Collegetown has always been a central social hub for Cornellians. The bright storefront signs blinking at all times of day and the constant activity from partygoers on the weekends makes it conducive to creating some of the best late night memories in Ithaca. Yet, from lazy weekend brunch spots to nightlife all along College Avenue and Dryden Road, Collegetown has seen its fair share of change through the decade. Restaurants and bars are constantly closing and opening; the skyline and structure of Collegetown never stays the same two years in a row. However, no matter how many places come and go, the old names are places alumni will always remember as a crucial part of their Cornell experience. Here are the top ten Collegetown destinations we lost this past decade, still full of the memories and friendships made that will continue to live on for a lifetime.
10. Dino’s (2011)
A beloved bar spot for many a Cornellian, Dino’s was frequented by students looking to relax and let loose on the weekends. According to Sun coverage in 2011, Dino’s closed its doors on 313 College Ave. because they were not able to renew their license with Lambrou. On the last Saturday and Sunday before closing, “the bar held “LIQUIDation parties,” according to one sign in its window, and tried to sell as much of its remaining inventory as possible,” wrote The Sun. Since Dino’s closing, 313 College Ave. has yet to be claimed and still remains empty to this day.
9. Johnny O’s (2011)
Another late-night spot in Collegetown, Johnny O’s was often mentioned hand in hand with Dino’s as one of the other popular bars to hang out at. “Dino’s and “JO’s” were popular havens for Cornell students’ late night revelry,” The Sun reported in 2011. The bar’s closing was due to the owner, John O’Leary, both failing to renew JO’s liquor license and not communicating with the site’s landlord on renewing the lease. There were plans to open a frozen yogurt shop — Yogurt Crazy — at Johnny O’s old location at 408 College Ave., but the succeeding shop’s success was short-lived, evident by D.P. Dough (previously Calio’s) which now occupies that space.
8. Royal Palm Tavern (The Palms) (2012)
Royal Palm Tavern, or better known among students as The Palms, was “one of the most venerated and well-known bars in Collegetown,” wrote The Sun. Its closing during February of the spring semester that year was prompted by a “change in student’s drinking habits,” where students started spending less time physically in the bars, and only came in at “Palms o’clock,” the half hour before closing. After nearly 71 years in business, Joe Leonardo, who took over the business from his father and uncles during the ’80s, could no longer support running the bar on “less than three hours of business a week” during the weekends, and was forced to close. During its last couple days in business, the Palms was full of current students, alumni and locals coming back to revisit the spot one last time. “The Palms is a classic dive bar that we have very fond memories of,” Ross Stefano ’77 wrote in an email to The Sun. “Almost as though it was the family room of an old home that you have since left behind.” Any old remains of The Royal Palm Tavern are no longer visible, having been replaced by the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education, part of the Johnson Business School, in 2017.
7. Stella’s (2015)
A popular brunch destination right at 403 College Ave., Stella’s is still visible today with its distinctive overhang advertising “Coffee Lunch Brunch Dinner Wine and Cocktails,” though the door remains boarded and windows empty since its closing in 2015. The sudden close of Stella’s in June shocked many, as it was such a fixture in the Collegetown scene for nearly 20 years. According to the Ithaca Voice, neither City Hall nor Stella’s own employees knew what the situation was, as “the staff was not given two weeks notice and were also surprised and flummoxed by the establishment’s closure.” Repeated attempts to contact Stella’s manager yielded no responses, and still remains today an unresolved Collegetown mystery.
6. Pixel Lounge (2015)
Reported by The Sun as “one of the best clubs in Ithaca,” Pixel Lounge offered “twist on darts and pool with a full arcade of old-school games like Miss Pac Man and Street Fighter and a constant stream of movies on projection.” Come nighttime, various DJs played hip hop and electronic mixes to a dancing, vibing crowd. Pixel Lounge stood out from the rest of the night scene in Collegetown and yet, without much coverage or fanfare, quietly closed its doors sometime in 2015. The Ithaca Journal reported that the building Pixel Lounge occupied was demolished alongside laundromat Club Sudz that summer in favor of a three-story residential building to house more students; now, the housing complex is what can be seen on 327 Eddy Street instead.
