The building that houses the Bruckner Bar and Grill sits at the edge of the Bronx, in a corner of the borough that is, in the cultural lexicon, more commonly associated with The Bonfire of the Vanities than omelets and art. To get there, you must walk under the Major Deegan to a busy intersection in a desolate neighborhood. There is a motorcycle shop called Master Cycle next door, and a feeling of isolation in the air. In Williamsburg, they would call this an ideal location. In a borough saturated with unsavory dive bars and little else in the way of nightlife, it has become something of an enclave for those who still believe in the promise of what the Bronx was meant to be.
Originally opened in 1999, the Bruckner was taken over by current owner Alex Abeles in 2006. Local art now hangs on the walls. It is likely the only bar south of East 161st Street serving the Macallan. Michael Max Knobbe, a Kingsbridge-native and executive director of public television channel BronxNet, remembers events hosted by former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and seeing friends like Bill Aguado of the Bronx Council on the Arts and musicians from Los Plenaros 21 there.
"Community events and receptions began to take place there. Sometimes I would see gatherings of municipal workers, or a meeting of urban planners," Knobbe told me. "You could see it was thrilling for a lot people attending and being at this place for the first time because there was a sense that this was part of something special and fresh springing forth in the South Bronx."
The Bruckner was not in a flood zone, but the water came anyways. Joseph Diaz, the general manager, told me that none of the other buildings in the area were damaged. But the bar's location below sea level did it in. The flooding was intense, though not so much as in southern Brooklyn, and was complicated by the presence of an adjacent sewer pipe. In the basement—where they kept their dry storage, office, kitchen, wine cellar, liquor cabinet, and kegs—the water rose to eleven feet during the storm. On Monday, six feet of water remained. Everything was lost, tarnished by the surging waters of the Harlem River.
The salt line left by the flood on the front door was lower, roughly three feet high. But they will have to rip out the floors nonetheless. Although most of the cleanup has already been done and the bar has already been closed for a week, they will be not open for another two. Diaz, who previously was a server at Dinosaur BBQ and had joined the restaurant six months ago, is organizing a fundraiser to help support his employees. He knows, from personal experience, how they cannot afford to miss so much work. As of Monday, the Bruckner is still without power. The dining room was stripped of its contents, the kitchen equipment and tables pushed back into the performance space.
Diaz estimates that they lost roughly $20,000 in inventory. Half of that in food, another $6,000 to $7,000 in beer, and another $3,000 in liquor. We did not talk about the losses they will incur from the lack of business. But he did tell me that they had just gotten a shipment of beer in Wednesday, that they sell $3000-4000 worth of beer, $10,000-12,000 in food, and $6,000-8,000 in liquor a week.
"The loss, which we hope is only temporary, is a big one for the community. For years it has been a Bronx favorite in an area that for some time lacked great places to eat and grab a drink," Ed García Conde, the author of the Welcome2Melrose blog and the neighborhood's "unofficial mayor," wrote in an email. "But the loss isn't just about an eatery but, really, a place many call their second home. Bruckner Bar and Grill serves as a cultural spot where regulars are more like family than just friends.* They opened during a time in our local history where people thought they were crazy and that it wouldn't last. But the neighborhood proved everyone wrong."
* Emphasis added.