Astral Plane serves its last meal

Posted: July 02, 2007

He opened his restaurant on June 13, 1973, under an auspicious full moon.

And that evening, the 24-year-old astrologist who had spent a few years in L.A. as an actor began making his mark in Philadelphia's culinary history - and romantic life.

"I thought, this is so insanely, fabulously perfect!" recalled Reed Apaghian, the owner of Astral Plane, one of the city's legendary and - as of yesterday - bygone restaurants. Over the years, under the influence of Mars and Venus, he said, the funky little place at 17th and Lombard has drawn lovers in all stages of smitten. "Rehearsal dinners, anniversaries, that was the staple," he said.

It has had a loyal following for decades. George Clooney had trod these worn carpets. Bette Midler has dined beneath the bolts of billowing silk and cotton cloth tacked to the ceiling. And who knows how many couples have leaned across Apaghian's small tables for a memorable kiss, over the candles and wine and legendary corn chowder?

As much as for its food, Astral Plane was beloved for its homey atmosphere - as if the home belonged to a bohemian uncle who collected gaudy antiques and weird knickknacks. And since word got out officially last week that yesterday's brunch would be the last meal served from the kitchen, Apaghian has been giving away small pieces of the place to beloved customers.

Bill and Floss Ball from Paulsboro were married in the restaurant three years ago and became regulars, returning for important birthdays and Thanksgiving.

They had stopped by on Saturday night for a drink when the bartender asked, "Have you heard the news?"

"I got all teary-eyed," said Floss, a 55-year-old human resources administrator. "It has such a family feel."

Which explains the honor system at the bar during Sunday brunch, where Bill had prepared himself one of the make-your-own Bloody Marys.

The couple were among the nostalgic crowd that made a point of coming in for the last dish. Finishing off peach pancakes and an omelette, the Balls said they had always loved the bar stools. So they offered to buy them from Apaghian.

"He said don't be ridiculous and gave them to us," she said, so she and her husband loaded them into their SUV and took them home to New Jersey.

Seated at one of the outdoor tables, Common Pleas Judge Lisa Richette recalled dining at Astral Plane the night it opened and said it had been one of her favorite neighborhood restaurants ever since.

"I'm heartbroken," she said, finishing off a croissant and coffee with a long, melancholy, lipsticked draw on her cigarillo.

Inside, Apaghian was bidding Richette's son, Lawrence, adieu. He pulled a photograph of actor Joseph Cotten off the wall and handed it to him.

The two men hugged. "You look happy," Richette said in disbelief.

"I am," Apaghian said. He plans to relax at his home in Bucks County, devote more time to his flea market business, and travel. "I haven't had a vacation since 1984," he said.

After 12,542,029 shifts, he said, he's ready. He put the property up for sale last year for $1.75 million. The business is for sale, too. Originally, he thought he'd wait until he had buyers to move on, but last week, he said, he realized that with the new moon on its way and the return of Saturn, the time was right.

"We had our run. Now it's time for the new young people to show us what they can do," he said. "I'm going to have Saturday nights off."


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

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