Soft jazz: Carlton's coming to East Market
Once again the restaurant space in the old Michie Company building at 609 East Market Street, across from the police station, has changed hands. This time former Hamilton's pastry chef Bernard Dukes plans to open a fine dining restaurant with French and ethnic influences named Carlton's, which will also feature a late night jazz club.
Since late 2008 the space had been home to Asia Specialty, known for serving up authentic Chinese food, including hot pot meals, a kind of the Chinese version of fondue. They'd also recently been staying open until 5am on the weekends to serve the Club 216 crowd next door, something Dukes plans to do as well. While Asia Specialty owner Zhiwei Wang Estes couldn't be reached for comment, Dukes says she told him that she had been "working herself to death and needed a vacation." That vacation appears permanent.
Dukes says he took possession of the lease recently and plans to open "sometime in November."
The space, of course, has a colorful history. Before 2005, it was a place called Garden of Sheeba, which served healthy-type African and Caribbean cuisine like jerk tofu and featured Afro-root music events.
Next, the space became home to a French bistro, Bohšme, which garnered a few Reader's Choice awards from the Daily Progress and appeared to be on the road to success. But then Bohšme's chef, Clive Papayanis, was caught stealing money and arrested on embezzlement charges. Then former Bohšme owner Tom Fussell, who wanted to keep a better watch on the books, made the mistake of hiring eventually-AWOLed Bel Rio owner, and then close friend Jim Baldi as a bookkeeper. Fussell has since accused Baldi of draining the restaurant's bank accounts and ruining him personally. Baldi could not be reached for comment on the allegation.
Dukes, of course, hopes to avoid such drama. In addition to serving lunch, dinner, and brunch; he wants to provide diners and late-nighters with a soft-vocal jazz lounge. House-made breads, desserts, sorbets, and ice creams will also be served.
"I think that's missing in Charlottesville," says Dukes. "A place where you can listen to music, have a bite to eat or a drink, and talk to the person next to you. Music that's a little more tranquil."
Dukes says he also wants to keep prices lower than they typically are on the Downtown Mall, while still maintaining an "elegant atmosphere."
So why the name Carlton's? "It doesn't lock me into a particualr cuisine," says Dukes, "and it's a catchy name that's easy to remember."
As for the food, well, Dukes is handing that responsibility over to former Blue Light and Jarman's Gap cook Nelson Moore.
"He's very talented, and passionate about food," says Dukes.