Eat It, Virginia


What happened to Richmond restaurant Cocodrilo? What is Bar West?

Posted at 1:40 PM, Jan 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-16 13:41:31-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Cocodrilo opened to much fanfare on Richmond's Grove Avenue in March 2022. The restaurant had a Latin America-inspired menu created by Lemaire alum Chef Brad Slemaker, Shagbark alum Chef Brandon MacConnell, and River City Roll owner Rob Long and a huge open-flame grill.

Less than a year later, the chefs remain, the grill remains, but Cocodrilo is no more.

In its place, the restaurant owners will open Bar West.

"We were proud of the food we were putting out and I think that the reviews for the cuisine at Cocodrilo speak for themselves and none of that changes. The culinary staff is not changing at all," Long said on the most recent Eat It, Virginia podcast.

So why the drastic change less than a year after opening?

"The atmosphere in the space we'd created ended up being a little different than what we had envisioned," Long said on the podcast. "We wanted to be food for everybody every day and [that's] not where we ultimately landed."

Long said Cocodrilo ended up becoming more of a special occasion restaurant that attracted diners celebrating anniversaries and birthdays.

"We wanted to be a space where anyone could come and experience all the beautiful things of fine dining, like access to two chefs who make unbelievable food, without having to spend $100 a head," Long said.

Long also mentioned unforeseen challenges like Richmond's ever-growing list of restaurants where one can order a taco and the opening of the similarly C-named Mexican restaurant Conejo just a few blocks away.

"Part of the problem with Cocodrilo was [the public did] not [have] a full grasp that Cocodrilo was not just a taco space, or not a Mexican restaurant, that it was a higher-end Latin American restaurant, which is very, very different than a Mexican restaurant. It's hard to change people's perceptions or expectations," he said. "We (Long and the owners of Conejo) didn't view ourselves as in the same lane, but the market maybe did. I think that perception of the market helped Conejo. We can't anticipate all of that and, you know, those things happened."

So the decision was made to change course and Bar West was born.

"The word bar is a word that most people know and understand. It's also a word that most people don't view as like a stuffy, higher-end atmosphere. So we thought it was really important to have that word in there to help get people thinking about the space the right way," Long said about the new name. "West, obviously, a directional moniker. We are the furthest west part of Grove where we're located in what has become known as West Hampton, the West End. So we wanted to just have a very clean, easy-to-say, easy-to-type, easy-to-Instagram name."

The big change, Long said, will be what comes out of the kitchen.

"We took the handcuffs off the chefs," Long said. "No longer are they bound by the Latin American lane. Whatever inspires them, they can riff off of and show to the Richmond diner. I think we're going to be one of the few places where you can spend $30 and have access to five-star chefs."

Chef MacConnell shared some of his initial ideas.

"We've got some things on the menu, like lamb chops, things that people still feel are more high end. It can still be a snackable bite at a bar, but can also be a second course for an entree," he said. "Being able to implement some small snacks, things that are $3 to $5, things that are $5 to $7, that we can have on our menu that are still approachable, fun, and being able to have a nice quality ingredient on the plate. Focusing down the road, we do have a nice core menu that's really approachable to everybody. But having a specials program implemented in there as well is going to be a lot of fun being able to use some local things like the rockfish that we've been cooking for years and getting squash blossoms and softshell crabs."

The Bar West team said they plan to keep the restaurant open late into the night and serve Sunday brunch.

Bar West is scheduled to open to the public on Friday, January 20, 2023. It is located at 5811 Grove Avenue in Richmond.

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews