Pro hockey in a renovated arena filled with enthusiastic fans, and a delicious steak served in a reborn tavern filled with satisfied patrons. Not a bad combination.
That was the deal a few weekends ago as Wife L and I ventured into the Bagg’s Square neighborhood of Utica to catch a quick dinner at Gerber’s 1933 Tavern before walking over to the Utica Memorial Auditorium to watch the Comets take on the Adirondack Phantoms.
Gerber’s, at 16 Liberty St., was reopened in April 2013 after a three-year renovation project that transformed it from its long derelict status to a warm and inviting bar/restaurant that features gorgeous woodwork and painstaking attention to historic details. The bar won an award from The Landmarks Society of Greater Utica, and kudos have to go Stephen Kaczor, who runs Level Pro-Builders LLC and did the interior renovations.
The bar was busy when we visited, and the seven or eight tables were filled with hungry folks, many of them eating before heading to the Aud and the hockey game, just like us. We were lucky to snag a table up front, and our waitress quickly tempted us with one of the specials: steak Florentine served with asparagus and a second side such as macaroni salad, potato salad or cole slaw.
We both chose the special, and were nicely rewarded. The steak was thick and flavorful, and the spinach, garlic, and Parmesan cheese topping provided just enough additional flavor to augment and not overwhelm. It was a nice combination, and each entrée was just $13.95. It was probably the best steak for that price I’ve had in a long, long time.
Gerber’s has a decent beer selection on tap, and I opted for a Brooklyn Lager, which the barman said is still being crafted just down the road at the Matt Brewery Co., producers of all beverages Saranac.
We weren’t able to linger, as the opening faceoff was minutes away. But it is always a genuine pleasure to see a building restored to its original luster, and it’s what makes venturing to a place like Gerber’s so much more interesting than eating somewhere like The Olive Garden, a k a The Evil Empire.
The walk to the Aud for the hockey game from Gerber’s wasn’t great, mainly because the thermometer was stuck at 4 degrees and the empty buildings loomed large over Oriskany Boulevard. But the Comets and the Utica College Pioneers draw good crowds to the renovated Aud, and at least one new business is set to open nearby. The operators of Tony’s Pizza is launching a sports bar and restaurant at the corner of Whitesboro, Potter and Water streets, and that’s a definite plus for an area that definitely needs more of that to happen.
But it’s a start. And if you factor in the wild success of the top-end The Tailor and The Cook restaurant, which is just steps away from Gerber’s, you have a hint of what can happen when entrepreneurs make a leap of faith right in the heart of the city.