After 76 Years, Rudy’s Moves Up

Melissa Bailey PhotoLeo “Big Daddy” Vigue is throwing in his bar towel after 50 years, as his storied watering hole moves to a more upscale location on Chapel Street.

Vigue (pictured) has poured drinks and cracked jokes since 1960 at Rudy’s Bar and Grille at 372 Elm St.

Omer Ipek, who owns Rudy’s, said Monday he’s planning to move the legendary saloon to the spot most recently occupied by Ahimsa Restaurant at 1227 Chapel St., at the corner of Howe and Chapel.

Signs of the pending departure are already visible. On Sunday, Ipek removed the sign out front that boasts the bar’s origins: “Rudy’s, est. 1934.” He stripped the walls of memorabilia. He said he was worried they would get stolen when word got out.

Ipek plans to open the new bar in October. Rudy’s would close at its current location sometime before that, he said.

“I can’t believe it,” said Vigue. “A lot of people are going to be upset.”

At 76 years old, Vigue is the bar’s most recognized character, often mistaken for the bar’s namesake, Rudy. Generations of regulars gathered to celebrate his 75th birthday, and to thank him for building a sense of community at the neighborhood watering hole. On Monday, Vigue said he’s taking the opportunity to end his bartending career.

“It’s a shame,” he said, leaning on his cane outside the bar.

Ipek said he doesn’t want to relocate Rudy’s, but he had little choice. He rents the building from Hang Seng Inc., owner of the adjacent Chinese fast food joint, Main Garden. The landlord has been asking Rudy’s to leave for a year, according to Ipek.

The reason is neither a rent dispute nor financial troubles, according to Ipek.

“Business is steady at Rudy’s,” he said. “Main Garden wants to expand—that’s the only reason.”

Reached Monday afternoon behind the counter, Main Garden’s owner declined comment and waved a reporter back to Rudy’s.

“It’s too bad,” Ipek said about the move. “I tried everything I could do. I paid more than anybody can pay to stay there.”

“I would rather stay,” Ipek added, “but the building is falling apart. If you don’t have a [long-term] lease, you’re not going to put any money into it.”

Rudy’s has rented the space from the beginning, when it started out in 1934 as a working-class, one-room bar next to a barber shop. In the ‘70s, the bar took over the barber shop, too. In the ‘90s, Rudy’s grew again, adding a room with a pool table in what used to be a backyard garden.

The dark, wooden rooms are soaked with history: Names of bygone patrons are carved into wooden tables, and their photos—playing rugby, catching fish, raising a cold one—covered the walls, until recently. Ipek packed those photos away on Sunday as a precaution, before he went public about the move. On Monday, no faces stared back from the walls of the bar’s back room.

Bartenders said the news has traveled fast. Phone calls have poured in asking if Rudy’s is closing, and a man showed up with a videocamera Monday, shirtless, demanding confirmation of the rumor.

Omer Ipek said he’s doing all he can to bring the “old Rudy’s” feeling to the new location.

Ipek said he has negotiated a long-term lease on the new space on Chapel Street. The spot is the former home of the Indian vegan restaurant Ahimsa. The restaurant’s awning (pictured) promises a “chic vegetarian experience.”

The new location will be “bigger, and nicer, too,” Ipek said.

The new Rudy’s will occupy three rooms, he said—the former Ahimsa spot, plus two adjacent spaces.

Ipek, who’s from Belgium, has long sought to expand Rudy’s kitchen to add more traditional Belgian foods. At last, he’ll have room in the kitchen to do so. He said he’s planning to run a restaurant with a full kitchen, so that beers may be coupled with mussels or Belgian waffles, in addition to his famous Belgian frites.

Ipek also co-owns two successful, upscale Belgian restaurants in Manhattan called the B Cafe East and West. They’re known for their selection of Belgian beers.

He said the new Rudy’s on Chapel Street will be a little nicer than the Elm Street joint, but without losing the old Rudy’s character. The new spot sits a block away from a lively strip of ethnic restaurants frequented by Yale students, downtowners and visitors. He said he hopes the foot traffic on Chapel will bring more customers to Rudy’s expanded restaurant.

Then, when customers enter two back rooms, then they’ll “see the old Rudy’s,” Ipek said. One room, a former juice bar, will hold a stage for live music and karaoke. A second will hold the Rudy’s pool table, he said. Characteristic Rudy’s decor—a carved bench, and the boxes of salvaged memorabilia—will sit in those two rooms.

