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Locust Plague 

The fire at Hot Locust is abruptly stamped out

The warning signals started flashing last Tuesday, when luncheon diners mysteriously could not use credit cards at Hot Locust, which received acclaim from critics and readers of this newspaper alike, both in its first incarnation under Paul "Pablo" Weiss and its recent retooling by Richard Kraus.

By Wednesday, the fire at Hot Locust (and the adjacent Side Door, whose demise is chronicled in the music section) had gone out completely, with nothing left but a "Thank you, St. Louis" sign and a lock on the door. Sources tell us that Kraus first split with his partner and then simply ran out of capital, shutting down despite a usual near-capacity crowd at lunch. Dinner has apparently been slow at many downtown locations (note, for example, the recent lunch-only switch by Joseph's); it also appears to me that all the hype about Washington Avenue residential lofts has not yet come close to panning out, with any number of buildings sporting demonstrably inaccurate signs about either start of construction or estimated opening dates.

Nonetheless, the Downtown West neighborhood has shown other signs of growth lately, with a promotions company called SJI rehabbing a multistory building into loft offices and several other creative-services and Internet-based companies taking up residence or growing in rehabbed spaces in the immediate vicinity of the now-vacant Hot Locust. And neighborhood anchor A.G. Edwards just keeps expanding, both through new construction and through occupation of surrounding buildings.

We also learned that Joe Papendick, the wizard who worked most of the kitchen magic for the original Hot Locust, has landed back in town and is on the verge of closing on a new space in the immediate vicinity. Meanwhile, we caught up with Weiss, who still owns the building that houses Hot Locust, and he told us that the adjacent Rocket Bar (which he owns and operates) is doing well and will remain open, and that he's already had inquiries on the Hot Locust space. Weiss's own culinary future is nebulous -- he had been in talks to open a space on Washington, but that building, too, is still in the "great potential" stage, so he's also exploring other alternatives.

Meanwhile, we send our best wishes to Kraus for an as-soft-as-possible landing, and we hope that the good Mr. Weiss will find good use both for his own significant talents and for the address on Locust Street that he rescued from oblivion and placed prominently on the local foodie itinerary.

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