Marking what seems to be the end of the Mercer Restaurant Group at least for now Fenix shuttered without any advance notice or fanfare about a month ago, and the food blogs are just now catching up to the news. The almost-next-door Mexican-inspired spinoff project from the AQ team of Matt Semmelhack and chef Mark Liberman was rebranded a year ago from the original concept, which was awkwardly named TBD, and whose fate was perhaps sealed when a fire shut it down temporarily two and a half years ago. Semmelhack now tells Inside Scoop, "We weren't able to renegotiate a lease. We anticipated the rent was going to be higher so we just decided to close it."
The closure went so under the radar that Yelp (which typically catches restaurant closures very quickly) still hasn't caught up to the news as of today and I had just checked Yelp to confirm Fenix was still open the other week when we got word of a new taker for the AQ space.
Semmelhack and Liberman were in major expansion mode just two years ago, also opening the large-scale brasserie Bon Marché in the Twitter building on mid-Market, only to be forced to close it last summer after a year in business. The closure of AQ in January after five seemingly strong years and plenty of critical acclaim was used as evidence of an impending bubble-burst in the restaurant industry nationwide in a much talked about Thrillist piece that same month.
Eater notes that Fenix's location perhaps similar to AQ's was ultimately to blame, given that the intersection of Seventh and Mission is unproven and "off the beaten path of Union Square shoppers or theater-goers."
But true to its name (the Spanish word for "phoenix"), the restaurant could ultimately rise from the ashes once more as Semmelhack hints to the Scoop, "We really liked the concept. And we have been potentially looking at other spaces."