5. Chapter House (2015)
One of the more dramatic endings to any of the establishments in Collegetown this decade, Chapter House burned down in an early morning fire in April 2015 along with the neighboring residential building, 400 Stewart Ave. The building, which was more than a century-old, had been the home to one of Collegetown’s quintessential pubs for the previous 50 years, a favorite particularly among graduate students. The Ithaca Journal notes that the establishment even brewed their own beer, Clement’s, which was listed in Beer Lover’s New York: The Empire State’s Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars. The area that the Chapter House once occupied has since been rebuilt in 2016 as rental apartments with a first floor retail space advertised as “ideal for restaurant/bar,” but it has yet to be claimed by any business since.
4. Dunbar’s (2015)
The last watering-hole to close in Collegetown this decade, Dunbar’s managed 36 years in business before owner Dave Pepin decided to close the establishment for good over winter break. Though not much was known about the decision to close, The Sun had previously reported that “Pepin had decided to put the bar up for sale in 2013 due to his desire to spend more time with family.” However, it remained a place full of fond memories; several Cornell alumni brought the Stanley Cup in for Pepin once, who was a big Cornell Athletics fan. In 2016, a new bar Hideaway opened in Dunbar’s location “aim[ed] to revive Ithaca’s slowly fading nightlife.”
3. Collegetown Pizza (2018)
The original Collegetown Pizza was so well-known it made Cornell’s 2012 list of “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do.” It was known among students to have cheap and filling food options ideal after a night out partying, but in May of 2018, a Petition to Recover Possession of Real Property was found posted on Collegetown Pizza’s storefront, The Sun reported. The petition noted that CTP had “failed to pay over $13,000 in rent” since its initial opening. However, after a short vacancy, a new CTP — Campustown Pizzeria — replaced the former with new management and different menu items. In an unpublished dining article, a writer compared the new and old establishments to crushing disappointment. Although it shares the same name and location as the old CTP, the new one lacks in quality and taste — it just isn’t the same.
2. The Nines (2018)
A cherished spot for speciality (deep-dish) pizza lovers, artists and dancers alike, the Nines closed after nearly 40 years in business during the fall of 2018. It was the subject of contention on the Ithaca Common Council of whether or not 311 College Ave. should be designated as a local landmark in Collegetown, a decision that was ultimately decided against after a five-hour meeting on the manner. Co-owners Mark Kielmann ’72 and Harold Schultz had “planned to close the Nines restaurant, banking on the money from the sale of the property as their retirement funds,” reported The Sun, but a designation as a local landmark would have made development on the land extremely complex and lengthy and they would have only gotten a fraction of the original cost. While this had been a decision quite some time in the coming, many were saddened by the official notice of closure as the Nines became a favorite hangout spot for many.
1. Aladdin’s Natural Eatery (2019)
Last, and most certainly not least, the most recent of Collegetown’s staples to close down after 30 years in business is none other than Aladdins, a Greek and Mediterranean restaurant well-known supporting various Ithaca events and the community as a whole. Every year since 2014, owner Samuel Schuepbach has opened Aladdin’s doors on Thanksgiving to serve complimentary meals to the community, feeding nearly 300 people and cooking up 20 or so turkeys. But, with the business in Collegetown changing drastically in recent years, closing Aladdin’s was a choice Schuepbach realized was necessary. The constant road closures and construction took a toll on business, and the slow summers didn’t help either. “There were many parking issues. Construction workers were in the garage and nobody could park. If people can’t park, they can’t come to eat,” Schuepbach told 14850.com. Yet, despite all the difficulties, Schuepbach stayed positive until the end, with the final notice on Aladdin’s door reading: “My sincere gratitude to all my employees current and past. Without them no small business can survive.”