SCHENECTADY — A liquor license is all that’s keeping the Union Inn from reopening, according to its new owner.
All of the renovations of the bar are complete, said Phil Ruggiero, who hopes to open the bar in a couple of weeks.
“I’m really just waiting on the liquor license,” Ruggiero said.
This will be the first time the place has been open since 2014. Former owner Joyce Fordham was forced to close the bar because of flooding from what she said was nearby construction.
Ruggiero, who has also owned Nico’s Pizzeria on State Street for the last 21 years, said the concept for the Union Inn will be a bar that offers food. Nico’s, by contrast, is a pizzeria that also has a tavern upstairs, he said.
The Union Inn will feature a 16-line draft system featuring a range of high-end and mid-range craft beers, as well as some domestic beer options. The menu will have options such as burgers, wraps and fried food.
There will also be games for patrons as Ruggiero said he brought in a new pool table and a dart board.
“I would like people to come in, have good beer and good food, meet with friends and do happy hour,” Ruggiero said. “I want it to be a nice place to go and relax.”
Ruggiero also plans to develop the property behind the bar. He wants to build a patio where there would be a fireplace and an outdoor bar. The plan is to make it available not just for bands to play, but also a space where people can have their wedding.
“It would be nice to offer an affordable place to for weddings,” Ruggiero said.
The building was in disrepair when Ruggiero purchased it from the city in December 2016 for $100,000. Still, even with the glaring issues, Ruggiero said, he was willing to take on the challenge.
“It was definitely a major project for me and the contractor,” Ruggiero said of his work with Peachtree Builders of Waterford. “There were definitely a few hurdles.”
There was still water in the basement when Ruggiero said he purchased it. So it was the first area of the building he addressed.
He poured a new concrete foundation and put in new walls, which he said stopped the flooding issues.
Ruggiero also had work to do on the upstairs. He said he replaced the floors, put up new walls, a new ceiling and installed a new roof.
The kitchen was also expanded and a new 32-foot-long bar, built with 3,000 pounds of stone and a black corian bar top.
Overall, Ruggiero said, he invested more than $500,000 to fix up the bar. He also received a $32,500 renovation grant from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.
“I have pretty much a whole new building,” Ruggiero said.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said the money came from a $1 million Restore NY grant from the state in 2017, which he said has allowed them to provide funding to help the renovation of more than 80 properties in the city.
“The renovation of the Union Inn adds to the momentum on lower Union Street and it brings back to life a building that is part of Schenectady’s history,” Gillen said in an emailed statement.
The Union Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its storied history dates to the 1860s and was sold around the time of Prohibition to Anthony De Siena. De Siena was believed to have used the building as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era.
Fordham, who operated the Union Inn as a bar, was forced to close it after she said water from nearby construction of a neighboring property flooded the bar and destroyed it.
A lawsuit brought by Fordham against Town Homes of Union Square LLC, Maddalone & Associates Inc., and third-party defendant J. Luke Construction Inc., for the damage was dismissed by State Supreme Court Judge Vito Caruso in January 2017. Caruso said Fordham failed to prove the developers weren’t making good-faith improvements on their property or that they used artificial tools — such as drain pipes or ditches — to divert water toward the bar.
That decision was reversed by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, Third Judicial Department, in December, claiming there were triable issues of fact.
Ruggiero said he remembered going to the bar 20 years ago when he first opened Nico’s, so he jumped on the opportunity when he saw it was available.
“I thought it was a good opportunity,” Ruggiero said. “It’ll be fun to bring it back.”
Ruggiero said he is now looking to hire staff, such as bartenders, cooks and waitresses. He said he can be reached at Nico’s or contacted through the pizzeria’s Facebook page.