Little has dominated discussions at the American Tobacco rumor-mill as much as the subject of what would become of the old Cafe Zen space.
The iffy Asian bistro folded almost one year ago today, leaving the space in the first floor of the Crowe Bldg. vacant. And save for construction traffic and storage during the American Underground renovations, vacant it has remained.
The first really intriguing rumor held that Tyler's might want to use the space as a burger joint or other quick-service location. The second, even-more intriguing sotto voce tied the space to Jim Anile, of downtown Durham's new restaurant Revolution.
At first we heard a diner or other all-day option was in the works by the Aniles, though the prospect of having early-morning options so close to Saladelia presented its own challenges. But in recent weeks, the concept seemed to turn more around a wine-bar concept with food.
The mystery was solved on Thursday with a press release from the folks at ATC. Jim Anile is indeed leasing up the space once held by Cafe Zen.
The concept? "L'Uva Enoteca," an Italian eatery positioned as an "intimate eatery" that resembles the kinds of restaurants one would find as neighborhood restaurants in Italy, with a heavy emphasis on wines and wine pairings.
It seems like a sure win for Anile to bring some of his dining style down south to American Tobacco.
Anile, formerly of Chapel Hill's Il Palio, made a splash locally with the opening of Revolution in a Greenfire-owned spaced downtown at the end of 2008.
By all accounts Revolution and other downtown restaurants have taken a big boost from the presence of the DPAC, which along with shows at the Carolina and baseball games has increased the number of visitors to downtown.
DPAC (along with the Carolina) has helped grow the demand, though, for the dinner-and-a-show crowd, which might be looking for fine dining ahead of a Broadway show or a concert.
Places like Pop's, Rue Cler, Piedmont, Dos Perros, Revolution and the dozens of other downtown restaurants have reportedly seen their busiest nights on show nights. And the presence of entertainment and drink options like Whiskey and West End Wine Bar show that the spectrum runs beyond sit-down eateries.
While many patrons strike out to the city center or Brightleaf districts, though, others tend to park at American Tobacco and utilize the options there.
Go to the district on a DPAC show night and you'll see decent waits at places like Tyler's and Tobacco Road (last night's Tyler's wait: 30 minutes pre-show.)
Doubtlessly some of that traffic might be looking for options beyond today's ATC fare. Which seems like exactly the kind of crowd Anile and crew should capture with L'Uva.
As described, the restaurant will have 45 seats inside but a matching number of spaces outside, underneath the office area "bridge" connecting Crowe to the south parking deck.
That outdoor dining area is teased as being transformative for the outside patio space, which compared to the lively outdoor spaces at much of the ATC never has really come to life in the way that, say, the river area or the new outside area at Tyler's has.
If L'Uva holds to the concept that's taken root in many American "enotecas," there'll be plenty of wine choices, and they'll be closely paired to a small-plates menu.
In Anile's case, the restauranteur is promising a strong staff making pastas, sauces and all the remaining menu items daily on-site and using locally sources ingredients.
L'Uva is slated to open in late spring and will be open for lunch and dinner.