After 17 years running a simple pizza shop in the heart of downtown Schenectady, Phil Ruggiero became the owner of the city’s only rooftop tavern last week.
The transformation at Nico’s Pizzeria was borne out of his desire to expand. It became clear over the years, though, that it wasn’t going to happen horizontally, and then one day, it just dawned on him to go vertical.
“I looked at different buildings for a while to expand into,” said Ruggiero. “But ultimately it just made more sense to go up.”
The two-story building at 441 State St. sits on the same block as Bomber’s, Anthology Studio and Zen, a new Asian bistro and lounge. It’s prime real estate in downtown Schenectady, and the rooftop patio overlooks the clock tower at City Hall and much of the downtown streetscape.
In order to open the roof up to customers, Ruggiero had to come up with a plan for the building’s second floor, which was never open to the public and sat vacant for some time. The restaurateur and former co-owner David Sherman leased the first floor space up until the end of 2007 when the property came up for sale and they bought it outright.
Around that time, they embarked on a major renovation of the building. The first thing to go was the façade, which was painted with an Italian flag two-to-three decades earlier. The venue was spruced up with granite and mahogany doors and plastic booths inside the shop were replaced with fancier tables and chairs.
Five years later, Ruggiero took the new look a step further. A contractor came in four months ago and put in new floors on the second floor and a handcrafted, 46-foot bar with an old-style brass foot rail. Ruggiero installed four large-screen TVs for patrons to watch sports and developed a new and expanded menu.
“It’s mostly pub/tavern food,” he said. “We went for a casual dining atmosphere with our price points between $9 and $14. We have appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and a few dinner entrees. We have a nice selection of craft beers on top with a good amount of domestic bottles.”
What’s most stunning of all is that all the renovations transformed Nico’s from a 50-seat pizzeria into a 200-seat tavern.
“It’s hard to believe we were just a pizza place a few days ago,” said Ruggiero. “Now, you can come in the pizzeria, go up a floor and there’s a bar and go up again and there’s a patio. We had a great first opening.”