Private Issue
JT's, Jeremiah Tower's opulent bistro adjoining Stars, now serves dinner only two nights a week -- Friday and Saturday. But that doesn't mean the restaurant is on the ropes.

"It's turned out to be much more lucrative to use JT's as a private-party space," says Arthur Gallego, public relations director of StarTeam Ltd., the umbrella organization that oversees Tower's many restaurant ventures. "A party of 40 people will generate between $5,000 and $8,000 in income, whereas 40 diners, at $65 a head plus wine, bring in a lot less."

There's already one private dining room in Stars: the Grill Room. It's busy about 250 days a year, and it was to manage the overflow that JT's increasingly came to be used as a companion facility. Stars is well-known as a site for large private parties, in part because of marketing efforts to the convention bureau, tour guides, and banquet managers.

JT's was originally conceived as a romantic, intimate space, a place where two people could talk and be heard, as they could not in Stars itself, where the noise level can sometimes be "unpleasant," Gallego acknowledges.

But the food is often rich (with an abundance of such delicacies as black truffles and caviar). And while prices are high, "that's less of an issue than the number of courses," Gallego says. "A lot of people find five courses overwhelming, even though they're not disproportionately large."

(Menus for private parties, on the other hand, are typically three or four courses, Gallego says.)

Dish also thought that JT's was hard to find. The restaurant occupies the site of the old Stars Cafe, on Golden Gate Avenue, but it lacks a separate entrance and can only be reached through Stars itself. That odd configuration is largely the result of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, Gallego says.

To comply with the ADA, "we would have had to tear out the entire street-side wall and install a wider, power-operated door," he says. "And a separate, handicap-accessible bathroom, and probably an elevator to the smoking mezzanine."

The morphing of posh JT's into a small banquet facility is yet another reminder that the city's dining scene in the 1990s is radically different from what it was 10 years ago, "when people just put everything on plastic," Gallego says. "These days credit card sales are less, and we see more cash. People in their 20s, in particular, will split the check and pay with cash."

Frugal gourmands?

A Correction
The full title of Reed Hearon's new cookbook (mentioned in last week's column) is La Parilla: The Mexican Grill. My apologies.

By Paul Reidinger

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