Spanish Sighs

The enormous sign plastered on the front window of Altos Spanish Bistro says a lot, proudly proclaiming the upscale restaurant's many gushing accolades from local and national media.

The smaller signs taped to the inside of the doors early last week say even more: Altos has been padlocked by its landlords for failure to pay rent. According to the notice posted February 5, the landlord for the property on the northeast corner of 44th Street and Camelback has also seized the restaurant's personal property as a lien.

Altos' second location at 42nd Street and Chandler Boulevard in Ahwatukee has also been padlocked.

Neither representatives for the landlord nor for Altos returned calls seeking comment. A phone message at the Camelback location notes the restaurant is temporarily closed; the Ahwatukee number has been disconnected.

Altos, which opened in early 1995 at 24th Street and Osborn, relocated to Camelback a year later. Fans of its vibrant Spanish/Basque cuisine flocked in for fanciful tapas, paellas, and specialties like crema de mariscos (creamy seafood soup); serrano-ham-wrapped, Manchego-cheese-stuffed shrimp; and lamb chops under a "drunken" sauce of chile negro, garlic, beer and spices topped by cotija cheese.

The bistro received many awards, including Best Spanish Restaurant/2000 by New Times.

One visitor passing by the restaurant last Wednesday evening summed up the suddenness of the closure -- she said she noticed only because there was a man, dressed all in black, clutching a black guitar case, leaning against the doors and glumly studying the dark interior of the restaurant.

One of Altos' trademarks was its live entertainment, including singer, flamenco dancers and, yes, Spanish guitarists.

I must admit, I feel just the tiniest bit responsible for Altos' financial woes. Last year, I repeatedly called and requested a faxed copy of its latest menu. Many promises, no faxes. I stopped by the restaurant several times in search of a to-go copy; it was always "at the printer." Finally, one day I gave it a final shot. The foyer was deserted. The minutes ticked by, and finally, I reached behind the hostess podium and stole a complete menu -- very expensive, heavily embossed leather cover, four-color pages and all. Hey, in the cutthroat cafe business, every penny counts.


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