Tonight is the final night of service for Lark as we know it. The restaurant itself will reopen December 4 just a few blocks away, along with his new bar, Bitter/Raw. Slab Sandwiches and Pie will follow soon after.
While that location promises to be stunning, Lark's charm has always been a mix of John Sundstrom's food and his dining room—those barrel-vaulted ceilings and whispery curtains lurking behind an unassuming exterior.
Recently I asked Sundstrom about some of his favorite memories in the space, as well as some of its more challenging chapters. Our conversation felt almost like a one-man oral history, so I went with it. What follows are his words, with chronology and corny subheads inserted by me.
2003: Lark Opens
We had looked at a few places nothing had quite clicked. Our attorney at the time came across this building; there was an eviction notice. Somehow we tracked down the owner. The dining room was split in half; there was a raised dance area, a disco ball. There was sort of this tropical looking bar—almost a tiki bar—in the back. It was pretty hokey.
It’s a warm and charming and lovely old building—but the customers get to see the best half of it. We have a very small hot line. We designed the menu and the way the whole place operates around that. One person reaches into the cooler to grab things and the other is like an octopus, cooking madly. You become very efficient and become real compact in your movements and look before you walk. People learn how to do a lot with very little. I came from the W to open Lark and there the line was almost too gigantic. You had to go 20 feet to get something.
2004: Delivery (the Baby Kind)
Lark opened right around the beginning of December and our son was born Jan 10. JM [Enos, Sundstrom’s wife] was working in the restaurant right up until that last month. She was about ready to pop her feet were tired. One Friday night was our busiest night yet. She was like, “we’re close here, I can tell.” We sat down at the end of the night and had a few dishes. The next day she went into labor. We’ve had this happen at least a half dozen times: Pregnant moms who are really feeling ready—but the baby isn’t coming—will come in for dinner and there will be a labor within the day. You need this baby out? Come and have a little bit of Lark food. It’s not spicy, but just rich enough to get things going.
2005: Fun With Pig Ears
We did our first Whole Beast dinner. We had a whole pig, going in all sorts of directions. Everyone would cook a dish or two. We took Polaroids of everyone in the kitchen being fairly irreverent with a set of pig’s ears. I remember a picture of Christopher Galasso holding a big pot of stew with pig ears as pot holders. He lives in Walla Walla now, he and his wife own Blue Valley Meats.
2007: A James Beard Award
It makes for a great rest of the year. We definitely started to see people coming within a couple weeks. From June to December was awesome. From there you’ve still got to get back to work; at some point the press sort of dies off.
2009: Foie Gras Protests
The timing was bad; it was the start of the recession. Our customers responded in such a positive way, whether they ate foie gras or not, they still came to Lark in great numbers on those Friday nights when they had the people out front giving us a hard time. Even though we were feeling a little beat up about the whole thing, it was a very positive experience in terms of being supported by the community.
2014: New Digs, Same Traditions
One family comes in a few times a year; they’ve got three boys now all under 10. The parents take the older boys one at a time for some special alone time. It’s so cool, they’re given the option to go for special dinner, and they want to go to Lark. They almost always want the roasted potatoes. A couple weeks ago they came in, but we had a buyout on that Friday night. The boy—he was trying to be tough, but the little boo-hoo lip was heartbreaking. We gave them T-shirts and made a plan for the next week.
We want to be this kind of place for another 20 years; hopefully when these guys make it to their teenage years, they'll still want to come to Lark; it will be awesome to see them when they’re going off to college.