Booth revamped the '60s-issue strip mall space once occupied by an appliance store into a sleek, highly polished room that combines a curvy bar (with a bar manager who looks like a '50s movie idol), café tables wrapped around a shiny piano and an intimate dining area. Taupe walls do double-duty as an art gallery, featuring large color prints by photographer Patty Reece (wife of real estate mogul J.D.).
The restaurant's name, however, sounds like one of Beaver Cleaver's pubescent pals until Booth explains its history. "It's named for two very dear friends of mine, Mel and Bee Schlesinger, who founded the Heart of America Kennel Club," he says. "I raise Kerry Blue Terriers, so I met them over twenty years ago, and after Mel died, I often traveled with Bee and my daughter."
Before I set foot in the place, I had seen ads for MelBee's in a few of the city's gay publications. So, does Booth intend for MelBee's to be a gay restaurant? "I'm not sure how to answer that," he says. "It's certainly gay-friendly. We designed it as a place where everyone can come in and feel comfortable and accepted. But the reason I chose to use those publications to get the message across is that I wanted to reach the arts community. Visual artists, of course, because we use the dining room as a gallery, but people in the theater and music world, too."
I suppose there's some logic in that, since the night I walked in for dinner, I did see a local actor smoking at the bar. (He's gay, now that I think about it.) But stage stars hoping to catch an after-performance meal might be disappointed to find that MelBee's serves food only until 10 p.m. The bar stays open much later.
And speaking of bars, the perception that Westport is now primarily a nightclub mecca carried additional weight after Metropolis closed two weeks ago. Now the little German restaurant and grocery called Bavarian Corner (4116 Broadway) has closed after sixteen months. But wait! Signs on the building announce that a new place called The Fishin' Hole is taking over, "serving premier orange roughy."
Believe it or not, there's a song called "The Fishin' Hole." Andy Griffith used to sing it on The Andy Griffith Show. I wonder if the pianist at MelBee's can play it.