By Brandon Schlager
NEWS BUSINESS REPORTER
At 75, Glenn Losel claims he is the oldest and longest-tenured patron still living from the 146-year history of Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern.
Sitting outside Buffalo’s oldest operating bar and restaurant Monday afternoon, Losel told stories that have accumulated since he began frequenting the little brick building nestled into the foot of the old Trico warehouse at “18.”
“There used to be the old saying: If you brought a girlfriend to Ulrich’s and she liked it, she was a keeper. You had to keep her,” Losel, a military veteran, remembered.
Janet Losel, his wife of 34 years, nodded in agreement.
“The wives didn’t like it quite as much,” she said.
The Losels were two of about 100 or so patrons old and new who stopped by Monday to celebrate the grand reopening and ribbon-cutting of Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern. Following new ownership and a series of renovations after it folded in October, the historic bar and restaurant is once again open for business.
Even after all these years, a festive menu and atmosphere remain its main attraction.
“When you walked in and saw the original tables, original chairs, original back bar, original beer memorabilia, all of that was just fantastic,” said Tom Eoannou, who closed on his purchase of the building in March, defeating another proposal that called for the construction of a parking structure in its place.
“It’s more like a museum than a restaurant, history in the middle of Buffalo’s resurgence.”
Though much about the building, which dates to 1868, remains the same inside, its location on the doorstep of a booming Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus figures to give Ulrich’s a new lease on life as thousands of professionals and new commercial development makes its way to the area.
Eoannou teamed up with Sal Buscaglia, owner of Snooty Fox, who signed a 15-year lease to head the operation.
Buscaglia contributed about $200,000 to make a series of restorations.
“To invest in something that withstood the test of time of 146 years, there’s obviously something about this area in particular that is special,” Buscaglia added.
“Now you throw the entire Medical Campus into it, and soon-to-be 17,000 employees in this area, and it just makes sense all the way around. That’s why I didn’t spare any expense.”
A carpenter by trade, Buscaglia revamped the bar and much of the building’s infrastructure himself, adding a new air-conditioning unit, point-of-sale system and kitchen equipment.
Eoannou also added new siding and a roof to the building’s exterior.
“It was a lot of work,” Buscaglia said before the ribbon-cutting, his hands still covered in dirt as he spoke.
“But customers like the fact that I preserved a lot of the history. I didn’t change much. It was a lot of restoration, and people really appreciate that.”
Led by chef John Gugino, Ulrich’s has also added a modern flair to its traditional German fare menu, which has been in a trial run since the restaurant began its soft opening June 25.
Paninis are among some new items that accompany menu staples like potato pancakes and sausage.
“The quality of food is different,” Buscaglia said. “There’s Ulrich’s favorites on the menu. It has a gourmet twist.”
And, of course, the beer.
Ulrich’s will carry a “generous selection” of beer on tap with an emphasis on local craft brewers, including Hamburg Brewing Company and Flying Bison.
Fred Lima stood at the bar with two longtime friends Monday, before patrons poured onto Virginia Street, which was closed as tents served up beer and complimentary hors d’oeuvres amid live German music to mark the occasion.
Donna Schoelles of West Seneca sat at a table with relatives Monday. They’ve been coming back for 30 years and were disappointed when they thought the restaurant closed for good last year.
Schoelles said the best part about the new Ulrich’s Tavern is, simply, that it varies little from the old.
“We’re fans of the old and the new Ulrich’s,” she said. “It’s all the good from the old and a great new touch. We were waiting for it to open back up.”
Glenn Losel and his wife agreed.
“(Buscaglia) kept so much of the atmosphere,” Janet Losel said.
“That’s the key to me — that it still looks the same,” Glenn Losel added. “There was an era here where none of the development was going on and they ran this bar with locals. Now this place is bound to succeed because of all the medical and commercial development.
“I’m just hoping now the way it looks, all the memories that this place brings, that it brings back the people.”