“We’re so excited you guys are open,” exclaimed some of Earnest Hall’s guests as they returned for the first time since the restaurant was forced to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ernie’s Pizza & Bar, now Earnest Hall, is back in business near 44th and Federal in Sunnyside. It opened to the public on Wednesday 3/24. A special thank you night for the neighborhood kicked off opening week on Tuesday 3/23.
Ernie’s closed down for renovations after a hailstorm in April 2018 damaged the restaurant. It was supposed to be for a few months but the million-dollar renovation took two years. Earnest Hall opened back up for business in February 2020. It was hopping, then three weeks later COVID caused it to shut right back down. Kirsten Becker, the Marketing and Branding Director for City Street Investors which also owns nearby Billy’s Inn, said “we didn’t have a moment to get our feet on the ground before closing again.”
The restaurant tried delivery and takeout and had a big tent in the parking lot but nothing worked. When Earnest Hall closed a sign went up on the door. “We would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to be part of your neighborhood. While we had our hearts filled with optimism, uncertain times have guided us to making the difficult decision to close indefinitely.” But indefinitely was not forever, and Kirsten feels great about the reopening. The community is also glad to have it back. “We’ve gotten a great social media response and people are excited. We’re now back to full service with reservations to help with capacity,” she continued.
The restaurant, which was founded by Ernest Capillupo in the 1940s, has been a staple of the Sunnyside neighborhood. When it closed, the neighborhood lost a favorite watering hole for food, drinks, family, and friends. “It was heartbreaking,” said Kirsten. Today Earnest Hall still boasts its family friendly appeal. The Tuesday night before it’s official opening, the tables were filled with families and groups of friends. Chatter and the sound of children’s voice filled the hall. Strider bikes and scooters waited outside the door.
The restaurant is set up like an upscale food hall. It’s wide-open, filled with long tables and booths adorning the edges. Windows let in lots of light and there are large planters filled with greenery. The building truly feels like a public space. The huge bar survived the renovation. The thick wood reaches almost from one side of the restaurant to the other. The cocktail menu has been revamped to accompany the 30-plus taps that line the wall.
Earnest Hall is venturing into unknown territory with a new coffee bar that will open at 6 a.m. The tables and booths are accompanied by USB ports and power so people can hang out with their phones and laptops. Fans of Ernie’s food won’t be disappointed either. “We’ve brought back some crowd favorites from Ernie’s,” said Kirsten. Whether you’re stopping in to enjoy a classic pizza slice, or experience the Italian specialties and desserts, you’ll be satisfied.
Kirsten recognizes that they’re not all the way back. “We’re looking forward to hosting large events when Covid goes away.” With Covid numbers decreasing Kirsten says she’s hopeful this can happen soon. Earnest Hall is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Reservations are recommended. A popup on the website says “we’re excited to see everyone again.”