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Gem Dandy 

Zack Bruell's Cowell & Hubbard to open in February

Taking over an historic building like Cowell & Hubbard in PlayhouseSquare is a double-edged sword. While you inherit the grand bones of an impressive and significant structure ­— in this case, Cleveland's famed jewelry store, which occupied the space from 1920 to 1981 — you also assume certain challenges. As a recipient of historic preservation tax credits, restaurateur Zack Bruell must rehabilitate the space in accordance with strict guidelines. Among other things, that means getting creative when it comes to the acoustics.

With 18-foot ceilings, walls of windows, and 6,500 square feet of space interrupted by little more than the occasional support column, the room could best be described as "acoustically challenged."

"I learned early on in my career that acoustics is something that must be addressed," explains Bruell. "You want energy, but you still want to be able to hear the people you are dining with."

In charge of getting it right is Ron Reed, of the architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky. Acoustical panels will be concealed within the recesses of the coffered ceiling; thick, theater-style curtains will soften the walls of windows; and carpet will cover the nearly 100-year-old tile floors.

Additionally, the cavernous space is broken up into smaller, more intimate nooks, separated from one another by low-slung walls. Each will be lined with cozy banquettes — a signature Bruell design feature. Black and white photos plucked from the Playhouse Square archives will adorn the walls. Overall, the restaurant and bar will seat approximately 140.

When Bruell opens Cowell & Hubbard — his fifth Cleveland eatery — in late February, he will be giving the neighborhood's one million annual theatergoers a first-rate pre- or post-curtain dinner option. He'll also provide upscale lunches to the many folks who work in and around Playhouse Square.

"The challenge is to not be a 'theater restaurant,'" says Bruell, "but to be a restaurant for regular diners who happen to be in the Theater District.

"I believe this is one of the next neighborhoods to pop," he says of Playhouse Square.

To accompany C&H's "Paris in the 1920s" decor, the menu is billed as modern French. Unlike Bruell's L'Albatros, a University Circle brasserie serving classic (albeit updated) bistro fare, these dishes will be "something you would see a young Parisian chef doing today," according to Bruell.

Andy Dombrowski will serve as chef de cuisine, relocating from his current post at one of Bruell's other restaurants, Chinato. Al Ives will step into Dombrowski's position at Chinato.

Gone dark: Both McCormick & Schmick's and Melange in Beachwood have closed. Out in Westlake, Blake's Seafood Restaurant, a member of the Hyde Park Restaurant Group, has shuttered as well. The Crocker Park space will become home to another Bar Louie.

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