Ligali’s to Close, Veteran Restaurateur John McDonnell Buys Storied Lincoln Park Restaurant Property

Ligali’s Bistro, Porcelli’s Bistro, Bistro on Lincoln Park, Sage Bistro, Miracles… These are some of the restaurants that have occupied the attractive commercial property at the corner of Kenilworth and W. 11th Street in Tremont, overlooking picturesque Lincoln Park.

After dinner service on Saturday June 13, Ligali’s will close after 15 months of operation, another in a long line of restaurant tenants, some failures, some successes, but all of them gone.

Executive chef Eric Wells, who struggled from day one to give the restaurant a fighting chance in a crowded market, will return fulltime to his private chef business, Skye LaRae's, now entering its 11th year of business.

Before you start calling the location “cursed,” as people are wont to do, consider the facts. Most previous operators were lessees not landlords. Often they were unknown entities in a neighborhood stacked with culinary luminaries. And all were stymied by a layout that included a cramped barroom and Siberia-like dining room in an adjacent space.

New owner John McDonnell has a plan to overcome most if not all of those challenges.

For starters, he has purchased the property lock, stock and liquor license. Secondly, his reputation for providing stellar food and service stretch back to the storied Fulton Bar and Grill, where McDonnell and chef Steve Parris helped kickstart the Ohio City food revolution. Since then McDonnell has operated Tartine Bistro in Rocky River, which was voted Best New Restaurant in Cleveland Scene when it opened in 2008. And lastly, interior modifications will transform the barroom, while dual-purpose concepts will better utilize the adjacent space.

In the barroom, the bar will be repositioned to the right-hand side of the space. The wall behind the original bar will be pushed back into a portion of the kitchen, enlarging the room by a considerable amount.

“I prefer the places that have the bar and dining together; I like that buzz,” says McDonnell. “That’s what I’m comfortable with.”

The new layout will offer seating for about 50 at the bar, new banquettes and a pair of “power booths.” The original centrally located front door will be enlarged and brought back into service, providing better flow and energy than the side door that’s currently in use.

McDonnell describes the food as Cal-Med – shorthand for California-Mediterranean themed fare. Diners can look forward to dishes inspired by those found in Barcelona, the South of France, and Northern Italy, he says.

Next door, in the adjoining dining room space, the owner intends to operate a casual gourmet foods market during the week, where neighbors can pop in for wine, cheese, charcuterie, produce and prepared foods. On weekend evenings, the owner will hold one-off dinners run by him and his chef or bring in guest chefs. The slender enclosed dining space will be returned to its original status as an alfresco porch.

Estimates put the grand opening in August, with the possibility of earlier events taking place in the market space.

For McDonnell, who left Ohio City – and Cleveland as a whole – just when the dining scene was really getting exciting, he’s thrilled to come home.

“When I left Ohio City, Cleveland was just beginning its fun food renaissance. I was kind of sad I missed a lot of it,” he says. “I’m a city guy, I love it down there.”

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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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