“When you get there, you’ll feel like you’re at Rudy’s,” Ipek promised. Only “the bathroom will be cleaner.”

Ipek said there may be a gap between when the current Rudy’s location closes and the new one opens. He declined to give a closing date for the storied Elm Street haunt. He said he’ll try to keep Rudy’s open on the weekends during the move.

Ipek said he plans to keep patrons in the loop through the bar’s Facebook page.

The move was news to Karl Vaillancourt (pictured), who was smoking a cigarette outside the bar on Monday afternoon. He said he’s been drinking at Rudy’s since he was 15, when he would visit from West Haven, using his older brother’s ID. 

“I don’t know how it’ll possibly be the same,” he said.

As he sat outside, Vigue walked over to Rudy’s from his house on nearby Howe Street. He stood outside for a minute, dressed in a characteristic Red Sox World Series Champion t-shirt and hat, and reflected on the passage of his home-away-from-home.

“It’s going to be a big change,” he said. As the years took their toll, Vigue had already cut his hours back to Saturdays between noon and 4 p.m. He has trouble standing for long periods of time, and often needs to rest on a stool near the door.

“I was going to retire anyway,” he offered.

Vigue was asked if he’ll make the trip to Rudy’s new home, two long blocks down Howe Street. He asked three times where the new spot was, drawing his ear closer to this reporter.

After pinpointing the location, he gave his reply.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” he said. 

Melissa Bailey Photo

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posted by: Pedro on June 22, 2010  8:10am

This may be the worst thing to hit New Haven since the Doodle Closed.
Rudy’s will not be Rudy’s without the location!!

Would you move Richters into some new haunts and call it Richters?

Besides the fact that there will be no patio outside, the only drinking patio in downtown new haven, besides the new Kelly’s/Press setup, 90% of what makes Rudy’s RUDY’S is the location!

Going into a glassed in converted storefront with no outdoor seating sounds like a fate worse than death.

Hang Seng Inc, really needs to get its head screwed on right. I wonder if they would take offers to buy the building outright. A sub-par late night Chinese takeout place is going to ruin one of the best bars in New Haven so they can have more space. This is beyond nuts.

I just wish that Mr. Ipek had given wind of this sooner. If there’s any New Haven bar patron who would be motivated to save this, it’s Rudy’s Patrons. Now we only have weeks to see what we can do.  Let’s get to it, friends!

posted by: Always Right on June 22, 2010  8:44am

I wonder if Main Garden realizes the same foot traffic won’t be on their street if Rudy closes.

I remember when Chaple and Howe was known for drug dealers and hookers.  Times have changed.

posted by: Cedarhillresident on June 22, 2010  8:53am

Wow! What news :)
I hope they take Patrick’s plaque from the bar! This is a fantastic location, I hear the landlords are the BEST! :) more room and only one block from the original. I think that they will be able to hold the old charm of Rudys in this new location! Loyal Rudy-ens need to make sure of this!

posted by: Cedarhillresident on June 22, 2010  8:59am

Ahimsa had some out door seating.

posted by: robn on June 22, 2010  9:13am

Interior design tip for Rudy’s,

Make all new tables out of 2x12s for drunken artistically expressionistic carvability.

posted by: Moira on June 22, 2010  9:17am

The new place will be the New Rudy’s, and it won’t be the Old (read: Real) Rudy’s anymore than the New Yankee Stadium (no matter how awesome it is—and it is!) is the Old Yankee Stadium (which just had more soul). Change is weird. Change sometimes sucks. Change is also good. Despite our bellyachin’, at least it won’t shut down completely, like Clark’s Dairy and the Doodle. I’m not sure how I feel about Pat’s plaque making the move to the end of shiny new bar at which he never sat—unless they move the actual bar, which they should for many reasons. Whatev’s. Many memories are in the old place. New ones will come with the new place. Alpha Delta’s not going to be happy, though. Does India Palace sell slices? ;o)

posted by: streever on June 22, 2010  9:25am

At first, I felt sad, but as I read that the belgian menu will expand & the hints of an increased belgian beer menu I found myself embracing this.

Change happens—while it’ll be sad and I’ll miss the nostalgia of the old place, it’ll be great to see an expansion of the food & brew.

posted by: You B on June 22, 2010  9:59am

I am pretty sure that this is the kind of sign that proves the world will end in 2012. As someone who has been going to rudy’s since I was a kid, having my face painted with shamrocks on st. pattys day parade day and then in later years buying some of my first beers there I will have to say this ends my connection with rudys, I see no reason to go to a new rudys in a new location, it is just not the same, its sad but I am going to have to say goodbye to rudy’s forever….

posted by: notch on June 22, 2010  10:28am

I am VERY sad to hear about the move. I’ve heard rumors about this since May but didn’t want to believe it was true. It would make more sense if the Chinese place next door was half-decent. Alas, no.

