This is a love story
It all began at Cure in 2013. At least, that was what we told people. I’m not sure “The bar that made us feel like we weren’t in Rochester” is a great selling point for the city, per se, but it sure felt like a good escape for two newly married twenty-somethings who never expected to settle here.
Before I get too far, you should know: this is a love story, to quote Fleabag.
Or, maybe more aptly, this was a love story—about Rochester and restaurants and people we think will be in our lives forever.
In November 2013, my husband Pete and I had been married all of two months. We’d just moved back to Rochester from Syracuse so I could become editor-in-chief of this very magazine, and we were living at Station 55, a train station-turned-lofts in the Public Market District. It was a magical time here. The city was teeming with people our age doing artistic, entrepreneurial projects, and it felt like food and beverage was at the forefront. Maybe it was because we liked to cover it—we’d worked frequently as a duo shooting videos and writing stories about the hospitality industry—but Rochester’s scene truly felt like it was on the cusp of something great.
National food media, too, was really blowing up around then. I’d spent time covering food in Charleston, South Carolina, for my master’s capstone at Syracuse University, right around when publications like Eater and Lucky Peach were bursting onto the scene. TV was filled with celebrity chefs and showdowns, and Bourdain was still around to guide us. Social media was close behind with Buzzfeed “Tasty” videos and blogger food porn. It was a renaissance of experiential journalism.
In Rochester, a few savvy restaurateurs were watching the trends in bigger cities—farm-to-table, family-style portions, communal seating, craft cocktails—and adapting their business models accordingly. One of the first freelance interviews we conducted for the Democrat and Chronicle was with Jon Swan as he stood nonchalantly in his still-under-construction project, the Daily Refresher. We were enthralled by the subway tiles, velvet couches, and vintage chandeliers. “How very New York City,” we thought. Soon after, we interviewed Chuck Cerankosky, a co-owner of Good Luck (where Pete and I had been patrons since our early dating days, falling more in love over a rabbit dish I remember to this day). Cerankosky had just launched something called the Rochester Cocktail Revival, which we, of course, were gung-ho about. As two Syracuse University grads, we’d logged many hours drinking PBRs and eating stale popcorn at Taps in Westcott—and we certainly had our days of pre-gaming cheap gin before Shakedown at the Bug Jar. But damn if we weren’t ready to learn how to drink like refined adults. Pete became an excellent mixologist himself and now writes the drinks column in this magazine.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because there’s so much to the story, and there’s so much I’ll want to forget to tell you.
I would probably leave out the part about his shining brown eyes meeting mine over candlelit drinks at Cure as we dissected a theatrical production or some new bit of gossip; midday pints at any downtown bar that happened to be open so we could have buzzy brainstorms about the future; walking into Good Luck to order burgers at the bar on Valentine’s Day or some random Thursday; or eating cornish hen at Rooney’s the December night we got engaged. Going out to get a drink or grab a meal together was one of our favorite things. We are both born storytellers: we live for good conversations, whether with each other, friends, or new people we met together. We loved to dress up, take a drive, and be enveloped in a new environment. Over eleven years, I think we had nearly 10,000 such shared experiences.
In 2015, I turned thirty and it felt like all of “the pieces” were falling into place. I left (585) to become a college professor and earned a rep for championing Rochester, assigning my students work off campus so they’d have to visit downtown arts and hospitality venues. Cerankosky and I started a food media website called Boomtown Table to boost the Finger Lakes and Rochester scene even further (a collaboration first built when he was writing the drinks column for this magazine). I cofounded a social media conference with a few other millennials and pulled many eighty-hour workweeks over the next few years to make it all happen.
I became associate producer of the Rochester Cocktail Revival in 2017 and helped propel it forward. I also helped launch Bar Bantam and Radio Social’s brands from 2017 to 2018, becoming social media manager for both. My phone was constantly beeping and buzzing with notifications. Going to bars and restaurants for fun soon turned into going for work—still fun, but always with a purpose. I kept on, my sights set on making Rochester’s downtown scene better and better. Through it all, Pete was by my side and produced work for much of the projects.
But that brings me to another part I’d like to leave out.
The part where I sat across from him at Good Luck, probably for the hundredth time, and watched him write in his tiny, neat handwriting which items we would each take from our cozy Brighton home. Our last trip to New York City, when things almost felt normal during beers at McSorley’s and brunch at Prune. Or this past fall, when we were sitting at Branca Midtown on separate dates and, for the first time in twelve years, he wouldn’t meet my eyes over a drink at the bar. I want to leave out the July day we had a drink after signing our divorce papers, and the very last time we had martinis—at Lucky’s, on election night—a night when it felt like maybe, someday, the world would be OK again.
As my marriage was crumbling, my freelance career was facing challenges of its own due to a looming pandemic. The same day he called to set a date to sign divorce papers, I found out I lost a good deal of contract work because the restaurants were closing for indoor dining. It was mid-March 2020, and no one had any idea what awaited us in the next year. But something in my gut told me it wouldn’t be short-lived.
Nearly a year after the pandemic began, many of the restaurants Pete and I once frequented in Rochester—the ones that first made it feel like home—have pivoted, innovated, opened, closed, reopened and been on the brink of shuttering forever. There has been almost no government aid for the hospitality industry, other than PPP loans to cover payroll-related costs. As of this writing, the future of many restaurants (and much of my own career) is uncertain. And not by any fault of my clients—no one who owns a restaurant could have imagined this last year crushing their livelihood. Just like no one who gets married imagines going through a divorce, much less during a pandemic.
In my Rochester story, there is no chapter that does not involve two things: restaurants and Pete. They have been the catalyst for everything I’ve done here.
In 2019, my personal life as I knew it here ended.
In 2020, the restaurant scene as we knew it here ended.
Going forward, I am hopeful there will be better days.
This is my last piece for (585). I want to thank you for reading my edits and words over the years—it has been an honor to share them. From here on out, you can find me at leahstacy.com.