Atomic Café restaurant has closed

Closed signs have been posted at Atomic Café's front entrance.
Closed signs have been posted at Atomic Café's front entrance. Herald-Leader

Atomic Café, a fixture in Lexington dining since 1992, has closed.

The restaurant at 265 North Limestone with the Caribbean vibe closed over the Labor Day weekend. The last day was Saturday.

"We did not reopen yesterday," co-owner Dale Holland said Wednesday. The restaurant typically was open Tuesday through Saturday.

He and co-owner Bill Riddle issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:

"It is with much regret that we announce the closing of the Atomic Café, a popular downtown restaurant, patio and bar for over 23 years. Since opening in January 1992, we've been fortunate to consistently enjoy both popular and critical success.

"This is a difficult decision, since the restaurant has such a loyal following. We would like to thank these friends for the support we have received over the years. We will particularly miss the many regular customers who have shown such a remarkable commitment to the restaurant."

A hit from the beginning, Atomic Café had no old Kentucky favorites on the menu, choosing spicier territory instead, with specialties including jerk chicken, conch fritters, ceviche, ropa vieja, rice and pigeon peas, and sweet potato chips.

Atomic Café's colorful murals and cozy patio were popular with downtown diners. But the damp summer apparently hurt business.

Building owner Tim Mellin, who was one of three original partners in Atomic Café along with Holland and Lynda Hoff, said Wednesday's news made him sad because the early days were such fun, when the place was packed nightly.

"I would love to have someone come in and reopen Atomic," Mellin said.

But even if that can't happen, he said, he thinks a new restaurant will be coming soon.

"I've already gotten calls," he said. "Someone will go in there and put in something great."

Lexington's restaurant and bar scene has become increasingly competitive over the past few years even as patrons have become more sophisticated about food, Mellin said.

He said one thing that he thinks hurt Atomic Café was losing touch with many of the Caribbean bands that used to play there.

Mellin, who also owns the building occupied by Doodles across the street, said he thought Atomic Café led the wave of revival on North Limestone and the surrounding area.