I am hopeful about the new space though. If anyone could fill the cavernous space Ahimsa left, it would be Rudy’s. If they can preserve the intimate, dark feel in some of the rooms, I’ll be happy. Hopefully all the memorabilia and wooden tables can be installed in the new place. To have a bigger space that isn’t a Crown St fake-tannery would be awesome. I wish them the best of luck and I look forward to October!

posted by: Old Punk on June 22, 2010  10:39am

I’m fine with it. Many NH institutions have moved and survived, Louis’ and Mory’s, to name two.

I’m also happy that it sounds like there will be room for live music, that situation can only improve with a move.

posted by: dana huneke-stone on June 22, 2010  10:51am

ohhh…rudy’s—-even 3 thousand miles away i’m experiencing separation anxiety.  some of the best and worst moments of my life occurred within those dark, time scarred rooms.  celebrations of life, anguished farewells, and drunken declarations of love and promises flowed freely here; surely one cannot call new haven home without having spilled a few secrets and tears on this sacred ground.  you will be missed.

posted by: SadYalie on June 22, 2010  10:52am

This is so horrifying.  What about all of us who carved our names over the last 70 years? 

i will never, EVER eat at Main Garden again.  that’s for sure.

posted by: 16 Year Old Liz on June 22, 2010  11:14am

I am devastated to hear this news. I worked at Rudy’s for a little over two years, and the regulars and employees were one of the best families I could ever have.

I now live in New York City, where I proudly exclaim that the best bar in the entire world is in New Haven, CT. I hate that I will now have to say “was”. I will definitely be coming back to celebrate one last drink under that roof, but those empty walls are going to bring the tears.

There is no way almost 80 years of drunken nights, laughter, loss, baseball games, snowed-in coziness, or summer Sundays with the jukebox rocking can ever be replaced. Ever.

posted by: Jay on June 22, 2010  11:15am

There’s no Wikipedia article about Rudy’s. Anyone have the time to write one?

posted by: Cedarhillresident on June 22, 2010  11:37am

The beauty of Rudy’s is the people, the bonds and the family that has been made there. Yes it is sad to see the old Rudy’s move. But reality is again they are staying. And only moving a block away. This is were the owner of Rudy’s needs his family to stand by him.

posted by: Yokel on June 22, 2010  11:55am

Rudy’s lost the local feel after Omer bought the place, and the internet jukebox was the real nail in the coffin.

Many people still went there for the nostalgia factor, but now even that is gone.

At least we still have Cafe 9.

posted by: wmk on June 22, 2010  11:57am

I’m upset about this. I’m not angry at the owners…I’m just upset about the circumstances of the move. Being forced out but a ... Chinese take out place…that’s just tragic. Alas, nothing lasts forever.

posted by: amstel light on June 22, 2010  12:06pm

i’ve met so many wonderful friends, my husband and even a few loveable wanderers at rudy’s. we shared fun times and the most sad ones. i’d be upset if we can’t keep having those times somewhere new (even if it is the NEW rudy’s.) sure, i go to rudy’s for the “atmosphere” but without the regulars i probably wouldn’t bother. the original rudy’s had to start somewhere right?

posted by: anon on June 22, 2010  12:49pm

this SUCKS! Rudy’s had so much character and privacy. now when i park and leave all drunkenly from Rudy’s, i’ll have to drive through a sea of Yale students. or i wont be able to park and drive drunkenly at all.

the irony of this is that MAIN GARDEN is totally going to lose all it’s business when Rudy’s leaves.

posted by: Chicwa on June 22, 2010  12:54pm

I agree with Yokel, there was defenitely a shift after the place changed hands in my opinion. So much so that I had become reluctant to go there.

Many good times were had there, and many good baskets of frites, and so life goes on.

I can’t help feeling that there will be another shift to a more upmarket Rudy’s, once they are in the new location. The current location always seemed to have a certain seedy quality that was strangely comforting. This is something that just happens and can’t be created, or in this case re-created.

