Scenes from an Italian restuarant
Update: Brindisi is swearing the place will be reopened as of the inception of February. The Saratogian reports any deal between the Circus and Brindisi has since been quashed. This is welcome news if in fact it’s true. Variety is the spice of life in the restaurant business. It’s always better to have two successful restaurants than one.
The curious case of Brindisi’s remains largely speculative at this time, especially given the recent comments delivered by its often quite visible operator, Andy Brindisi. Although the downtown business association member and vocal restaurateur told The Saratogian Saturday he intends to reopen his Italian-style bistro next month, words spoken among his staff of more than two dozen suggest otherwise.
One source said all 26 workers of the restaurant were told on New Year’s Eve the restaurant would be closed permanently and was in the process of being sold. This same source indicated the potential buyers are none other than Christel and Colin MacLean, the owners of the Circus Cafe immediately next door. Another said the restaurant was up for sale, but was unsure if there was a buyer.
Brindisi’s father –powerful Syracuse-area attorney Louis Brindisi –apparently had a 10-year lease on the restaurant, which is in a four-tenant building owned by longtime resident James Hogan. With less than three years remaining on the lease, an ugly legal spat broke out between the elder Brindisi, Hogan and Anne DeLucia, the owner of The Grotto nightclub beneath the restaurant.
In short, the pipes near the restaurant’s dish area leaked, causing significant damage to both Brindisi’s kitchen and the fledgling nightclub below. The elder Brindisi filed a $6 million suit, arguing the damage resulted from the nightclub’s pounding bass, which quite literally rattles the whole building every weekend evening. DeLucia countersued Brindisi for $233,000, arguing the leak resulted from a grease clog that built up and eventually caused the pipe to rupture. Naturally, Hogan immediately sought to terminate Brindisi’s lease when the suit was filed against him.
Update: for those who don’t read the comment section, the Grotto’s owner said she never filed suit against Brindisi’s and it was Hogan’s doing. She also maintains her business is good to go and will remain open into the foreseeable future, barring further flooding. Likewise, word from Brindisi is that the sale rumor is nothing more than that and he plans to be open -as the sign says -for Chowderfest next month. Man, oh man. This is like a soap opera.
It’s entirely possible these suits percolated through the justice system and ultimately lead to an agreement or court order terminating the lease. Brindisi would then be faced with finding a new home to re-establish his son’s restaurant or sell the location as it exists today. Needless to say, moving a well-established business elsewhere could cost tens of thousands of dollars before even factoring in the effect such relocation could have on customers. Supposedly, the younger Brindisi only learned of the impending closure on Christmas Eve.
Then there is the Circus. Since opening in 2004, the McLeans have done an immense amount of posturing and publicizing to routinely fill the restaurant. But the ambitious duo that once owned Hattie’s on Phila Street are relatively locked with what they can do in their location. More specifically, the Circus lacks the usable space to turn what is now a smaller-sized eatery into one of the larger nightlife destinations on Broadway. Given the past ambition demonstrated by the Circus’ owners suggests buying Brindisi’s might be a logical step in their business plans.
Update: even more murmurs are starting to drift from restaurant row. Apparently, there are five investors interested in purchasing Hogan’s building for an undetermined purpose. And who’s power-playing this deal? Drum roll please...the licensed real estate brokers who just happen to own The Circus. The rather unsightly building was constructed in the late 1940s(correction) and has a full-market value of $1.47 million, according to the city. Prior to being cut up, the building served as Newberry’s Department store. Apparently, the bar now serving the Circus once served as the store’s soda fountain.
To add even more intrigue into everything is the recent dearth of business at The Grotto on any given night. Originally, the nightclub was offered as a sort of fusion between the prototypical hip hop-blasting meat market and a rock-and-roll live act venue. But the motif never really caught on with weekend revelers and instead scared away the sparse few clubbers that once visited the spot when it was the Newberry. Add it all up and the future doesn’t look bright for The Grotto.
Were both Brindisi’s and The Grotto spaces to go on the market simultaneously, the result could be a building overhaul that would be a bustling business to rival what now operates at the City Tavern on Caroline Street. Such a business endeavor wouldn’t be for the faint of heart. In fact, to renovate the space so badly carved up would likely cost more than the $499,500 Hogan paid for the building in 1992.
But naturally, there is always an alternate reality proffered by a short mention in The Saratogian. As has become trademark with the paper’s shoddy news reporting, none of these avenues or transgressions is noted; just that Andy Brindisi has decided to embark upon a renovation endeavor and will be back in February with “special promotions” for his customers.
It’s true, January is the slowest month in the restaurant business and many owners take the time to clean, renovate or simply grab a quick hiatus from the grinding business. Then again, there are plenty of past examples, where restaurateurs bailed by leaving nothing except a short note on the front door and a gaggle of workers dangling on the unemployment line.
During the late 1990s, there was the infamous case of Graham’s in the former Putnam Market location. After spending more than $400,000 renovating the space in 2000, owner Patrick Graham allegedly went on a gambling and coke binge that ultimately left him with not even enough cash to pay his staff. Graham left a sign on the door in September 2003, saying he would “close for remodeling” and be open again in a few months. In a sense, he was telling the truth: Doc’s Steakhouse opened one year later and under new ownership.
More recently, the owners of the extremely short-lived Limoncello abruptly closed the so-called upscale Italian eatery, claiming their location in the Granite Palace was inadequate. But there hasn’t been a word about the restaurant since Giancarlo Balestra, the former partner of another well-known Italian restaurateur, closed his doors in September. And given past reviews of the place, there won’t be either.
As for Brindisi’s, only time will tell if the rumors swelling around his restaurant prove true. In nearly a decade worth of business, his locale always seemed to have a robust crowd and one that frequently swelled to capacity when other establishments languished. But for more than two dozen local workers, the New Year might not seem much like the happy one many were championing last week.Update: yet another news reporter jumps on the bandwagon. The Daily Gazette’s often reliable Saratoga reporter grabbed a seat next to The Saratogian’s business reporter in buying the tripe being doled out on Broadway. The stranger part is that the whole city is literally buzzing with news of the Circus owners’ pending purchase. Bravo, guys. Way to obfuscate a good story.