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Amid a shifting restaurant scene, one area has borne the brunt of change in the Lehigh Valley

The former Hook restaurant in Allentown
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
A for/sale lease signs hangs at the site of the former Hook restaurant at 22 N. Sixth St. in Allentown. Before being rebranded as Hook, it was known as The Cosmopolitan.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The restaurant landscape in the Lehigh Valley continues to shift, most notably in Allentown, where another longstanding establishment recently closed its doors.

Bell Hall, a craft beer and burger bar that opened in October 2015, abruptly shuttered in February.

It joins a list of other downtown area restaurants that have come and gone in or around the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, or NIZ, a special district created to encourage development and revitalization in Center City Allentown and along the western side of the Lehigh River.

Here’s a rundown of some of those restaurants:

The Cosmopolitan / Hook

More than 21,000 square feet of space remains open and available at 22 N. 6th St., a six-story building adjacent to the ArtsWalk boasting the only glass rooftop bar in Allentown.

The Cosmopolitan was the first restaurant to occupy a rebuilt, brand-new structure, opening to much fanfare in October 2010.

Roughly $6 million had been pumped into what was viewed as an opulently classic restaurant, dishing out nostalgic fare such as Hess’s strawberry pie and teeming bowls of Sal’s spaghetti (a nod to the fact that Cosmopolitan occupied the same footprint downtown as the once-beloved Sal’s Spaghetti House).

The former Hook Seafood & Grille
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
The former Hook restaurant at 22 N 6th Street in Allentown. Before being rebranded as Hook, it was known as The Cosmopolian.

The Cosmopolitan closed in March 2015 and later rebranded as the seafood restaurant Hook, which opened in July 2015 and shuttered in February 2017.

The property remains unoccupied and was sold at auction in December 2020. It’s now listed for sale through the James Balliet Property Group for $3.4 million, dubbing both Cosmopolitan and Hook “ahead of their time” in Allentown.

“Those times have certainly changed and this versatile facility is primed to be re-opened as designed or possibly repositioned as a boutique hotel or maybe a high-end residential project,” the listing states, noting the owner will consider leasing the structure to a qualified tenant.

Shula’s Steak House

Just six months after moving from the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley to the Strata Flats building on Seventh Street in Allentown, Shula’s Steak House abruptly closed in January 2016.

Shula’s was part of a franchise named after former football coach Don Shula, serving aged beef and other steakhouse fare.

Shula's Steak House/Facebook
Shula's Steak House had a short-lived tenure in downtown Allentown.

Queen City BBQ

A barbecue restaurant and bar quickly moved into the space formerly occupied by Shula’s Steak House at the corner of Seventh Street and the ArtsWalk at City Center.

It was the third concept from The Bayou Boys, the team behind The Bayou restaurants in Bethlehem and Easton. It served up everything from mac and cheese with smoked ham hock and cave-aged cheddar to brisket, ribs, pulled chicken and pork.

The restaurant closed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the site now is home to Blended Bar + Grill (formerly Blended by BRU Daddy’s).

ROAR Social House

ROAR was a restaurant and bar by legendary Allentown restaurateurs the Saylors and was touted by Lehigh Valley Style as “one of the Lehigh Valley’s most striking dining spots.” 

Located at 732 Hamilton St., ROAR was known for a menu of casual sandwiches and entrees, including locally sourced steak and seafood.

The back-of-the-house featured HUSH, a cocktail lounge and speakeasy with vibes of the Prohibition era.

The site is now the home of Bru Daddy's Brewing Co.

Bru Daddy's Allentown
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
Bru Daddy's Brewing Co. in Allentown replaced ROAR Social House next to Five City Center.

Sangria / Billy’s Downtown Diner

This Mediterranean restaurant occupied the first floor of the Butz Corporate Center at 840 W. Hamilton St. thanks, in part, to a state revitalization capital grant.

The 6,000-square-foot space seated 350 people, including outdoor seating for 150.

Despite the owner’s track record of success in Easton with spots such as River Grille and Ocean, Sangria didn’t last.

