1263 University Avenue, Hillcrest
There’s just something about 1263 University Avenue. Restaurants there are always already doomed to failure. How many have come and come in recent years? Most recently, the Range (which wasn’t any good) made a go of it, couldn’t make it work, moved across the street to commandeer and revitalize a struggling nightclub...and then closed down.
Now, 1263 is home to the Commonwealth Ultra Lounge, flashy cousin to the Merrow, a facelifted version of the old Ruby Room. It took a bunch of downtime and probably half-a-million dollars, but Commonwealth looks like someone smashed together random elements from Craft and Commerce mustache and flannel fetishism with Hillcrest gay bar glitz. Chandeliers, pianos, graffiti, and a bit of seedy/grimy/cheesiness all hang over the place. Perversely enough, it looks pretty good. From the warm mezzanine (which would be sweltering when the place gets packed) it’s downright cheerful, especially with Christmas decor all around.
But the curse of 1263 prevails. Already, management has scaled back the menu from what the website claims is available. $15 steak dinners and plates of fish n’ chips have vanished. Only fried bar snacks and a few salads remain, and it’s not pretty.
Hoisin glazed chicken wings? Overcooked strips of breast meat with a thick coat of panko and not enough sauce.
"Common" street tacos? Overpriced at $10 and hard to finish a plate of three. Weak guacamole shows signs of age, having oxidized as it languishes in a six pan somewhere back of the house, waiting for dinner guests who aren’t coming.
Deep-fried balls of macaroni and cheese? Edible. Unremarkable.
Cocktails? Yes, but stuck somewhere between the “I love bitter and spicy” school of thought and the “umbrellas, pineapple juice, and lots of well booze” style that’s great for getting smashed. $6 would be OK, but $9 or $10 doesn’t fly.
Commonwealth has only been open a few months, but the thin veneer of prosperity has already begun to crack. Absent crowds and pared-down menus reek of a plummeting bottom line. Even if that’s not the case, that’s how it looks and people will pick up on that. If a clubby restaurant is going to succeed at this location, it will have to truly excel. Inferior food isn’t going to do it. You need to have the eats be good enough to bring people in from 6-10 for dinner, and the drinks be good enough to get people in and drinking until closing.
Commonwealth, if it’s not too late, kick your game up and stop trying to compete with Baja Betty’s. You will lose, just like everybody else has and always will. 1263 University Avenue could be something great, but so far nothing has hit the mark.