Downtown Restaurant, Bar Blackbird Tavern Shuts Down

Blackbird Tavern announced Monday that it will be closing a little more than a year after opening its doors.

The restaurant, which also served craft beer and cocktails, and hosted regular live music events, opened in downtown San Jose on July 1, 2013. In a statement posted earlier today, both on the restaurant's Facebook page and official website, co-founders Chris Esparza, Pilar Agüero-Esparza and Brendan Rawson wrote that the restaurant is officially closed. Blackbird is just one in a series of restaurants to fail in the 200 S. 1st St. location.

Political observers might remember that San Jose mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo held his primary election night party at Blackbird.

In their announcement, Blackbird founders wrote that they believe downtown is headed in a “positive direction.” The Naglee Park Garage, also started by Esparza, will remain open.

Read the entire statement here:

We are sad to inform our patrons and supporters that The Blackbird Tavern is now closed. The Blackbird was an ambitious project for us and, unfortunately, we are not able continue our long-term vision for the Tavern. We will be looking to sell the restaurant. 

Over the past year and a half we have been very fortunate to work with many exceptionally talented servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff. We are thankful to all of them. We are also extremely thankful to our LLP partners that believed in efforts, and to the many musicians, poets, DJs, artists and other downtown supporters that all helped make Blackbird a special place to dine, experience standout music, and feel a sense of community. 

We strongly believe in the positive direction that downtown is headed, and we were thrilled to be a part of its thriving environment. We were fortunate to participate in many cultural activities in downtown, and to be a dinner destination for the many crowds that came for shows such "A Night with Janis Joplin" or "The Snow Queen" at San Jose Repertory Theatre. Its our hopes that it will not be too long before that theatre space is active once again with exceptional performances. 

The greater Bay Area restaurant scene is an exciting one filled with incredibly innovative and creative concepts. We are looking forward to closely examining what our next endeavors in downtown may be. It's all about the right concept launching at the right time. Even with all of Blackbird's successes and excellent press accolades, the space didn't hit the financial strides it needed to remain sustainable. 

In the meantime please come visit us at our sister operation Naglee Park Garage. We can always squeeze another bar stool in for you. 

We hope to see you again in downtown San Jose very soon!
Pilar, Chris, Brendan


  1. I dont understand how it could be shutting its doors, when it was political central on June 2014 for Sam Liccardo? Couldn’t councilman Liccardo broker a deal like he did with the Mercury News?? Is this part of his campaign strategy? Its sad, this was one of about three places that stood out that were for positive reasons to go downtown…Now theres only two……

      • Nah. My guess is that there is so much riff-raff downtown that the “normal” people steered clear after dark and they couldn’t make it.

        • I could not agree more! Downtown is a scary place after during the day, never mind at night. Zombies shuffling half-naked begging money for booze and drugs, knifings near Cesar Chavez Park, countless sleeping, urinating, pooping in doorways. It must be very disconcerting for well-heeled diners to have to watch that show from Blackbird’s wrap around windows while they dine on gourmet, trendy food.

          • And the man in charge of that district (liccardo) now wants to run the city. How scary is that?

      • But on the other hand his lack of affection for downtown’s bikini bar, The Gold Club, seems to be helping that establishment thrive. But then again the Gold Club fits in with those that frequent downtown these days after dark.

  2. Why is this surprising? Everyone knows downtown businesses that strive to cater to the bourgeois crowds are the first to fail. If that’s your business plan, you’re in the wrong city – try Palo Alto or Los Gatos. They were over priced, under serviced and quite frankly, there are at least five other cheaper places in which you could get better craft beer.

    • Yeah, because a downtown restaurant closing down is a good reason to roll your eyes at the concept that government can be made better. You are both cynical and nonsensical.

  3. Why does nobody go there? Liccardos downtown is so beautiful. Just step over the bums and pissed stained sidewalks. And avoid the crack dealers after dark.

    • You forgot the feces and vomit on the sidewalks and urine smelling garages and doorways. Oh,yeah, and the out in the open drug dealing and using. liccardos district is a mess.

  4. P.F. Chang’s… Los Gatos Brewing Company… Zanotto’s Market… Blackbird… hopefully the Murky Mews is next to meet the Saratoga Sam downtown curse.

    • You overlooked the E&O Trading Co., Love’s Cupcakes, the used bookstore, and the South American restaurant, just to mention some more San Fernando St businesses.
      Penguin Froyo on Santa Clara was a good one too.

  5. A real shame for this ambitious space; another hit to live music in SJ. Appreciate the efforts and the risks, tough town for going out no doubt…

  6. really it comes down to parking and accessibility. I feel bad for these guys, they were doing a great job, but, restaurants have a hard time on the playa. Even though high density residential is growing in SJ it is a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. High density commercial in necessary in an urban environment that is attempting to draw more denizens, hang outs, and eateries.

