Last winter was rough, they said, but this summer has been fierce. Three drownings, rainy weekends, and continuing competition from the more fashionable Warehouse District have really stuck it to businesses on the East Bank of the Flats, with Max & Erma's being the most recent eatery to follow Fagan's and the House of Brews through the gates of Restaurant Heaven. "The general wisdom down here is, you make your money in the summer and just hold on through the winter," says Curtis Gray, general manager of the 15-year-old Watermark, the area's notable exception to "The Troubles." "But a lot of the independents don't have the capital to hang on, and the chains don't have the corporate patience to stick with a struggling outlet." Throw in last spring's loss of Sammy's -- one of the Flats' first big-name dining draws -- and things look pretty bleak. Still Gray, a member of the mayor's task force for reinventing the riverfront entertainment district, is optimistic. "The Flats needs to find its niche," he says. "The Warehouse District has great old buildings, but we have a major asset in the river. As long as the businesses down here can come together to make the right decisions, we'll be OK." (We certainly wouldn't be the first to suggest that attracting more affluent family groups and destination diners to the area, as opposed to the relatively tight-fisted public-urination crowd that usually overruns the Flats on warm summer nights, is key.) For the moment, Joe's Crab Shack, Hooters, Dick's Last Resort, and Fado -- all part of chains -- say their East Bank businesses are doing fine.
Shared vision . . . Restaurant lovers know that the best dining experiences result from the synergy of wonderful food and a compelling space. No doubt that's why chef-owner Jeff Uniatowski was so intent on creating an artful atmosphere as he put together Mise (10427 Clifton Boulevard, 216-651-6473), his hip West Side restaurant. Uniatowski found the perfect complement to his bold and complex cuisine in the works of oil painter Jim Morana, a native Clevelander whose colorful, sophisticated abstracts resonate with passion. "His works are powerful and daring -- Jim's a really complicated guy -- and they fit in well with what we are all about," Uniatowski says. As a result, the restaurateur now has nine of Morana's pieces hanging on his walls, ranging from the delicate, impressionistic "Thistles" to the monochromatic "Grey" and the boldly colored "Chicago"; all are available for purchase at prices ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. The prolific Morana, 30, is entirely self-taught and started out expressing his artistic tendencies through novels, poetry, and screenplays, not making the jump to full-time painting until last year. His body of work, however, already contains more than 250 pieces. Mise is the only place to view his works, although Morana has scores of other paintings -- including a number of highly provocative portraits that stand in contrast to the tamer compositions on display at the restaurant -- posted on his website (www.jimmorana.com).
Digest this . . . From our e-mail come these two gems: Extraterrestaurant (n.) A food establishment wherein you feel as though you have been abducted and experimented upon. Also see ET-ry . . . Decaflon (n.) The grueling event of getting through a day consuming only things that are good for you.