A. Tom Prakas looks at the vistas through the huge windows of the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place. His breaths shorten.
“Wow. Who can believe this? Who wouldn’t want to be here?” said Prakas, whose Prakas Group Real Estate has the brokerage agreement to fill that 37th floor with Philadelphia’s highest restaurant ever. “Four hundred seventy-five feet up.”
Prakas is an old restaurant hand, having run some of the largest bar-restaurants in Ohio before settling in Boca Raton, Fla., a decade ago to specialize in placing big-name restaurants in big-deal places.
The Two Liberty Place space may not be one of Prakas’ biggest deals, but it is certainly a big proposition for Philadelphia. The Falcone Group, also of Boca Raton, is renovating the upper floors of Two Liberty Place for mostly million-dollar-pins condominiums. The 37th floor is reserved for amenities — a fitness center, a residents lounge and other private rooms.
Ten thousand square feet of that 37th floor, though, will be one of Philadelphia’s biggest restaurants — in both size and, no doubt, buzz. As yet, however, no one knows what kind of place will inhabit that space, which is where Prakas comes in.
“I’ve gotten inquiries from all over and have made presentations to many types of concepts,” said Prakas, wearing an open-collar shirt under a summer jacket, looking all the part of a man who spends a lot of time restaurant-hopping in South Beach and the rest of Florida’s hip east coast. “It could end up being someone from Philadelphia, but, I’m telling you, there are a lot of people from around the country who believe Philadelphia is becoming even more of a restaurant city and want to be a part of it.”
While the space is spectacular, it still may be problematic, especially with Philadelphia’s restaurant history for large places and those high up in buildings. Prakas said it will probably be a 275-seat restaurant when finished. Old Original Bookbinder’s, the iconic Philadelphia res¬taurant, became unwieldy in its last years at 800 seats, eventually closing and re-opening as a much smaller space. The Mosbuln, the ship-restaurant on the Dela-ware, has bad many concept and ownership changes over the years with its 400 seats. The most successful and long-lasting restaurants in Philadelphia in recent years have been smaller, street-level places, no matter what the price range — Le Bec-Fin, Vet:6, Dmitri’s, Copahanana, and the like.
Philadelphia has had sky-top restaurants in the past, but few have been successful for long. There were restaurants on the top floor of the Centre Square building at 15th and Market Streets and at another tower at 15th and Locust. The 19th-floor restaurant at the Park Hyatt — the old Bellevue Strat- ford — recently changed from the Founders Room to XIX.
Prakas remains undaunted, though. He has distributed an eight-page glossy brochure, with both full-color shots of the views from the restaurant and mock-ups of what it might be inside. Currently, it is just empty space, save for the kitchen utilities that are going in on one side.
“The new occupants are going to want to make the space theirs,” he said. “We’re putting the utilities for the kitchen in the corner where it makes sense, but other than that, we are going to leave it alone until we Find the proper occupant.”
He expects the new restaurateurs to sink $3.5 million to $5 million into the place before opening it. That precludes a mom-and pop operation to be sure, but it may also preclude even an established Philadelphia restaurant from coming in, since it will require heavy financial backing that sometimes chef-owners, who like to control things, don’t want to deal with.
While Prakas said he has contacted companies that have multiple restaurants, it clearly won’t be a traditional chain coming into Two Liberty Place,
This isn’t going to be P.F. Chang’s or Outback,” he said. “It will have to be a destination place. There won’t be street traffic, so it will have to be a place that will attract people as a desti-nation. It doesn’t have to be extraordinarily expensive, but it will have to be classy and probably unique.”
One large concern Prakas has been talking with is the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, which owns a dozen upscale restaurants in Florida and its home city of Atlanta — Chops/Lobster Bar, Pano’s and Paul’s, the Atlanta Fish Market, They are all lavishly decorated and have wine lists and menus to match.
“There will have to be a Throw!’ effect,” said Prakas. He said he felt the choice would be made in the next few months and the restau-rant could open by spring, 2008. “I don’t have a preconceived notion of what exact restaurant will be there, but I am hoping it would be something that Philly doesn’t already have.” Prakas said he has already helped Danny DeVito open up his new restaurant in South Beach and said DeVito, being from New Jersey, has shown some interest in the space.
“In the end, it is going to have to be a spectacular, up-scale place,” he said. “I’m sure we will find the right operator to make that impression.”
Robert Strauss // The Philadelphia Inquirer // July 9th, 2007