The Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) proudly announces the Chanticleer, downtown Ithaca’s most beloved, family-owned dive bar, recently celebrated a major milestone.
On Friday, Dec. 23, the watering hole recognized its 70th birthday with a party at its longstanding spot at 101 W State St. near Cayuga.
“For generations of Ithacans and Cornellians, the Chanticleer has been an iconic landmark. That red rooster is an enduring sign of stability and good cheer. In a world where change happens almost weekly, it’s great to celebrate a business that has thrived in one place for 70 years,” said DIA Executive Director Gary Ferguson.
Anthony and Frank Leonardo, brothers from Rochester, founded this saloon in 1946. The siblings had a history of bootlegging in the Kodak City and brought their business ways to Southern Tier after a family health scare lead their families to Ithaca. Frank’s son contracted childhood polio and the only place that offered treatment was a center in Ithaca, said the tavern’s current owner Rich Leonardo, Frank’s nephew.
“While my uncle Frank’s son was getting treatment here, they simply fell in love with the area, and they decided to open four of five establishments here,” Rich said.
Originally a restaurant, and now a bar, the Chanti (as it’s often called) boasts a handsome multi-colored neon rooster sign that has received landmark status from the city of Ithaca. On the corner of Cayuga and West State streets, the Chanti is one of the oldest family run businesses in town, and was originally the site of the Office Hotel. In 1945, the hotel was demolished to build one of the most modern and architecturally unique buildings in upstate NY at the time. It was the first building in the area after the World War II effort where steel i-beams were used in the construction process. Originally, the first floor of the Chanti held a fine dining restaurant & bar area, and the second floor housed the dance floor and entertainment venue called ‘The Rainbow Room’. The customers lined the street to get a table at The Chanticleer and it was a local hotspot.
Throughout the years, Rich, the owner since 1979, has made many notable changes including reopening the second floor as The Chanti Loft where he hosts private parties and occasionally local bands perform. Yet, Rich has maintained the essence of the 1946 architectural design by maintaining the original bar, ceilings and floors.
As for the tavern’s name and the pair of neon roosters above the entrance, Rich said that’s a less interesting story. Evidently, Anthony and Frank noticed the nameChanticleer on a bar while searching for bar equipment in New Jersey. They found the two cockerels on the same venture so Chanticleer is the name they selected for their W. State Street site.
“Chanticleer is an old English word so why two Italian guys would come up with that, I have no idea,” Rich said.
Inside the establishment, chickens line the walls in pictures, statues and on the wallpaper.
Guests will find a long bar to cozy up to, a variety of liquid refreshment and jukebox filled with hits from today and the yesteryear.
“It’s just a simple community bar. You either love it or you hate it,” Rich said.
Rich said he plans to sell the business within the next couple of years — at 72 years old, he’s ready to retire — but he speaks fondly of his barkeeper years and he hopes the tavern, it’s laid back feel and its name stick around for many more decades.
“I was nine months old when my family opened the Chanti and I’ve got to say I didn’t imagine I’d be working here for 47 years. This place has helped support my family for the most part. For that, I’m grateful,” Rich said. “It also means a lot to me that I was able to carry on a tradition that my dad started so many years ago. The location, the support from my family, the wonderful staff and the customer support have made it all worthwhile.”
Make sure to stop into this tavern and wish many more years of business success.
For more infomation about the Chanticleer, visit its Facebook page.