Collegetown bar Johnny O’s has been closed indefinitely and will not reopen in the fall, management from the late-night watering hole told employees in an email last week. The bar’s liquor license expired in May, and its landlord is searching for a new tenant.
Following Dino’s, Johnny O’s is the second Collegetown bar to shutter its doors this summer.
Dino’s and “JO’s” were popular havens for Cornell students’ late night revelry. Several students predicted that the bars’ closures, coupled with major new restrictions on open fraternity parties, would cause overcrowding elsewhere in Collegetown.
A new bar may replace Johnny O’s, according to Avramis Real Estate, which owns the space Johnny O’s occupied. The company said, however, that it would prefer to establish a steakhouse at the site. According to the company, it has already received offers from several potential proprietors.
The site’s landlord, who refused to be identified by name, said she decided to find another tenant for the property after failing, despite multiple attempts, to get in touch with John O’Leary, the bar’s owner, throughout July.
Yet O’Leary, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, may have decided to close the bar even earlier. The bar’s liquor license expired on May 31.
Even if O’Leary had tried to renew the license, it is not clear JO’s could have survived for much longer. The bar was hammered with more than $10,000 in legal fines over the last five years alone, according to documents obtained from the New York State Liquor Authority.
“If they continued down this path, it could have led to a cancellation of their license,” said Mike Smith, public affairs officer for the liquor authority.
It was a path plastered with missteps.
For instance, in April 2006, the bar was slapped with a $4,000 fine for purchasing alcohol from an unlicensed vendor and for serving to minors.
Then, in September 2006, O’Leary was ordered to pay $1,500 for permitting the consumption of alcohol more than 30 minutes after 1 a.m., Tompkins County’s mandated closing time.
In May 2009, O’Leary was fined $3,500 for two infractions: failure to report his arrest in 2008 and “noise, disturbance, misconduct or disorder” at JO’s spanning from September 2007 until June 2008. More violations followed.
Despite the infractions, or perhaps because of them, the bar drew a coterie of devoted followers.
Sean Gelbwaks ’12 described his “love-hate relationship” with the bar.
“You go, you’re sweating like crazy, you say you don’t want to go back, yet the next day you find yourself there,” Gelbwaks said. “There was a special lure of the place that’s sort of inexplicable.”
Gelbwaks said one could find the same group of 30 to 40 students at Johnny O’s at least four times a week, be it “a Monday or a Tuesday or a Friday or a Saturday.”
“It was like home for us, and it will definitely be missed,” he said.
Dianne Milner ’11, a former JO’s bartender, also said she was “very, very upset” by the bar’s closure.
Milner expressed frustration with the “unilateral decision” to close the bar.
“The owners didn’t consult anybody. It was very upsetting that none of us were able to plead the case to keep it open,” Milner said.
For many Cornell students and alumni, the closure of another bar in Collegetown prompted concerns about late-night life at Cornell.
“What is happening to the bar scene in Collegetown?” said Cara Sprunk ’10, a former Sun editor.
Lee Moskowitz ‘13 said that Dino’s and Johnny O’s “probably held about 300 people each, so now you’ve got 600 people going to about four bars, instead of six, and those bars were already crowded to begin with.”
“JO’s was one of those places where everybody knew your name; You knew where everyone would be on a Saturday night,” Moskowitz said. “When you thought of Collegetown, you thought of Johnny O’s. I think that meant a lot to a lot of people.”