Only weeks after they fought to open an outdoor patio there, the owners of St. Paul's Lexington restaurant are selling the Grand Avenue landmark to an unnamed restaurant group based in St. Paul.

Those plans were somewhat cloaked in mystery Monday as the current ownership group, represented by John Hickey, failed to return phone calls throughout the afternoon. Neither did the new owners, whose identity became widely known even though it could not be officially confirmed.

Hickey announced in a news release that the owners had agreed to a sale in principle of the classic steak-and-seafood place, one of the city's favorite gathering spots for family celebrations, political strategizing and corporate parties.

Hickey, his wife, Michelle, and Ed and Jenni Ryan bought the Lex only two years ago from Minneapolis businessman Thomas Scallen. No explanation was given as to why they decided to sell now.

"We feel fortunate to have been the fourth owners of this venerable institution," Hickey said in a statement. "The Lexington has been a fabric of St. Paul for 76 years and we feel pride in having kept the institution going."

He said the restaurant will close on May 31 for the summer, when the new owners will begin work on "a series of renovations" with plans to reopen in the fall.

For neighbors, the big question will be whether the new owners will proceed with plans already underway to open an outdoor patio on the roof of the restaurant next year. They're worried that the noise from the patio on warm summer evenings will be intolerable.

"The whole thing for us was that [the outdoor patio] faced the back of the restaurant and not Grand Avenue, and that's very different from any other restaurant on Grand," said Alice Medley, whose home backs onto the alley behind the Lex. If the patio faced Grand, she said, "it would be way more appealing to all of us."

In March, the current owners got approval from the City Council to serve liquor on the rear of the roof as long as the patio closes by 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends.

The current owners' license to serve on the rooftop will transfer to the new owners. But city officials said neighbors will have a chance to comment and ask questions.

The owners, who said that business plummeted in the summer months and that they may be forced to close the Lex permanently if they couldn't serve outside, had said they hoped to open the rooftop space to customers by next summer.

Hickey's release contained statements from the new owners offering assurances that they wouldn't radically change the traditional ambience of the Lexington and that they would keep neighbors in mind while deciding how to proceed.

"The renovation plans are still in design phase and how or what an outdoor service area may be has not been determined," the statement read. "We look forward to connecting with the city and neighborhood to discuss any plans for a patio and are committed to working with our new neighbors."

Current Lexington employees will be laid off when renovations begin, but are being encouraged to reapply for jobs when the restaurant opens again in the fall.

The new owners will help customers who had booked summer events at the Lex to find alternative arrangements.