Rochester's East End has evolved into an entertainment and dining district that draws people from around the city and out of town.
Efforts to attract a mature demographic, coupled with residential development and other factors, have produced that evolution, which has had its share of growing pains.
"People are coming back to the city for walking to a variety of restaurants (and) entertainment options, including the RPO, Eastman Theatre, clubs and bars and restaurants," says Tim Tompkins, owner of One Restaurant and Lounge, an East End bistro, and president of the East End Business & Neighborhood Association.
According to officials at the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., the East End encompasses two distinct sections of downtown Rochester that sit on opposite sides of the Inner Loop. The East End, more narrowly defined, is the area on either side of East Avenue between the Inner Loop and East Main Street. The Upper East End is on the other side of the Inner Loop, including areas north and south of East Avenue between Union and Alexander streets.
Maintaining an image
Though the two parts share the Inner Loop and East Avenue, the Upper East End and East End differ in important ways as entertainment and cultural venues and in the businesses that occupy them, says Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of RDDC. Until recently, the two areas even had their own business associations, though the East End Business & Neighborhood Association now represents both.
The Eastman School of Music, Salinger's Bar & Grill, a restaurant known for its music, and Havana Moe's, a bar that caters to cigar aficionados, share East Avenue's intersection with Gibbs Street. Closer to the Inner Loop are more clubs and restaurants, as well as private student housing and upscale condominiums.
Toward East Main lies the M. Dolores Denman Courthouse, home of the state's 4th Appellate Division and a huge law library. Students and business professionals heading out to lunch may fill the sidewalks on any given day, along with residents who have walked across Main Street from nearby Grove Place, one of Rochester's more picturesque neighborhoods.
"People who have moved downtown tend to be in a walkable neighborhood," says Zimmer-Meyer.
The Upper East End, on the other hand, has a slightly different character. Though it features trendy restaurants, the Little
Theatre and 200 East Avenue Apartments and Town Homes, an upscale residential complex, the Upper East End's clubs and bars shape its image.
"That district has been described as a bar district," Zimmer-Meyer says.
The image has negative connotations, perhaps partly because of some bar and club owners' willingness to admit younger customers-whom some call the 18-and-older crowd-in the past. Though legally unable to drink, the teenagers sometimes found older patrons willing to buy alcohol for them. The mixture of immaturity and alcohol sometimes led to trouble, which could spill onto the streets.
"That '18-and-over' brings not a real positive element to the neighborhood; it can be tough to manage," says John Billone Jr., owner of the East Avenue Inn and Suites and a board member of the East Avenue Business & Neighborhood Association.
Upper East End business owners were not the only ones to have difficulty managing younger patrons. Mike O'Leary, who once owned Milestones, a music club that was west of the Inner Loop, found that even events that catered to young adults drew their share of teenagers.
"If you target an early-20s crowd, you get 19-year-olds sneaking in," O'Leary says.
After dealing with fights and other problems for 15 years, O'Leary closed Milestones, eliminating one of the area's prime music venues.
Zimmer-Meyer speculates that the problem for the Upper East End and East End lay with some club owners' policies.
"When you have club owners ... that end up putting formats into their bars that attract a little bit more out-of-control crowd, that becomes a serious problem in neighborhoods," she says.
Some club owners have discarded those formats. O'Leary's latest club, the Temple Bar & Grille, which is close to the Eastman School of Music, caters to a slightly older clientele than that of Milestones with more money to spend.
"Kids in their late 20s, they have a little more income," O'Leary says.
He offers Celtic bands one night a week and jazz on another at Temple but seems a touch wistful when speaking of the entertainment Milestones once offered seven nights a week.
"Blues, Irish, rock-we had a little bit of everything there," he says.
John Diamantopoulos took steps to attract older patrons when he and the co-owner of Murphy's Law Irish Pub opened the club at the intersection of East Avenue and Alexander Street in 2009.
"Our business approach was to make it a strict dress code, play older kind of music and cater to the older crowd," Diamantopoulos says.
They also aimed for what Diamantopoulos called a "mid-20s-to-30s" clientele when they opened Victoire Belgian Beer Bar & Bistro on the other side of the Inner Loop a year ago. Though the restaurant features live music and delicacies like roast of wild boar with gremolata, customers may be just as drawn to the 24 beer taps on its wall and its half-price beer specials.
While Diamantopoulos and other restaurant and club owners have sought to keep older customers coming into their establishments, other forces also have helped change the area's character.
"The biggest change that has occurred in that district has to do with housing," Zimmer-Meyer says.
More than a decade ago, when the Chevy Place residential project opened its doors just east of the loop, all 77 of its residential units were already spoken for. The complex is now called 200 East Avenue Apartments and Town Homes.
Other local development projects currently in the works should give Rochester residents, visitors and workers easier access to the East End and Upper East End. Buckingham Properties LLC, for example, plans to put 179 residential units and 160,000 square feet of commercial space in the former Midtown Tower.
Long before such projects are finished, Billone should have completed a $5.5 million renovation project at East Avenue Inn & Suites that includes the addition of a two-story restaurant and banquet facility.
Business owners applaud such projects for the walk-in trade they could bring to their doors.
"If half the housing projects come online that they've been talking about, more people will come down here. That's going to help everybody," says Jerry Serafine, owner of Restaurant 2 Vine in the East End.
Other local business activity, such as ESL Federal Credit Union's decision to move its headquarters-and 350 employees-to Chestnut Street, also got applause. Such activities may have helped bring businesspeople back to East Avenue's restaurants after some of the Rochester companies that once filled tables at lunchtime moved out of town-or laid off those employees.
"We get a lot more businesspeople than we did five years ago," says Michael Calabrese, owner of Java's Cafe, a Gibbs Street coffee shop.
Though Zimmer-Myer says the Upper East End and East End should be viewed as two distinct areas, she admits that people who come to them in search of food, drink or entertainment probably care little about the ways they differ.
The differences between the areas can be a plus for those who think of the combined districts simply as the East End-and wish to enjoy its charm.
"It's very exciting, from a standpoint of redeveloping a city. You want to have districts like this," Zimmer-Meyer says.
Though desirable, the district's combination of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, businesses and residential spaces has pitfalls.
"It all of a sudden becomes more three-dimensional, and then you begin to develop conflicts," Zimmer-Meyer asserts.
Billone says business and property owners are working on ways to approach such questions.
"Now that we're getting more people into the area, these are problems and challenges that we have to figure out," he says.
Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
8/23/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.