James Republic closes in East Village—and it will be missed

In a time when new restaurants are making waves in a waveless beach city, sometimes we need to stop and pay our respects to places that have silently closed their doors, gone dark, and slipped away—of which James Republic was one.

When Max, a restauranteur and chef, opened James Republic at the Courtyard Marriott in 2013, taking over the space of a dark, neon lit hotel bar that served the usual hotel grub, it was a refreshing moment for the Long Beach culinary scene. James Republic was, for a time, a beacon illuminating at the southeast corner of Linden and First.

The restaurant featured a chef-driven menu that attempted localism on multiple levels with a sustainable mission, and a promise of farm-to-table ingredients accompanying a seasonally rotating menu along with locally sourced ingredients, locally roasted coffee, and craft cocktails. What wasn’t to love?

What was especially unique at the time was the attention to detail (at first). The presentation was beautiful and each dish you ordered was better than the one before. (The scallop and shrimp ceviche served in a jar with chips of lotus root, beets, and jicama comes instantly to mind.)

It was the sort of place where you could spend an evening starting with a happy hour cocktail on the patio overlooking the theater of Downtown Long Beach while snacking on small dishes. Those small dishes cleared away for another cocktail, a dinner menu, and then followed by a dessert and a nightcap. And then a couple weeks later the menu would change and you could do it all over again.

But alas, soon the rotating menu froze into merely playing the hits, and the consistency of those hits were sporadic at best, ultimately relegating James Republic to being the reluctant fall-back, and no longer the destination.

When everything shut down in the first wave of the 2020 pandemic, some restaurants never re-opened. Now, in the place where the first chef-driven restaurant in Long Beach once stood is a basic hotel restaurant, with basic menu items, and a basic name: Bistro.

“During COVID the owners of the hotel decided they didn’t want to proceed with having a more complicated concept like the James Republic and they opted for a more simple cafe style for their hotel,” chef Max told me in an email. “It was sad to see a restaurant like this in the community drop because of the COVID virus.”

Whether or not Bistro will be able to fill the deck shoes of the nautical themed James Republic is yet to be seen (even thought they still have undeserved diners choice awards displayed in their doorway window from 2014 – 2019), but the sadness of the loss is sure to leave an emotional-eater void in the edible world that Long Beach is becoming. Even as I type this ending I’m thinking about roasted dates stuffed with almonds and cheese, wrapped in bacon, glazed with a sticky maple sweetness, and I’m fighting back tears.

While there is probably a better way to honor the culinary loss, I’m considering showing my true respect by standing on the corner of Linden and First and pouring 40 ounces of extra virgin olive oil on the curb.

Peace-out James Republic. You will be missed.

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