PORT MORRIS — The Bruckner Bar and Grill will reopen in October under new management, almost a year after Hurricane Sandy shuttered the beloved restaurant and a bitter internal dispute stalled its return.
The new two-person management team made up of Bruckner veterans promise to continue the traditions that made the eatery a South Bronx staple — Friday karaoke on the backroom stage, local artwork on the walls and the Bruckner Burger served on an English muffin.
“We’re trying to keep the Bruckner the same way that it was before,” said new managing partner Rosa Garcia, who was previously the restaurant’s bookkeeper, hostess and daytime manager.
Meanwhile, a legal battle over responsibility for the now-completed repairs is grinding on between the building's landlords and former restaurant co-owner and manager Alex Abeles, who said the reopened Bruckner would differ from the eatery he took over in 2006.
“Is it going to be the same? No, not at all,” said Abeles, who now co-owns a sushi restaurant down the street from the Bruckner. “It’s not going to be the same food, the same service.”
The Bruckner, which sits in the shadow of the Third Avenue Bridge just one block from the Harlem River, was submerged in saltwater and sewage in October 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
In the months since Sandy, workers have installed a new tile floor, marble bar, beer taps, bathrooms, a backroom bar and industrial equipment.
The new management expects to receive its liquor license and health inspection this month and return to business in the first half of October.
Along with many of the same servers and bartenders, the reopened Bruckner will feature the same menu, with the addition of a new unlimited-drink offer during weekend brunch. The restaurant plans to host many of the same regular events, such as salsa dancing, open-mic performances and gay and lesbian nights.
“We just want to rebuilt it and make it better,” said Joseph Diaz, the other member of the new management company, who will keep the general manager role he held before Sandy.
The storm unearthed tensions between Abeles and landlords Joseph Pryor and James Giddings, who also co-owned the restaurant, which he opened in 2003.
In an ongoing lawsuit, Abeles claims that the landlords effectively evicted the restaurant without going through the legal process, by failing to restore the building to its pre-storm condition.
The landlords counter that they repaired the Bruckner building and that the real dispute is over who should pay for the expensive new machinery that had to be purchased.
Meanwhile, Giddings brought a claim to arbitration that says Abeles used the storm as an opportunity to abandon the Bruckner and focus on his sushi restaurant Ceetay, which Giddings calls a conflict of interest.
Abeles’ lawyers have denied those allegations and said that Giddings, as both a landlord and restaurant owner, is the one with conflicting interests.
As for the restaurant's reopening, Giddings said he and Pryor, the other landlord, helped finance it but are not currently involved in its management — though they could be in the future.
“We’re here and we’re risking funds to open it up again,” Giddings said, because “we’re part of this neighborhood and we’re committed to it.”
During the dispute, some Bruckner fans on Facebook proposed boycotting the new restaurant if it reopened under new management.
Giddings, Garcia and Diaz all said they doubted that would happen, betting instead that its former customers would return as soon as they can.
Chris Nash, a manager at a local art transportation company who started eating at the Bruckner when it first opened, said he has been craving the restaurant’s steak-and-cheese sandwich, as well as its friendly vibe and service.
He predicted locals would flock to the reopened restaurant.
“That thing’s going to make money,” he said,