In downtown Jersey City, expiring leases and expansion plans have lately made an impact along Grove Street’s original restaurant row south of Newark Avenue. Hard Grove Cafe is currently relocating to a storefront on Newark Avenue’s pedestrian plaza; the former Bar Majestic is now home to Razza, one of New Jersey’s top-ranked pizzerias; and its neighbor, The Merchant, shuttered on Saturday night after 12 years of service. That last space is scheduled to reopen in early December as the third home of chef and restaurateur Brian Dowling’s original Park & Sixth (364 Grove Street, Jersey City; 201-918-6072), the first version of which opened in 2009 at its titular Hoboken cross-street.
“Dave, the owner, moved to Australia, and his sister Ann-Marie was looking after the place. They were ready,” Dowling says of the amicable transaction. “I didn’t want any animosity, I don’t want to lose their customers. It’ll be a nice transition.”
That transition means mostly aesthetic changes to the space at 279 Grove Street, where renovations began yesterday. Once he gets approval from the state for acquisition of The Merchant’s liquor license (expected anytime between mid-November and mid-December), Dowling will close the 364 Grove restaurant and focus on furnishing the new two-story address with pieces of his growing collection of classic American advertising, vintage telephones, and subway signs. When the doors open, even bigger changes will be under way.
Park & Sixth 3.0 will be open seven days week, and while the new space will, in time, continue to churn out classic burgers like the half-pound Beast, and sandwich specials like the Cuban Havana and meatloaf Bat Out of Hell, for takeout and delivery, a larger kitchen means a more ambitious menu.
“Once I got the liquor license, then I wanted to explore,” Dowling says of his restaurant’s continuing evolution. “I’m not a restaurant chef — I never owned one, never worked in one before, and I wanted to see what I can do.” That means a mix of classic dishes that made him, like his fresh mozzarella, and Philly cheesesteak rolls, but also new entrees like a double-cut pork chop, dry-aged NY strip, and a cioppino with locally sourced fish. To whittle down the forthcoming menu, he has plans to test new dishes as specials at the Park & Sixth Gastropub (247 Washington Street, Jersey City; 201-630-4184) over the next several weeks.
While the larger venue also means the possibility of entertainment, like the jazz brunch and bluegrass nights the gastropub currently hosts, it’ll still be all about the food.
“We’re a restaurant first,” says Dowling. “I don’t want to be known as a bar, but I have a restaurant that has a bar. I don’t want a crazy late-night crowd, with DJs and pulling the tables, deterring people by becoming a loud scene at night. We’ll be open till midnight and a little later on weekends, but no 3 a.m. craziness. Nothing good happens at 3 a.m.”
He also addressed another pressing neighborhood concern, the recent petition circulated by the owner of Two Boots pizzeria, Aaron Morrill, seeking to eject food trucks and other stalls selling prepared foods at the farmers’ market that operates outside the Grove Street PATH Station.
“I signed the petition but I think I was misrepresented,” Dowling says. “I support the downtown association, Groove on Grove, I pay every year for the vending booths — the farmers’ market’s great. I just don’t like that somebody can come in with a truck, in front of a restaurant that takes the risk. We pay the rent, the taxes — somebody who buys a permit can come in from Bayonne and park their truck, and that was my problem. And I made that perfectly clear.”
Ultimately, however, Dowling’s satisfied with the state of his competition downtown.
“I’ve been here so long now,” Dowling says of the downtown dining scene. “I’ve heard ‘The renaissance is coming, coming, coming,’ and now it’s here. The weak will perish and the strong will survive.”