The historic Buffalo tavern, closed since October after the bankruptcy of its former owner, could reopen as early as mid-April after being purchased by attorney and preservationist Tom Eoannou.
“There was a whole list of people who wanted to buy this building,” Eoannou said Friday. “My purpose was to keep this the way it was, Buffalo’s oldest bar. Essentially, I didn’t want it changed.”
Trying to preserve an irreplaceable piece of the city’s built history, Eoannou said, he negotiated its sale, closing two days ago. He also sought a restaurant tenant who would celebrate its heritage and found Salvatore G. Buscaglia, owner of Snooty Fox Lounge, who hopes to open Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern by mid-April.
The place, at 674 Ellicott St., will be open for lunch and dinner, with a menu offering German, Italian, Polish and other fare, Buscaglia said. The kitchen will be modernized, and a modern 10-tap glycol refrigerated line system is being installed for top beer quality.
Eoannou, who also is restoring the North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue, said Ulrich’s October closing led him to see if he could buy the building. He described it as a competitive process, with at least one bidder planning to demolish the building for a parking structure.
When it reopens, much of the physical heritage will remain, he said. Details include the hand-cranked elevator used to bring up liquor from the basement during Prohibition, pictures of the Ulrich and Daley families, and the Iroquois Hotel back bar, installed in 1910. “We want to keep everything,” he said.
His decision to buy the building was clinched when he visited Ulrich’s with his father, he said. “My dad, Constantine Eoannou, is 87. He grew up six blocks down. I brought him in, and said, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘It reminds me of when I was a kid. It’s not a restaurant, it’s a museum.’ ”
That clinched it, Tom Eoannou said.
Then came months of negotiations, legal research and title insurance to make sure he could buy the building, he said. “Ultimately we were able to secure the title insurance, negotiate a deal with the corporation that owned it, and successfully closed it two days ago.”
Former owner James F. Daley Jr. filed for bankruptcy in August 2012, citing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes owed to New York and the IRS.
Asked what the price was, Eoannou declined to comment. “I made a substantial financial commitment to keep it.”
“My feeling was that this is the oldest bar in Buffalo. It says so much about Buffalo. What’s happening, in my humble opinion, is that there’s this great city resurgence, and it’s not Goliaths, but small guys like me. A lot of us are reaching back into these historic buildings, and that’s part of the resurgence.”
Buscaglia was a master carpenter before he opened Snooty Fox in 2007, and he’s already renovating Ulrich’s.
“My vision is to capture a period in time that would make you feel as if you stepped back into the 19th century,” Buscaglia said. “This place is going to be built right, and it’s going to be built to complement that era.”