Talk about the end of an era: It’s hard to believe this day would come. Le Bec Fin, long known as Philadelphia’s flagship fine dining establishment, is through. For longtime residents and natives, it’s almost impossible to imagine the city without Le Bec, which Georges Perrier opened in the early 1970s. At that time, Philadelphia’s restaurant scene was nothing like the one we know today–nothing–and the restaurant’s splendor, haute cuisine, superb reviews and five-star rating brought a luster to the food scene that was sorely lacking.
At the same time, other establishments, big and small, opened within an atmosphere of burgeoning credibility and energy. Frog. The Commissary. The Garden. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Knave of Hearts. Les Amis. Judy’s. But Le Bec Fin always remained the gold standard for exclusive fine dining, oft cited as “the most expensive restaurant in town”–and thus off-limits to many.
Even into the ’90s, when Esquire named Le Bec Fin the best restaurant in the country, going to the restaurant for most Philadelphians was the ultimate in special occasion dining. Your girlfriend finished med school? Maybe a dinner at Le Bec Fin, but don’t forget your tie and jacket. She’d dress up special, too. It was so connected to its opulence, it was often invoked symbolically: “It’s not like he took me to Le Bec Fin or anything. We just had burgers.”
Of course, in later years, things slipped, and it no longer represented the end-all, be-all in Philly cuisine. Ironically, like the Baby Boomer of restaurants, it was superseded by eateries that traveled along on the road it had paved. The new establishments went well beyond its old-school model, with innovation–partly in physical design–Le Bec seemed unable to compete against. The last decade has not exactly been kind.
Perhaps the biggest loss of all to Le Bec was the 2012 exit of its founder, Georges Perrier. As Chef Chris Scarduzio told the Insider’s Michael Klein, “Georges and Le Bec Fin were joined at the hip. There was no separation of the twins. With all due respect to Georges and the brand, Le Bec Fin deserves an honorable retirement.”