I tend to agree with the perception argument, although I find it hard to imagine that Lucier and/or its owners will ever be percieved as survivors. Regardless of the state of the economy, Lucier, aside from being expensive, had two things working agianst it; a chef without street cred, and a concept that spoke to a demographic that Portland really doesn't have. Add to that a design that was bordering on garish. My impression of Lucier was akin to a lottery winner that spends the winnings on things like gold-plated bathroom fixtures, and indoor swimming grottos. Portland is by and large a conservative community, and anything that smacks of Dubai excess is going to be rejected.
I also think Lucier was banking on the success of the South Waterfront. Sadly, that too has failed for many of the same reasons. Again, not unlike Dubai, a series of shimmering towers surrounded by desert; a lifestyle concept that is essentially lifeless. At this point, I think I'd focus less on a destination restaurant and more on what could strengthen a sense of community. The area (much to Homer William's dismay) is not comprised of million dollar condo owners, but rather a ghost town of failed flips and lease conversions.
Ultimately, I think the success of the space (in whatever form it takes) rests with what the area needs, and is willing to support.
I think that's really true. I've always believed that one of the keys to success for a business is to be able to have your core clientele live within walking distance so that, rain or shine, you're paying the rent. Then, if you can also be a destination for others, that's a bonus and that's where you can really make your profits. Its why the Deli is crowded - we have the hotels and the Pearl and a bunch of offices all within several blocks. Castagna and Sel Gris have always been able to draw from Ladd's Addition and the SE neighborhoods around them - sure helps on a rainy Tuesday night in February.
Lucier's customers have to drive there. And there's no foot traffic. No one is going to walk by and spur of the moment go, "Hmm, this looks good, honey...I'm hungry, let's try it!" Or let's try it next week. They're almost completely dependent on reviews and their own marketing machine and hype. None of which seemed very helpful to them. That's pretty hard to overcome even in the right market in the best of times.
We went to Gruner last night. As good as it was and as professional as the service was, it felt like a mom and pop place. We saw the owner. The staff looked like they cared about the place, not just their jobs. We'll go back because we had a terrific experience, but also because it feels like a family there. That's what loyalty is all about. It's how you get repeat customers.
I think with a place like Lucier, that never really develops. So in lieu of repeat customers, they need to survive by getting in a large number of customers who are going for that special, dazzling experience, if only on special occasions. Setting aside for a minute whether or not Lucier actually provided that, the fact remains that in New York or Chicago or L.A. there are enough people who will do that to support a restaurant. I think in Portland there aren't, especially considering the nature of Portland residents. Lucier came to define ostentation, and Portlanders are, for the most part, a group that tends to shun ostentation. For better or worse (better, IMO).