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Royal Oak

Sangria, The Sky Club closing after 14 years

New Up/Down restaurant to fill venue

January 7, 2013

» click to enlarge «
Sangria Tapas Café and The Sky Club owner Luigi Cutraro, 59, is closing the restaurant and club Jan. 31. He plans to open a small Italian restaurant in the future.
Sangria Tapas Café has sat at the corner of Fourth and Lafayette for more than 14 years. It will be closing Jan. 31, making way for a new restaurant, by the name of Up/Down.

ROYAL OAK — After more than a decade of bringing the tastes of the Iberian Peninsula to Royal Oak, Sangria Tapas Café and The Sky Club are scheduled to close their doors Jan. 31.

The popular Spanish restaurant and upstairs nightclub opened in 1998 and, after more than 14 years at the corner of Fourth and Lafayette, will close its doors.

“The end of January will be the end of an era,” said Luigi Cutraro, Sangria’s owner. “I’m 59 years old and it’s time to spend a little time with my wife.”

Cutraro, who is typically at the venue until 3-4 a.m. daily, making sure everything runs smoothly, said he told his staff at the end of November about his plans to close.

“We have employees that have been there all 14 years,” Cutraro said. “Thirty percent of my crew is the original crew. Everyone’s staying till closing. I’m sure they have things lined up, but nobody’s quit on me.”

Named one of the top 50 Hispanic restaurants in the U.S. by Hispanic Magazine, a national publication, in 2001, Cutraro said individually owned restaurants like Sangria are what make Royal Oak’s downtown area successful.

“That’s what makes Royal Oak such a great city — it’s full of personal proprietors like me,” Cutraro said. “Royal Oak is probably (one of) the safest downtown(s). And that’s why people like to come in.

“Sangria, it will be remembered. It was a totally different format. It is a fun format. When people came into Sangria, they knew they’d have a great time and some great food.”

A new restaurant is already lined up to take over the venue, located directly across from the Royal Oak Music Theatre, at 401 S. Lafayette. In a $1.54 million deal, Dexter Hospitality Holdings LLC plans to open a high-end “American contemporary grill with a French influence,” tentatively called Up/Down. Despite excitement from neighboring businesses, the new restaurant would not open until April or later.

“These are pretty big shoes to fill,” City Commissioner Mike Fournier said. “I think Luigi, over the years, has done an excellent job over there operating Sangria.

“We’re doing something great here in Royal Oak. We’re constantly, I don’t want to say we’re re-inventing ourselves, but we’re keeping up with the market. We’re making changes, adapting to our demographic. I looked at the plans; I’m excited. The menu looks great. I think it really pairs up well with Ronin (sushi restaurant) there.”

At the Dec. 17 City Commission meeting, the commission voted to approve the transfer of ownership from Sangria to Dexter Hospitality Holdings, despite some hesitation from Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello, who was the lone vote against the decision.

“Where I’m having my objection is that these people are new to the community, have relatively little experience and are increasing hours on the second floor for food service,” Capello said. “I hope that they find synergy with Ronin and that they have success with that. I can’t support the increase in hours for new and inexperienced owners.”

As for Cutraro, he doesn’t plan to drift quietly into retirement. He plans to take his first real vacation and then begin plans for a small Italian restaurant.

“Me and my wife are taking a couple weeks off and going somewhere warm, and we’ll just go from there,” Cutraro said, noting the 20-day trip is huge after never taking more than seven days off before. “What I want to do is open, at the most, a 3,000-square-feet restaurant; a true Italian restaurant. We don’t have a place. I’d love to be in Royal Oak.”

Cutraro said he’d like a venue that seats 60-70 people, compared to the 250 that could fit in Sangria.

For more on the final three weeks of Sangria, visit

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