And so it has come to pass. The rumored closure of the Tomato Palace is now a fact. When I wrote about this in March of 2016 the post elicited mixed feelings from readers. Most were excited about the prospect of a music venue at the Lakefront. Still, they lamented the possibility of losing affordable, family-friendly food in that location.
Most of the responses I saw yesterday as the news broke were about the same. Excitement at what a live music venue would bring to Downtown Columbia, sadness at losing a sentimental hometown favorite. As is the case in so many Columbia iconic institutions, I wonder if we just thought it would always be there, rather than actually ensuring its future by regular patronage. If The Tomato Palace had been, and continued to be, wildly successful I'm not sure that the Clyde's restaurant folks would have been brainstorming other uses for that space.
My experience taking my teen daughter to Iota Club and Café in Arlington gave me a more vivid view of what a live music venue could look like. I do hope that the new venture at the Lakefront will consider hosting regular underage nights and book talent that will draw high school and college kids. It takes work to do that right but I think that we need to factor in the needs and desires of young people as we revitalize our Downtown. There's got to be more than movies and the Mall for them during the Merriweather off-season.
When I received the press release yesterday outlining the restaurant's closure and future plans, I thought to myself, laughingly, "It's all because of the garlic knots."
If you don't know the story of the garlic knots, let me know, and I'll tell you. Or ask someone who has lived here a long time. Suffice it to say that the garlic knots were right up there with the Poinsettia Tree in the third rail of Columbia essentials. How important were they?
Well, before I went to bed last night I spotted this response of social media:
"That's too bad. I used to go there all the time but I stopped when they got rid of the garlic knots."
I hope the new place is wildly successful. I have another suggestion for them: bring back the knots. Such a small thing, but it just might yield big dividends.