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Failed Forest Hills bistro could re-open as Italian restaurant

Soon to be an Italian restaurant?Soon to be an Italian restaurant?

Croan McCormack says it wasn't a dispute with his chef, or his own back surgery, or the long-term illness of a family member that shuttered Tonic, across from the Forest Hills T stop. It was, he says, patients from Shattuck Hospital congregating in front of the liquor store two doors down and scaring away his customers.

Apparently, pasta lovers are made of sterner stuff than casual drinkers. McCormack was before the Boston Licensing Board this morning, asking for permission to turn Tonic into an Italian restaurant, either through a deal with a Chicago chain of Italian eateries that's expressed interest in Forest Hills, or through his own efforts.

McCormack needs board approval because he is currently sitting on Tonic's liquor license, which the board could take away from him if it decides he has no plans to either use it or sell it.

McCormack admitted to the board today that "my vision was wrong" for a spritely bistro catering to medical workers and other professionals in the area looking for a place for a late-night bite and drink. And that's because those professionals took one look at the Shattuck patients outside the liquor store, got scared and went elsewhere, he said.

"My neighbor next door is in the same predicament," he said, referring to Eugene O'Neill's, which, however, has consistently stayed open since arriving in Forest Hills, unlike Tonic, which opened, shut not long after, then re-opened, then shut again. The Dogwood Cafe has also remained open in the same block for several years.

McCormack told the board two earlier agreements to sell his liquor license fell through due to licensing issues, but that he was approached by the Chicago Italian concern a couple days ago and that its proposal looked promising.

He added, "If it doesn't work out, then I'll do it myself."

A representative from City Councilor Matt O'Malley's office attended the hearing to back McCormack's request.

The board decides Thursday whether to give McCormack 90 days to do something with his license.

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Comments

Why go to tonic when you can get better food at Dogwood and cheaper drinks at the Fireside?

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I've been saying for years that JP needs a good Italian place. Sweet!

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Two Italian spots have been in business for years...the Dogwood and Bella Luna.

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Neither the Dogwood nor Bella Luna are Italian. Come on. The closest one around is Del Finos.

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Or do you mean high end Italian?

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The pizza is purely American and pasta even if prepared in the Italian style is only one aspect of Italian cuisine. I think what is meant by "Italian" is actual Italian main dishes.

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Those are not Italian restaurants. If anything, they both have a kind of pan-ethnic menu. You wouldn't call Bella Luna an Argentinian restaurant because they had chimichurri on their steak or Dogwood an Asian restaurant because they have chicken teriyaki and spring rolls.

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That place was the worst. My friend went in there one time and ordered a Brooklyn Lager and the bartender asked him what kind of cocktail that was. Maybe hire a decent staff and design the place so it doesn't look like a wannabe Russian disco and it might work.

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I think Tonic failed because:
-it was a bit too expensive vs the value it provided.
-he misfired on the "mood" vs what the neighborhood seemed to want -- his clubby lighting, loud soundtrack, and grainy videos seemed mis-placed vs "neighborhood bistro concept" and he got defensive in the face of customer feedback
-he didn't give it enough time to succeed. I assume it was a case of spending too much time and money on the buildout, and then not having enough money in the bank to let it run at a loss once the doors opened.
-he didn't appropriately promote it. Advertising in the Metro, but never doing any promotions focused on the neighborhood? Just odd.

I don't think this neighborhood, or JP overall, is afraid of "Shattuck patients outside the liquor store." We happily patronize the Dogwood, Fazenda, and increasingly O'Neills. On the same night that Tonic was totally empty, you could find a packed Dogwood.

O'Neills could use more patronizing, but even there I think it's more a matter of time and how they either adapt to serve the neighborhoo (or don't). Their beer list has improved and they seem to be getting more traffic because of that. Their food is squarely mediocre and is hurting them in my view. I don't think their business will live or die based on being near the Shattuck.

