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Owners still 'committed' to Portland's East End after Bar Lola closes

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Owners still 'committed' to Portland's East End after Bar Lola closes

PORTLAND — Despite what its co-owner called "the best year ever," Bar Lola, a popular spot for more than seven years in Munjoy Hill's burgeoning restaurant scene, will close its doors Nov. 16.

Stella Hernandez, who owns Bar Lola with her husband, Guy, on Sunday said the couple plan to open a new restaurant in late February or early March.

Hernandez wouldn't disclose the location, which she said is now being finalized. But she said it would be known in the next month, and that she and her husband are "committed to the East End," where they also live.

Bar Lola serves a seasonal menu of price-fixed meals and small-plate dishes in a 34-seat space at 100 Congress St., at the corner of Atlantic Street.

The new eatery will offer "a bit more diversity" in its menu, although the precise nature of the cuisine is still being determined, according to Hernandez.

"We'd like to step outside the structure (of Bar Lola) and create more freedom for our diners and for ourselves," she said. "But the way we approach food and the way we approach service won't change."

Hernandez and her husband are former architects who joined the restaurant business after Guy worked as a baker at what is now the 158 Pickett St. Cafe in South Portland.

But the May 2006 launch of Bar Lola was their first full foray into food. Guy is the restaurant's chef; Stella manages the front-of-house.

"We're serial entrepreneurs who tend to throw ourselves into things," Hernandez said. "We enjoy the process of creating and learning by doing."

Hernandez said it's not yet clear what will fill Bar Lola's space, which she laughingly compared to a "shoebox." The couple own the space, as well as Hilltop Coffee, a cafe across the street.

Steps away are two other Hill hot spots: Blue Spoon, a farm-to-table establishment at 89 Congress St., and The Front Room, at 73 Congress St., one of four eateries owned by Portland chef and restaurateur Harding Lee Smith.

Bar Lola, Blue Spoon and The Front Room are all small restaurants that have received glowing reviews from food critics, while maintaining their neighborhood identities. Bar Lola and The Front Room opened within months of each other; Blue Spoon began serving diners in 2004.

Although she may soon again be running a restaurant in the neighborhood, Hernandez said she'll miss Bar Lola.

"For me, a door will be closing ... there's something about (Bar Lola) that will always be close to my heart. We're really proud of it," she said. "But the anticipation of something new is also wonderful. And because this is our choice, it's very happy."

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.