Venice says goodbye — but not yet farewell — to an Abbot Kinney original

By Joe Piasecki

Before Abbot Kinney Boulevard became GQ’s “Coolest Block in America” — dirty, dangerous, economically distressed and then known simply as West Washington Boulevard — Hal’s Bar and Grill staked an initial claim to come-as-you-are Venice cool.

After nearly three decades of anchoring nightlife on the boulevard, Hal’s will close on April 26.

But the story doesn’t end there. Hal’s managing partner Don Novack says the restaurant’s owners hope to be back in business in short order at another location in the area.

“As we approach our 30th year serving the Venice community, Hal’s is embarking on a new chapter. We’re leaving our current Abbot Kinney home and intending to open a new Hal’s nearby,” states a letter to patrons. “We’re committed to continuing to support the Venice community and truly appreciate the privilege of being here.  … Celebrate the legacy that is Hal’s and say goodbye — but not farewell!”

Hal’s owner-partners Novack, his wife Linda and restaurant impresario Hal Frederick announced the closure to employees — some of whom have worked there for decades — during an emotional staff meeting last week.

Co-chairman of the Abbot Kinney Merchants Association and active with the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Novack tapped business colleagues to offer current Hal’s employees temporary jobs at other restaurants while the new Hal’s is in the works.

“We are giving our employees severance pay. We don’t have to, but we are,” Novack said. “We love our staff and made arrangements with James’ Beach [owners James Evans and Daniel Samakow] and David Reiss [owner of Sunny Spot, The Brig, and Salt Air] in case we need any [employment] coverage for our staff if the downtime is too long.”

CasaLinda Mexican Grill, a more recent Novack enterprise two doors down on Abbot Kinney, shutters its current location on May 1 after six years in business. CasaLinda may also reopen nearby, according to a statement about the restaurant.

Novack has remained mum about the reasons for transitioning Hal’s to a new space. He declined to speak about Hal’s current tenancy other than to say that he maintains a friendly relationship with the building’s landlord.

For Novack, this is a story about the future: “We’re trying to stay in business [somewhere else] on Abbot Kinney. And we’re almost there — there’s just a fair amount of technical stuff that needs to done,” he said.

This won’t be the first time that Novack, a successful Venice banker and real estate developer before he became a restaurateur, has faced a challenge to keep Hal’s alive.

In the mid-1980s, a real estate deal gave Novack part ownership of what was then The Merchant of Venice Café. He later assumed control of the failing restaurant to rescue it — and his credit score — from ruin, tapping his wife to handle the business side of things and Frederick to head up operations.

“It was a tough time, and nobody was sure if the business or the neighborhood was going to make it,” Novack recalled during preparations for the restaurant’s 25th anniversary.

The new team crafted an ambitious menu, hosted live jazz and offered wall space to prominent local artists to create a stylish atmosphere that was something a step above the area’s typical offerings but still priced within reach of those who lived there.

The rest, as they say, is history — only don’t close the book just yet.