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I think all that JP RS says is true, but I think there may be some truth to the zombies wondering the area scaring off customers. That liquor store is right next to his business I believe and the other businesses are just far enough away that maybe it makes a difference. The other thing I would note is that I think it was a very poor show for the neighborhood that surrounds that strip that they couldn't keep the place open. I went to O'Neills last week on a Friday at around the dinner hour and it was empty. Why wouldn't all those people up the hill on Tower Street and nearby not be able to fill this place--and why wouldn't they be trying to encourage a place that is clearly an amenity to the neighborhood to stay in business and counteract a little bit of that zombie activity that is undeniably a problem right on both sides of that block of Washington Street?

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Knowing your customers is key. Catering to zombie needs would have filled a specialty niche and possibly have drawn other zombies from as far as Roslindale and West Roxbury.

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I live up the hill from there and would love to spend more of my food dollars there. And I'm willing to "invest" those dollars in a place that seems to be struggling, if I feel like the place is going to try to meet my needs over time.

I went to Tonic 4-5 times and brought others. I mentally channeled a slice of $$ that otherwise would have gone to restaurants outside of JP, and I also moved a few Dogwood visits there. But there's a limit to what I would spend there and how many times I would give them a chance, given the vibe he created vs what I was looking for. I also gave him feedback in the hopes that he was looking to evolve over time.

I do the same with O'Neill's. I feel like O'Neill's is trying a lot harder, is much more solicitous and fleet of foot in trying to make a go of it, and I hope they succeed.

I'm not hoping Croan fails on the 3rd go-around here (I think "original tonic" was attempt one, and "different chef, oddly sickly sweet and a bit sleazy martini bar" was attempt 2), but for him to succeed I think he needs to figure out how to work the neighborhood angle much better.

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I know exactly what you're saying. I tried to support Tonic but it was a struggle to keep it up.

But Oneil's has, IMO, a superior burger, beer list, and ambiance to Dogwood.

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Jesus Christ, you're disgusting. Where is your humanity? Homeless people are human beings, not zombies. You talk about them like they're vermin. I don't want people like you in my neighborhood. Go away.

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You're reading an awful lot into both the owner's comment, even if it was off the mark excuse making, and the posts here. No need to start ordering anyone out of the neighborhood, 'kay?

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The story of dz: dz is a young professional who is living in the neighborhood on a temporary basis. It's kind of an urban adventure for her. Before she moves away to the suburbs, she will advocate for the opening of a meth dosing clinic/wet shelter on her street and call everyone who opposes her a gentrifying scumbag. Some drunk will vomit on her steps and she will be gone--off to Sudbury or whatever. In a few years her big urban adventure will be but a memory. However, all of her current neighbors, who want to/have to stay put will still be living here. It won't just be a cool novelty act to talk about at Mommy-and-Me play group for them.

So, I am here to stay dz. You're the one going away.

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I'm not dz, but we've lived in the city for more than a decade, don't plan to leave, are raising kids here, AND we think that people who are homeless and/or mentally ill are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. Whatever point you're trying to make that compassionate people move to the suburbs or whatever didn't actually make any sense.

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What doesn't make sense is to take the owner's silly complaint about liquor store loiterers and Whit's fairly light-hearted reference to zombies as an excuse to call him inhuman and disgusting and order him out of the neighborhood. Or equate this with "shitting on" homeless people or treating them disrespectfully. No one here has suggested that the homeless or mentally ill be rounded up, relocated, sterilized, exterminated, or beaten--but to have some self-described yuppie get all drama queen-high-horsey about it is incredibly irritating.

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Eeka, I don't think that your English 101 prof. would give you credit for this. The main point you took from my comment is that compassionate people move to the suburbs? I don't think that was my main point. Try again?

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and I think you're comment is dead on. But Newton is more likely than Sudbury since it will have a "city" feel except without the drunks, junkies, and poor people.

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Most of those zombies are drug addicts, alcoholics or schizophrenics. I resent the fact that people are such bleeding hearts that they are blind to the problem these "zombies" are to the neighborhood. They show no respect to the hard working young familes in the Forest Hills area.They urinate, litter,deal and use and deal drugs with wreckless abandon. I have seen them passed out in front of entrance ways making residents push past themm to get to work.