840 Hamilton Street
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
A "For Lease" sign hangs at 840 Hamilton Street, the former home of Billy's Downtown Diner. Before Billy's, it was a restaurant known as Sangria.

The space later was occupied by Billy’s Downtown Diner, bringing the “not-your-ordinary-diner” concept from Bethlehem to Allentown.

It closed — and later reopened — after a renovation in 2019, but a “for lease” sign went up at the space as the diner quietly shuttered in 2022 (though Billy’s locations remain in Bethlehem and Easton).

Grain / Centro

The summer of 2018 yielded the abrupt closures of side-by-side restaurants on Hamilton Street.

Grain and Centro — the former run by The Bayou Boys and the latter backed by City Center Investment Corp. and operated by Greenwood Hospitality — offered two different concepts to the Allentown restaurant scene.

Grain was a farm-to-table, chef-driven concept known for its pan-seared scallops, various fish offerings, candied pork belly and more.

Centro was an Italian eatery known for its rustic cuisine and seasonal menu highlights. Specialties included meatballs, sage pappardelle with duck ragu and various stone-fired pizzas.

The two spaces are currently occupied by the Pennsylvania Rye Co. and Tacos y Tequila.

Downtown Allentown restaurants
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
Tacos & Tequila and Pennsylvania Rye Co. are located side-by-side on Hamilton Street, occupying spaces that were home to Grain and Centro restaurants.

Other notable closures

There were a number of other late 2000s/early 2010 NIZ-area restaurants that have come and gone, including Federal Grill, Johnny Manana’s, Wok Box, Tony Luke's, Vince's Cheesesteaks and Crust.

One of the more notable closures prior to Bell Hall was The Hamilton Kitchen and Bar, which opened in 2014 on the first floor of Two City Center and permanently closed in 2021 to make way for the dining and entertainment concept Sports & Social.

Sports and Social Allentown
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
Sports & Social is a national chain that took over at the site of the former Hamilton Kitchen & Bar in downtown Allentown.

Sports bar Chickie’s & Pete’s, located in the PPL Center, is less than a block away. Its website notes that, while open for all events, standard operating hours are now currently 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

The restaurant is considered closed Saturday through Monday, but is open for all arena events.

'Foot traffic downtown is only going to grow'

Despite all the challenges downtown, optimism remains.

“We’re optimistic about downtown Allentown’s restaurant scene. Interest is picking up from people outside the area and those very familiar with it, because they see the investments being made in the Moxy Hotel, Archer Music Hall, DaVinci Science Center, and the former PPL Tower and PPL Plaza," said Jarrett Laubach, City Center Group's director of leasing.

City Center is the real estate development company that has been the driving force behind many of downtown Allentown's redevelopment projects.

"The excitement and foot traffic downtown is only going to grow," Laubach said. "Some concepts haven’t found their footing here but that’s true in every city. What we’ve learned over the past decade is that restaurants that consistently serve high-quality food, are committed to marketing and events, and have owners who participate in operations can thrive despite market challenges.

Mo's Eatery Allentown
Rick Kintzel
For LehighValleyNews.com
Mo's Eatery at 806 Hamilton Street in Allentown.

"PA Rye Co., Mo’s Eatery, and Amigos Mexican Grill are just a few examples and, of course, national chains like Sports & Social can thrive as well," Laubach said.

Mo's Eatery joined the city's restaurant roster (at 806 Hamilton Street, not far from Brew Works) a few years ago, moving into a renovated space that previously housed Tony Luke’s, Vince’s Cheesesteaks and J’s Steaks & Subs.

Amigo's (at 932 Hamilton Street) opened last summer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: LehighValleyNews.com recently approached several restaurant owner/operators with data from the 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry report published by the National Restaurant Association in February.

The annual report — based on analysis of economic data and extensive surveys of restaurant operators and consumers — painted a picture of the headwinds facing the industry, from inflation to a shrinking labor pool and more.

You can read the story HERE.