Sam Maller | Staff PhotographerOn the Hill
See you at Chuck’s: Local bar changes ownership, plans to keep old traditions alive
The doors to Chuck’s Cafe remained closed all week, and Rosanna De Castro remained concerned about one thing: the future of the names on the walls.
“I just really hope they don’t change wall decorations or anything like that,” said De Castro, a senior communication sciences and disorders major. “I hope they don’t paint the walls white or anything. My name is on one of the walls.”
Many patrons sign the walls at Chuck’s, a popular bar for Syracuse University students. The bar, whose walls are now multicolored with names written on top of names, was closed for the past week due to a change in ownership, leaving many of those students worried. The bar was in the process of receiving a new liquor license from the New York State Liquor Authority, as well as undergoing minor renovations to the kitchen and the storage rooms, said new owner Stephen Theobald.
Chuck’s will reopen Monday to the Syracuse community. There will be no drastic changes to the bar, despite circulating rumors, Theobald said. He added that he was planning on making a formal announcement about the brief closing, but was unable to due to uncontrollable factors.
To dispel rumors, such as the bar inserting a disco ball, Theobald said, a message was posted to customers on the bar’s Facebook page in addition to a sign outside of Chuck’s.
“There were a lot of rumors going around,” said Pamela Rizvi, a senior communication sciences and disorders major. “When I was in the library I heard these two guys saying how it was going to be closed for months. I was really upset and shocked.”
Without Chuck’s, Rizvi, like others, had to find another watering hole for the weekend. She spent Saturday inside Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant, smashed between other students the entire night in a packed environment. Meanwhile, she wondered what was to come of one of her favorite bars.
Theobald has loved Chuck’s for more than 30 years and has no plans to change anything about the bar.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. This place is the bomb,” Theobald said. “The staff is the same, the bartenders are the same and the atmosphere is the same.”
Theobald said he bought the bar because he was looking for “financial diversification” and has been interested in buying a bar on Marshall Street for a period of time.
As a Syracuse native, Theobald said he has made so many friends and memories because of Chuck’s. In the 1970s, Theobald and his friends considered Chuck’s their local hangout spot. During the ’80s, he promoted environmental benefits at the bar.
“The kids that come here are the same kind of kids I hung out with when I was younger,” Theobald said. “The feel is exactly the same.”
Chuck’s first began serving the SU community in 1975 as a small chain, Theobald said. There were Chuck’s bars located at Harvard University, Yale University and New York University’s campuses. In 1978 the chain disbanded, and HCR Enterprises bought the Syracuse location in 1981.
The only major change Theobald plans to make is to use local and eco-friendly products, specifically food ingredients, as a way to help eliminate greenhouse gases and support local businesses.
“This week we’re trying out some new locally grown products,” Theobald said. “We might be partnering with a Syracuse family-run food distributor. We want to support local businesses and local families.”
Hotdogs, for example, will now be provided by Hofmann, a local food company, Theobald said.
Theobald is also considering changing the bar’s process of checking IDs. He is debating providing bouncers with ID scanners in addition to visually checking the IDs.
“We’re very serious about it. Unfortunately we can’t let anyone in underage,” Theobald said. “But there’s nothing better than seeing a kid come in on their 21st birthday and serving them their first drink.”
To Theobald, Chuck’s is more of an institution than a bar. He described it as a place where, on a game day, alumni will come back with their kids. Theobald estimated more than 800,000 people have passed through Chuck’s since its opening.
“Every time I’m here it feels the same,” Theobald said. “It’s the same art, the same graffiti, the same kind of kids. That’s what I love about this place. It’s home to me, and that’s why I think people like it.”
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