Popular daytime spot Arlequin Cafe — with its lovely, unparalleled back patio — served its last panini on Sunday, as the Absinthe Group says the concept is no longer penciling, financially. And it's one of a half dozen restaurants open for 20 years or more that's called it quits in recent weeks.

In a note to customers on the website, Absinthe Group says, "After almost two decades of loyal patronage, we thank both our customers and employees for their support throughout the years. Unfortunately, it is with a heavy heart that we must close the doors of Arlequin Café at this time."

Bill Russell-Shapiro, owner of the Absinthe Group, tells the Chronicle, "I regret this so much," and says that the current business model, "no longer allows us to pay people what they need and deserve."

It's a refrain that's been heard all over town, however it seemed in recent years that fast-casual models, like Arlequin, which don't have to employ as full of a front-of-house staff, were one way that restaurateurs were adjusting to current fiscal pressures.

But the Absinthe Group isn't giving up the space, which adjoins the Arlequin wine bar and retail shop, and they say, "Be on the lookout for what we will be cooking up here later this year. We hope to bring something new to Hayes Valley that the community will enjoy once again." In the meantime, it just means more abundant seating for wine bar patrons who want to grab a glass or a bottle and lounge in that lush backyard.

Russell-Shapiro suggests to the Chronicle that adjustments to the menu to cut costs ended up angering customers, and the team finally decided to pull the plug. Some staff members are being given jobs at other Absinthe Group properties (which include Barcino, Absinthe, Comstock Saloon, and Bellota), but others are receiving a severance, as it seems the re-concepting is not going to happen too rapidly.

The long, narrow cafe space may not lend itself to much besides, say, an expansion of the wine bar — which Russell-Shapiro says is doing "quite well" compared to all of the group's businesses. But stay tuned for further details as they take shape.

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