Call me compassionless, but I am a homeowner in this area, with a vested interest in seeing a resolution to the Shattuck dumping there trash on us every morning. Open your eyes people. No I'm not a Republican!

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That liquor store has been there for years as has the Shattuck. I have never once been bothered by anyone outside - ever. You can't decimate everything that has been a part of JP for years just b/c it might be slightly unsightly. These people have a right to be there as well even if they aren't part of the plan that ppl have for what they feel is the "new JP."

Maybe O'Neills isn't doing enough to get the neighborhood people in. It is very nice inside but the food is just ok. I am not a beer drinker so I don't want ot go to a place and get so so food. Even the Dogwood learned they had to change up their menu b/c it was stale.

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Now I feel bad that I never got over there. But the above points seem spot on to me. Blaming the Shattuck seems like grasping at straws--the neighborhood and that particular block has plenty of challenging elements. The bus depot across the street, the bus yard and overpass...it's still a pretty gritty little slice of JP, not a stylish pedestrian destination, and the photos and menu I saw when it opened seemed aimed at a demographic that doesn't really hang out at Forest Hills. He'd probably be better off with something more mellow--good Mexican, for instance, which oddly is lacking in cheap-ethnic-food-loving JP, at least the FH end.

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I have two strong words for you, Sally: Burritos Pizzeria. Right across the street from Doyle's. They have crazy-good Mexican food. Just... don't order the pizza.

That said, I hear you on the neighborhood. I live in this part of JP, and I still won't send people walking down past the bus depot after dark (my sister-in-law was mugged there a couple of years ago). I could never figure out who exactly Tonic was catering to. It wasn't aimed at locals, and it's not like Forest Hills is a destination for folks on the Orange Line looking for yuppie cocktails. I hope the new place has better luck.

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Will check it out. I'm still haunted by memories of really bad barbecue at that spot, but I guess that's no reason to hold it against the new place.

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Spot on. Tonic's failure is the perfect example of an owner who thinks he knows everything about the food industry, but actually has no clue what makes a restaurant successful.

Sorry to say it, but if this guy's going to run a new Italian venture, that will fail as well.

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exactly - people this area would happily patronize something more akin to highland kitchen or rivergods (or the milkyway - RIP)- you know - funky neighborhood spot with good food and more earthy lived-in atmosphere - not some kind of place sweaty investment bankers take their russian mail-order brides and then run off to do coke in the restrooms.

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A Highland Kitchen level place is exactly what JP needs! Friends of mine and I discuss this weekly.

In the meantime, please tell me where to find these i-bankers and Russian ladies in JP. If we can't have great bar fare in JP, we can at least have amazing people-watching.

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And give the license to Shanti

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Poor people!

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I know right? They never buy anything!

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Well, screw that place and that guy. I'm not scared of Shattuck patients, and I patronize that liquor store. I'm a young professional woman, the very demographic he's going for. I never went into Tonic because it looked like gentrification personified. You can't endear yourself to the neighborhood by shitting on Shattuck patients, who are human beings, and PART OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD. I'll make sure to avoid any restaurant McCormack is affiliated with.

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I'm with dz. Shattuck patients are part of the neighborhood. They don't stop me from patronizing any spot in Forest Hills. If you can't handle some "zombies" hanging out in the area, you shouldn't be living in an urban area.

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And i bet you do too!

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I don't know if the grown men I see harrassing women and acting like teenagers on the park benches at the bus area are Shattuck patients or not, but they are not just a "part of the neighborhood." And I think that part of JP could use a little gentrification--though maybe not of the Russian-mafia-disco variety referenced above by another commenter.

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I live in another part of JP where there are a few halfway house residents (I think it's a halfway house) who hang in the area. All of them are cool, except for one dude who has been acting increasingly aggressive/weird towards women. Pretty sure someone who constantly sexually harasses women is not "part of the neighborhood," but I am not sure what the alternative is. Barring some sort of major investment in a viable mental health system.

Oh, and I heard that Tonic sucked without any help from the folks hanging outside. Hell, Sanctuary is in a sketchier area and seems to be doing pretty well so far. Something about solid food and a good atmosphere. You know, really advanced restaurant biz stuff.

