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Varalli to close amid intrigue at Broad and Locust

The buildings are said to have a date with the wrecking ball. Perch Pub will remain till next spring.

The northeast corner of Broad and Locust Streets is in for a dramatic change, with a touch of intrigue.

The first phase will begin Friday, July 3, which will be the last night of service for Varalli, Joe Varalli's Italian seafood restaurant that is a longtime destination on the Avenue of the Arts.

Varalli, who has operated restaurants on the corner since early 1989, said the properties housing Varalli and the upstairs sibling Perch Pub will be torn down, probably next year.

Perch Pub, whose lease terms are different, will remain open on the second floor till next spring, Varalli said. The pub, which fronts along Locust Street, is the former site of Upstares at Varalli.

City records show that in March, the estate of Sam Rappaport sold three adjacent properties - two buildings housing Varalli, Perch Pub, and Mama Angelina's Pizza - as well as the parking garage operated by ParkAmerica on Broad Street next door to Varalli. The sale prices totaled $20 million, according to records.

Now for the intriguing part:

The three buildings were purchased by entities named BL Partners Group L.P. and BL 219 Partners L.P. The partnerships' mailing addresses are the same as Pearl Properties, the Center City developers that have been on a buying binge. Pearl, in the news for its redevelopment of the historic Boyd Theater, has been assembling prime Center City corners, including 1401 Walnut, 1701 Walnut, 801 Walnut, 1512 Walnut, 1200 Walnut, and 1600 Chestnut.

A Pearl rep did not return a message seeking comment Saturday. The owner of Mama Angelina's Pizza was unavailable for comment Saturday.

The date with the wrecking ball is far from imminent, if the spring 2016 timeline for Perch Pub's closing holds. It is also not clear, for that matter, what Pearl's plan is. No related permits have been filed.

But Pearl likes its restaurant tenants - as in, Le Pain Quotidien has locations in Pearl buildings at Eighth and Walnut and the Granary in Logan Square; the Vetri family is its tenant at 412 S. 13th St. (Amis) and the Granary (Pizzeria Vetri); Chipotle is in 1512 Walnut.

Rumors abound in the real estate community that at least two national restaurants are being teed up to occupy what will be a multiuse building on the Broad and Locust site, which is diagonal from the Academy of Music.

Meanwhile, litigation has begun over the transaction as well as the lease of a billboard on top of the Varalli building. The estate of Lewis Katz - which owned a share of one of the properties - is suing the estate of Rappaport, while in another matter, BL Partners is suing Interbroad LLC, a company run by Katz's son, Drew.

Varalli, who in a chat Saturday said he would look to relocate in Center City, wanted to thank his customers.

He also said he had no idea of the property's future. He has a guess: "We should rename [the street] the Avenue of the Apartments."

Varalli will be closed Sunday, June 28, and Monday, June 29. It will open at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday June 30 through
Friday, July 3.

An auction will be held in late July for the restaurant's contents, including the giant squid hanging over the bar, the waterwalls, custom light fixtures and other commissioned art pieces. Kitchen equipment, furniture and a baby grand piano will also be on the block.

Gift certificates will be accepted at Perch Pub, Varalli said.

This post has been updated to correct the sale price and to acknowledge the existence of the litigation.