    • Sorry, “parking” and by logical extension autos are being “designed” out of the downtown area by Sam’s pet cause known as “neo-urbanist” planning and it’s champions at San Jose-SPUR. He succeed with the bike lanes but the design falls short and failed BT in that there is a lack of secure bike parking and the conflicts that exist between cyclists and pedestrians. Oh wait I forgot there are those stupid green bikes Sam wants you to rent by the minute…. no need to lock them up cause no body would want one and they are GPS equipped … can’t pdeal fast enough to harm anyone….just don’t drink and ride – DUI laws apply

      • > Sorry, “parking” and by logical extension autos are being “designed” out of the downtown area by Sam’s pet cause known as “neo-urbanist” planning and it’s champions at San Jose-SPUR.


        Damn you, Wheedle. You hit one of my hot buttons.

        Now you’ve given me ANOTHER reason I can’t vote for a grinning trial lawyer.

        But neither can I vote for a public employees union tool, who is supported by the biggest bunch of selfish, greedy, mean, and obnoxious dorks I have ever seen in an election campaign. Can you imagine how hellacious San Jose would be if Cortese gave all those jerks patronage jobs!

        Nope. No Democracy for San Jose this election.

        The best use of my vote is to put it in a lock box and keep it away from any of the vermin.

  7. Im going to miss the cocktails. Im going to miss the vynal that bartenders played. The staff really made this place a joy to be.

  8. The Blackbird location thrived as Casa Castillo restaurant for many years before the RDA exercised eminent domain and threw out all the tenants on the block except its heavily subsidized Camera 12. Since then, locations all along the block, and particularly the Blackbird location, have lasted only until their respective owners ran out of money. That block has been snakebit for well over a decade. The RDA and The City of SJ have forgiven hundreds of thousands of dollars of rent for C12, but everyone else has been pretty much on their own on that block. Chris Esparza must have been making sure he didn’t burn any bridges when he wrote: “We strongly believe in the positive direction that downtown is headed…” As someone who has worked in DTSJ since 1973, and can remember when Chris Esparza was at Upstairs at Eulipia back in the day, I can state without equivocation that DTSJ is heading in a decidedly negative direction at this time; and, as apologists for the bad actors coming in from the East Side and Oaktown causing the problems, LaDoris Cordell and Raj Jayadev aren’t helping matters any. That decline in DTSJ is one of the reasons I closed my office in DTSJ a couple of months ago. The plain fact is that despite all the praise for “the Emperor’s new clothes” of DTSJ heaped on by Sam Liccardo and the SJDA, the downtown core has been sinking into a skid row environment for at least the last 5 years. Drug dealers are mostly unchecked and unbothered in Fountain Alley, the Rep Plaza, and St. James Park, day and night. The graffiti vandals have won the war, while Grounwerks is content to water flower pots by hand daily. Violence prevails after 10:00 p.m., especially Thursday-Sunday, which has been true long before Measure B and the mass desertion of cops from city employ. To be sure, there are more nice buildings in the DT core now than there were in 1973, but there is far more graffiti in DTSJ now than there was then, and crime is approaching those old levels. I still come DT a few days a week for lunch, but I keep my head on a swivel as I walk the DT streets. And NO WAY I’ll stay DT after dark these days. We can only hope that the significant increase in working/taxpaying residents in all these new residential mid-rises being built will make Chris’s statement come true.

    • You’re not even trying to cheer me up.

      Maybe if we brought in some unaccompanied immigrant children from Latin America, some drug gangs, and some exotic viruses from Africa and Asia, things would improve.

      Just put kiosks on downtown street corners to sign up the night people for Obamacare and dispense free Obamaphones and food stamps, and San Jose would become Geneva, Switzerland.

  9. I think there are many good thoughts that were already spoken. I do have two more thoughts to add. Blackbird Tavern never had great food or customer service. If you are going to make it in downtown San Jose, you must serve the customer. Many owners are not getting this concept. You need to go out of your way like Nordstrom does and customers will return. During my first visit to Blackbird, it took 20 minutes before a waiter came. I later emailed the owner a couple of times with some outstanding referrals for singers and bands. I never got a thank you or no thank you email back. My partner and I got tired of their poor customer service and food and stopped going. If their food and customer service was like the LOFT (Adrian and Kam are the BEST manager and owner team!), the Blackbird would still be in business. So my advice for future owners is this: Hang out with Kam and Adrian at the Loft to see how your business can be successful! The Loft Rocks!

  10. Well, I certainly hope the clothing shop on Santa Clara St survives – the one whose owner was recently arrested for blatantly selling crack out of his store. That would be a huge loss for this vibrant downtown which SAM created. This would be a real game changer for so many of my friends who swung by this store prior to going to a Shark’s game for a pregame hit from the glass pipe, along with going by the hookah lounge after the game. I never thought it would get this bad.

  11. I hope that continues to work out for you, Ambrose; but remember, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *