TAMPA — A little piece of local history soon will be erased.
After the Palm restaurant closes Monday, the walls of the steakhouse — famous for the colorful caricatures of celebrities and loyal customers — will be repainted. The smiling, cartoon faces of Tampa Bay icons such as Hulk Hogan, Bob Martinez, Pam Iorio and the Gonzmart and Straz families no longer will adorn the walls.
“We are just heartbroken,” said Gypsy Tweed, a St. Petersburg resident and regular customer at the Palm.
She and her husband were members of the restaurant chain’s 837 Club, but they did not earn the 15,000 rewards points needed to get their faces on the wall. But, Tweed said, she did get the three-pound lobster for her birthday when the couple went for a goodbye dinner at the Palm on Wednesday night.
“It’s a nice place, nice environment,” Tweed said about the restaurant. “It’s devastating that it’s closing.”
The Palm, part of a national chain of upscale steakhouses, opened at WestShore Plaza in 2001. But more steak and seafood restaurants have moved into the area in recent years, providing stiff competition for the Palm and leading to a decision by the restaurant’s corporate headquarters to pull out of Tampa.
The original restaurant opened in 1926 in New York City, near the King Features Syndicate on Second Avenue. In exchange for meals, artists would draw portraits on the walls. It became a tradition in all of the 30 Palm restaurants, including two in London and Mexico City.
When a new restaurant opens, 200 or so local celebrities are immortalized on the walls, and more go up as time goes on, according to the Palm website.
The Tampa restaurant had several thousand faces on the walls. Other “celebrities” who have had their caricatures drawn include Jill and Scott Kelley, Dwight Gooden and The Tampa Tribune’s Steve Otto. Others include George Steinbrenner, Jeb Bush, Will Ferrell and Billy Mays.
Regular customers could get their faces printed on the walls by accruing the required points as a member of the 837 Club by special invitation from the general manager.
The Palm has been “slammed” during the past week as customers have come to bid farewell to the restaurant and the faces on the walls, said general manager Mark Colbath.
Some came to take photographs with their caricatures, he said. One even brought a professional photographer.
Unfortunately there’s no way to remove the caricatures from the walls without damaging the plaster, he said, and he needs to leave the building in good shape. There’s no word on what will replace the Palm.
“I wish I had this business every week,” Colbath said. “The restaurant wouldn’t be closing.”