Nine months after doors closed on their Elm Street hangout, faithful Rudy’s patrons raised a glass at the new incarnation of a storied watering hole.
Rudy’s Bar and Grille, which was booted last August from the Elm Street spot it had occupied for 76 years, reopened this week at 1227 Chapel St.
After months of waiting, thirsty patrons got the news from a note on the Rudy’s Facebook page at 8 p.m. Wednesday: “We’re open.”
Through text messages and word of mouth, they found their way to Rudy’s new frontier, which mixes elements of its old historic charm with a cleaner, much-expanded restaurant. The 4,500-square-foot space at the corner of Chapel and Howe, which most recently held Ahimsa restaurant, has been entirely renovated with a new kitchen, a large dining room and new beech wood floors.
Around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, students gathered in clusters in new, circular booths under half-covered lightbulbs. They quickly sniffed out the classic Belgian frites, which are served with 10 different sauces. Owner Omer Ipek, who’s Belgian, brought frites to Rudy’s after he took over the bar in 2002; they have since become the bar’s signature snack.
The bar had a soft opening Wednesday and Thursday nights. It will open at 7 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, then be open for lunch and dinner starting Monday.
In the first night of business Wednesday, Ipek (pictured) moved between the bar taps and the kitchen, stopping for a moment for a toast with some regulars, most of whom he hadn’t seen in nine months.
After Rudy’s shut its doors last August with a rowdy last hurrah, regulars scattered across the city in search of brew and company. In the warm months, some perched outside El Amigo Felix, a block away from their old haunt. Some fled to Christy’s on Orange, which would later close. Some followed several former Rudy’s bartenders back to Elm Bar, the eerie simulacrum that opened on Rudy’s grave.
Others, bumping into each other in the dead of winter at Cafe Nine, clinked glasses with a weary, “Hello, fellow Rudy’s refugee.”
On Wednesday, their paths met in a space that mixes old and new.
“It’s great to see all the old friends,” Ipek said.
Rudy’s new spot is two long blocks away from the original Rudy’s, which was a neighborhood dive bar with few windows, and had generations of names carved into the walls, tables and chairs. The two-block move made a big difference: Now Rudy’s is the last in a series of restaurants that stretch from the Yale campus toward Dwight. Its many windows look out at Tandoor Indian restaurant on one side and Miya’s sushi restaurant on the other.
This the first time Rudy’s has moved since Rudy Conti founded it in 1934 as a one-room bar and grill next to a barber shop. When Rudy’s closed last summer, Ipek took care to salvage every last piece of memorabilia from the walls, unpeeling layers of history.
Some of the same fire hats, vintage beer cans and historic photos now hang on the walls of the new Rudy’s. Overall, the place has a much cleaner, more spacious look. (“I don’t see anywhere to carve my name,” remarked one patron in the front dining room.) Ipek called the style “old industrial,” pointing out galvanized steel chairs and a painted tin ceiling.
“We take some from Rudy’s, but we don’t want to copycat Rudy’s,” Ipek explained. “There’s no point to reproduce something that’s unique.”
Ipek plans to expand the restaurant’s menu to include Belgian mussels and pizza served by waiters. Bartenders alone will no longer be able to serve the large dining room, he said. He has already hired 15 full and part-time staff for the operation.
On Wednesday, while some regulars sipped bottles of Miller Lite, others tried out bulbous glass vessels of Belgian Kwak beer (pictured).
In response to some peoples’ fear that prices would shoot up in the more upscale location, Ipek said the cost of the beers remains about the same. A bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon costs $3.25, an extra quarter compared to last year. The expanded bar does have some new higher-end options, like the Kwak carafe, which comes perched on a wooden stand. The bar will have “Belgian strong ales and American micro-brews” on tap, said Ipek.
The new beer menu is a step closer to the two Belgian bistros Ipek runs in Manhattan, the B Cafe and the B Cafe West. Both are known for a large selection of Belgian beers on tap.
Rudy’s, however, “is not a Belgian place,” Ipek said. Besides the foreign brew, mussels and frites, the rest of the cuisine will be “American gastro pub,” with thin-crust pizza and lean burgers.
Rudy’s now has a chef, who is gradually phasing in a new menu. For the bar’s debut Wednesday, chef Ian Wright served up three late-night snacks: frites with 10 sauces, olives, and Jarlsberg-Gouda croquettes.
On Thursday afternoon, Wright cooked burgers for Ipek and two men helping him launch the new operation.
Wright emerged a few minutes later with a cone of frites. The secret to the frites is they are double-fried in vegetable oil that is not used for any other purpose, Ipek explained. While other restaurants use frozen potato sticks, Ipek’s potatoes are hand-peeled and hand-cut before they’re dunked in the “frite machine.” The triple-barrel frialator was one key piece of equipment that survived the move from Elm Street.
The frites retained their classic warmth and crispiness, but general manager Jeffrey Petrin said he thought they tasted a bit different. That could be the switch from table salt to sea salt, Ipek guessed. Or, he offered, it could be that Petrin’s palate has grown unaccustomed to the flavor because it’s been so long that he’s tasted Rudy’s frites.
The delay in opening the new Rudy’s came because of the sheer amount of work it took to rehab the place, Ipek said. The general contractor was New England Restoration. Putting in the hardwood floors, which Ipek said are made from salvaged riverwood from fallen beech trees, alone took three months. Then there was the new kitchen, which was put in a new location and outfitted with new equipment.
In a somewhat dramatic change of style, staff now wear uniforms with a new Rudy’s logo. Bartender and manager Emily Robichaud (pictured) sported hers as she cut an orange Thursday afternoon.
A series of side doors next to the bar where she stood can be opened during warm weather.
A hostess will greet diners from a podium with a computer.
Most of the relics of Rudy’s past are in the back rooms.
The famous wood tables and benches, complete with years of carving, were restored and covered in varnish. The giant photo of a football game at the Yale bowl circa 1929 hangs on a wall. There Ipek plans to install a temporary stage for local bands to continue playing gigs. A sliding barn door separates the band room from the dining room during shows or private parties (Ipek said he aims to rent out the back portion for private events.)
Rescued wood panels from the old Rudy’s hang in a far back room.
Ipek said the two back rooms are still under renovation. In the future, he aims to renovate behind the establishment, too, to add patio seating in a wide alley that leads to a parking lot. The parking lot has 50 spots, while the old Rudy’s had only on-street parking.
There’s no sign yet out front at the bar.
“That’s not a big deal,” said Ipek. He said he’s confident people will find the place, if not through a sign then through word of mouth.
“Rudy’s is not about the building,” he said, “it’s about the people.”