C’est la vie

posted by: Erin on June 22, 2010  1:26pm

While at first completely horrified by this news, I will concede that the prospect of increased Belgian beer selection, Belgian waffles, and cleaner bathrooms make this idea of moving a little easier to handle, if it comes to that. I will predict however that the death knell has sounded for Main Garden! They will never recover the money they are about to throw into expansion.

posted by: Chris on June 22, 2010  1:43pm

Worst news ever!

posted by: walt bradley on June 22, 2010  1:50pm

This sucks. Left a lot of life and money in that place. In a good way.

posted by: b on June 22, 2010  3:35pm

I’m not a fan of change. I still miss The Daily and Dakota J’s. I realize time marches on and things change and things “progress” but, I can’t help but be a little sad that Elm Street and Broadway just aren’t what they used to be. The local food establishments (Main Garden and Alpha Delta) are going to lose a lot of business. I remember that every time I ever walked by Main Garden I would look in that back door and think “eww..nasty..i’ll never eat there.” I never have and no I certainly NEVER will.

posted by: You B on June 22, 2010  3:37pm

I’m cool with the move, just as long as they don’t call the new place Rudy’s.

posted by: Rachel Koladis on June 22, 2010  4:31pm

This is unbelievably depressing news. Rudy’s was one of my favorite spots to visit when I came to New Haven. I don’t think that any other place can compare to it’s current location.

posted by: Cedarhillresident on June 22, 2010  4:34pm

Some one needs to get in there during daylight and document the walls and tables.

posted by: notorious on June 22, 2010  4:40pm

I second that this is the death knell for Main Garden. As much as I’ve ragged on the Rude, I’m sad to see the place go. Its a part of the old school New Haven that is dying out. I liked going to the exact same bar that my Dad and my uncles went to in the 50’s and 60’s. This town is turning into a sterile Disneyland. Hopefully they take that paneling with them. I give them credit for trying though, and Belgian food sounds nice. I like.

posted by: friteslover on June 22, 2010  5:10pm

This makes no sense. Is there more to this story? Is Main Garden a scapegoat for a larger issue here? It would be a great financial move for someone to facilitate the redemption of Rudy’s! So much New Haven and Yale history and charm will be lost if Rudy’s moves! There are few places left with the same legacy. Mory’s is being renovated, the Yankee Doodle closed…Richter’s will be next. So sad.

posted by: I just love a Greek Salad on June 22, 2010  6:01pm

This is terrible.  I am glad I’ve moved.

posted by: SayitAintSo on June 22, 2010  8:07pm

This simply makes no sense.

The Main Garden guys are giving up a high-paying tenant for what? Are they really going to open a bigger Chinese restaurant, and if so, why there? (I’ll never eat at it, that’s for sure.)

And will Rudy’s retain its magic following the move? I mean had they bought out Viva’s or some other dive, maybe. But that modern storefront on Chapel Street? I dunno.

The only good news I’ve heard is that the new place will have a 50 space parking lot for evening use. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what they do at the new location…

posted by: Johnson Johnson on June 22, 2010  10:03pm

As someone who’s been drinking at Rudy’s since I was 17, this is a real blow.  I just hope the New Rudy’s doesn’t end up being yet another generic upscale yuppie bar; New Haven is lousy with them already.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 23, 2010  1:36am

The “Rudy’s is closing” rumor has circulated before whenever the lease is up for renewal.  The fact that this time it is true, leads me to believe that this is a bigger picture manipulation than just the current landlord.

posted by: robn on June 23, 2010  9:18am

Rudy’s closing makes me sad. I had my first drink there when I was a toddler, got an impromptu sewing needle tattoo in the john when I was 7, and had my first knife fight there when I was 9.

posted by: East Rockette on June 23, 2010  12:25pm

Robn, you are, as always, comedic gold.

So can they take the carved wainscoting with them when they go?

posted by: Joe T on June 23, 2010  1:25pm

Yea, I agree.  I bet Yale is somehow involved with this.  My guess is the current owners probably got an nice offer from Yale to purchase the property.  Doesn’t Yale own everything else around there?  It’s all part of their master plan to own the entire block.  This is probably one of the few last hold-outs.

