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New cafe launches into Orbit

24/7 eatery on west side aims to attract night owls, techies

A delighted Mayor Rocky Anderson has another night spot to add to his "Yes, there are hot hangouts in Salt Lake City" list.

With the opening of the Orbit Cafe at 540 W. 200 South, west-side development "is going to simply snowball," the mayor said at Wednesday's noontime ribbon cutting. "And I know there are great plans for more entertainment and dining around here."

Orbit co-owner Phil McCarthey acknowledged he was a bit reluctant to open a business at this particular location. "West Second South? Yeah, right" was his first reaction. Then he started finding out how this used to be Greek Town, a thriving 24/7 neighborhood studded with saloons, coffeehouses and other places where miners and railroad workers came to spend their paychecks.

Salt Lake City certainly has transformed itself in the hundred years since then, but residents still need a place to connect. McCarthey and partners Stephen Justesen and Jim Dabakis decided to open a radically updated version of a saloon: an Internet cafe.

Orbit is open all night every night — the only 24/7 spot in its neighborhood just south of the Gateway development. The cafe has a roomful of computer terminals, a state liquor license and a menu that ranges from beer pancakes to curried vegetable stir-fry. The late-night menu offers 22 items, served from 10 p.m. to 11 a.m., besides the daytime lineup that includes baked salmon, turkey meatloaf, a pork-chile verde burrito, pizza, burgers and a Mediterranean eggplant sandwich.

McCarthey sees his 4,000-square-foot restaurant as a place for night owls to socialize after other clubs close, and instead of miners his clientele will range from construction workers to high-techies. At the turn of the previous century people came to west-side saloons to exchange news with their neighbors — and Salt Lakers are hungry to do the same in the 21st century, he said. With Orbit's online terminals, of course, their reach will be considerably wider than their 20th century counterparts. Internet access for customers is free.

"People need a place to socialize" long after many coffeehouses close at 9 or 10 p.m., McCarthey said. Orbit, he hopes, will serve as "a clean, well-lighted place" that Ernest Hemingway might have frequented.

Executive chef Rick Esparza came from Urban Bistro into Orbit and now manages about 35 employees there. Baker Adalberto Diaz fills the Internet room's glass case with fresh loaves, muffins and pastries. Seems this cafe has the two things people cannot live without in 2001: bread and the World Wide Web.