The pandemic sounded the death knell for many of America’s most famous restaurants. Among the casualties in 2020 were such iconic institutions as K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, Manhattan’s “21” Club, and the 99-year-old Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles. Lesser-known neighborhood standbys that served their communities for generations were felled, too. (Here’s a longer list of the saddest restaurant closings of 2020.)
Newer places run by celebrity chefs weren’t immune either — see McCrady’s in Charleston and Blackbird in Chicago. And chains were hard hit, too, with such familiar operations as Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Applebee’s closing many locations, and some — including California Pizza Kitchen and Chuck E. Cheese — filing for bankruptcy. (Here, on the other hand, are some restaurant chains whose sales actually increased in 2020.)
While the arrival of vaccines for COVID-19 early in 2021 seemed to promise hope for the hard-hit restaurant industry, relief was only temporary, as new variants of the coronavirus swept across the country in addition to low vaccination rates and adherence to public health policy frustrated the efforts to tamp the virus down.
As in 2020, thousands of restaurants on every level went out of business in 2021. The coronavirus was a major contributing factor in many cases, directly or indirectly. But some long-established places closed down because the owners wanted to retire or because their locations had been sold.
While the demise of any restaurant is unfortunate, some closures seem particularly sad, especially when the place had attained iconic status and/or had become an important part of its community’s social fabric. To assemble our list of the saddest restaurant closings of 2021, 24/7 Tempo consulted scores of restaurant news and review sites and local and regional magazine and newspaper sites from across the nation.