The excuse that the Chinese food place wants to expand is really lame and not believable.  Their business won’t survive without Rudy’s next door.

posted by: Scott on June 24, 2010  9:58am

Oh my God. Mory’s, Rudy’s, what next? A community organizer gets elected commander in chief? Oh, right…

posted by: robn on June 24, 2010  1:29pm

I passed out under Rudy’s bar in 1985 and woke up there last week. Many fine hours.

posted by: j mix on June 25, 2010  6:43pm

Omer can strap Leo to the long wooden bar,just like royalty,and cart him to the new location.Ian and Jeff and the others can walk along side as his attendants keeping him comfortable.Seriously,good luck at the new location..The hookers like Belgium Frites.J.Mix

posted by: Mark on June 25, 2010  8:03pm


The owner of Rudy’s (as controversial as some of his past decisions have been: banning regulars, the juke box, raising prices) is legitimately trying to pack up and port the atmosphere of the old place to the new building. Despite the fact that he never really understood the subculture that surrounded a place like Rudy’s, he is a good, kind guy that tried to keep the bar at it’s current location for as long as he could. The landlords… never performed their landlord duties. The building is falling apart in many areas - would you pay rent on your apartment if the floor had holes and rot that smelled worse than the food being cooked next door? My point: don’t blame the guy. This is not his fault.

Most of you are going to follow the bar to the next location. And, why not? There are only a handful of non-douchy bars in the surrounding region. For those of you that don’t: why? It’s very sad but it’s just a building. Nothing but an object, a possession. Some of you sound like a bunch of kids that accidently stepped on their toys. You can always find something to replace it with. What cannot be replaced is the patrons. If I walk in and find nobody I know (except for the bartenders), I can always find someone to talk to. The reason I go there is because I feel comfortable there…even when I’m surrounded by people I really don’t care for. 

The Connecticut scene has always been ripe with apathy - with good reason. Since I was a kid I remember seeing clubs close, bands leave and people never satisfied with the hard work of the few positive souls that made Connecticut bearable.  Try not to be apathetic toward this. The staff is going to work really hard to make the new place as welcoming as the old place. Logically, why would the place change all that much? It’s still in the same neighborhood, it’s still going to be staffed by the same people, it’s still going to host music and yes, it’s still going to attract the same Saturday night drunk foot traffic as it does now.

I, for one, like hearing Kardrel rip me to pieces during karaoke

posted by: Outdoor Patio on June 28, 2010  9:28am

The appeal has been the outdoor patio that spills out onto the sidewalk. It’s fenced in, with beer-glass rail & tables. The awning encourages gathering outside even during rain & snow.

The secondary appeal has been the MATURE TREES LINING THE STREET. Chapel Street has the obligatory/token city trees that are hardly 30 years old. Elm Street is a shady street in summertime; the temperature is cool, the traffic is muted, and it’s a real neighborhood with a bank conveniently located.

Chapel Street is busy, closer to high-crime areas, bakes in the sun all summer long, and the street is one-way. In fact, all the streets making up that block are one-ways. Parking across the street for a fee (private lot) will certainly benefit that owner!

If Rudy’s has to move to survive, and the owner wants the business to survive, then I support the move. This actually helps anchor a neighborhood since Miya Sushi is there, and two Indian restaurants. Maybe they’ll be open later to draw in the crowds?

Part of the cachet of Rudy’s in the past was that it was “at the edge” of Yale’s reach downtown, so it was a real hike for some- making cold winter & hot summer nights just for the locals :)

posted by: sandymac on July 3, 2010  8:52am

so, an appropriately mixed bag of comments.
    the key here is evolution.  rudy’s was a one-room hole in the wall in the mid70s.  i was there- with my buck knife- the night they opened the second (“back”) room and i helped create the instant atmosphere on the tables.  i was there for many a super-crowded thursday night as an undergraduate.  i wasn’t there much when it was, for a short time, a fern bar.  i was there when the stage went in for live music.  i missed the opening of the very back room but was there for leo’s 75th, along with billy dest and some of the old-time folks.  my picture is on the wall, taken at yost van dyke in the british virgin islands at a grass shack bar called “rudy’s”.  (yeah, leo got a tshirt.)
    the point being that rudy’s has changed a fair bit over the years.  but the huge picture of the famous “little boy blue” game at the bowl is still there.  (and the men all have hats on- i challenge you to find one guy who doesn’t.)  and pags is still running on the wall. and romo’s license plate is still up.  etc., etc.  (actually, they are all down now but i’ve been promised that it’s all moving.  maybe someone ill find my old license plate in the basement- it’s JAM.LAX.)
    so give the new place a chance before you decide anything about it.  sure, it won’t be rudy’s as you remember it but rudy’s as you remember it was just one version of the place.  maybe you’ll recognize a lot of your version in the new place, maybe not.  but wait to see.

posted by: ljm1106 on July 20, 2010  9:07pm

uh hem…drinking here since he was 15? What’s wrong with that sentence??? I don’t know who should be more embarrassed the man or the bar….