and drive us to the Palm in Atlantic City every day,” jokes Michael Wallace, a criminal-defense attorney and former Common Pleas judge.
“It looks like we’re heading to the Vesper Club,” says Reilly, speaking for a group of Palm bar regulars who bridge the city’s political and legal worlds. Reilly is a fence-sitter, a Palm regular who will eat at the rival Capital Grille across the street. (The two eateries have developed a Sharks-and-Jets divide among clienteles since the Capital opened in 2000.) But some of his buddies “see that as being a traitor” and won’t cross Broad Street with him. (Rough power-lunching breakdown: Judges, lawyers and union leaders favor the Palm, while black pols and members of City Council gravitate toward the Cap.)
The Capital Grille, however, is steeling for an influx of new faces. One waiter there joked recently about greeting Palmers with hazing rituals, but the restaurant’s managing partner, Ed Doherty, says he’ll be gracious to short-term guests, even if he doesn’t plan on making any adjustments for them. “We are just going to do what we do,” Doherty says. In other words, visitors from the Palm shouldn’t plan on seeing their faces on the wall. “What will happen is some will drift to the Capital Grille, some will drift to the Vesper,” Wallace says. “And then when it reopens, we’ll all go back to the Palm.”