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Sanctuary is in a sketchier area...
Five blocks away from the new JP whole foods, in a brand new yuppie condo development?

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From Mozart Street and three blocks from Bromley-Heath. Walk that stretch of Centre at 10 PM and report back. I get that there are "scary people" near Forest Hills and a lot of theft, but I don't seem to recall many shootings in that area. Memory may fail me.

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That part of JP is actually fairly quiet at that hour. I should know, it's right outside my window.

I'll give you that it is tougher on the super hot nights of summer, but that's life in the city. And it's gotten better over the 11 years I've owned my place there. (ie: not going anywhere, JP rocks)

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The Dogwood Cafe been there for about 15 years, I believe; the Shattuck hasn't shut them down yet.

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more importantly, can I park in that lot at the north end of the block by the overpass in the evening when I go to the Dogwood?

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You can, but you need to pay. They're a private lot, so their tickets are ridiculously expensive. You can pay at the automated machine next to the abandoned parking attendant booth.

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We ate at Tonic and live at the top of Weld Hill and walk to the restaurants in that block often. I never saw people from the Shuttuck Hospital sitting near there except for when it was closed! The food was overpriced and so were the drinks. The service was awful. I don't know who he says told him Eugene O'Neil's is having the same trouble. Every time I have been there the place was pretty full. I have even had to wait for a table. Tonic failed because it was overpriced in a place where people want good food and will pay for good food not overpriced mediocre food.

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Tonic was never going to survive the way it was being mismanaged and mishandled. Don't blame the neighborhood when there are other businesses doing well on the same block! Out of curiosity, what's his other restaurant in JP so I know not to go there too?

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He owns another non-restaurant business in JP, not a restaurant, I believe. I've deleted that line from the original post.

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He also owns Peace of Mind Home Healthcare on South St across form St. Thomas Aquinas. I can verify that Tonic failed because Croan is a space cadet and generally clueless, he used to be my landlord.

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Anyone know the chain restaurant that wants to move in?

Another FH resident here who went to Tonic several times before giving up. Flawed concept, flawed execution, tacky decor. But the place was packed the first few weeks, there was definitely interest and an audience if Tonic had delivered. Shattuck residents were not the problem.

While the neighborhood is still scruffy, things will change a lot in a few years when the overpass is down and all the proposed housing on Washington St and Hyde Park Ave is built--about 400 new units at current count. In the meantime, it's really important to support the local businesses which have already invested here and hang thru the inevitable construction woes.

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The only thing that will change with that overpass coming down is a ton more traffic in the neighborhood.

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Sometimes traffic is a good thing. In the context of the actual topic here, part of the challenge of that area--of everything on Washington St. in fact between Green St and Forest Hills is that it's chopped up, light industrial use buildings, parking lots, the gas station, bus lot, car wash, etc. and not a continuous area of housing, businesses, retail, etc. It's not a cheerful or welcoming place to walk, especially at night. Oh, and yeah--the huge looming overpass doesn't really contribute to the neighborhood feel. Most of us are pretty confident that the removal of the Casey will be a huge factor in making the area a more lively part of the JP fabric.

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Also, it's a tough spot to park. If we want to come down from Roslindale to go to the Dogwood, it's hard to find parking unless that pay lot can be used in evening? I always worry my car would get towed while I'm eating if I park there...

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a ton more foot traffic.

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They can only grow in the dark of the overpass. Once it's removed it's all puppies and sunshine at Forest Hills.

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Anna's Taqueria.. For the love of god, bring us Anna's!

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I always thought tonic looked like an "after" shot from that show Bar Rescue. That's the show where the shouty guy comes into a failing dive and turns it into a soulless trendy bar. I doubt the Shattuck people were a major factor in it's demise, but they are an ugly fact of life around there. I lived at the Forest Hills end of the corridor for years and it got pretty gross if you knew where they did their business. Even now I still see the junkies and drunks sitting just behind the hedge on New Washington, the state troopers who nominally control the corridor can't keep em out. I always wished there was a way to make the liquor store responsible for cleaning up all the nips and rotgut bottles around there.

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