LEOMINSTER — Classics Pub owners Anthony and Rocco Spagnuolo kicked off the month with a party on Monday evening to celebrate five years since they took over the Leominster neighborhood spot — one of many watering holes and restaurants in the Twin Cities back on sure ground in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a while they didn’t know they’d ever get to five years.
“We didn’t think it was going to come,” said Anthony Spagnuolo of the uncertainty that has plagued the food and beverage industry for over two years. “It was a long, dark tunnel but knowing how many people are supporting us now that we are open has been great. People have showed up and they just keep coming.”
Winchendon resident Rocco Spagnuolo said he and his brother have been “learning on the go” since taking ownership of Classics in August 2017. In many ways time has gone by “sometimes fast” since then despite being closed for 14 months during the height of COVID -19.
“We hit the ground running and it has been extremely busy from the get-go,” Rocco Spagnuolo said of reopening in May 2021.
Both have strong ties to the Twin Cities. They grew up in Fitchburg and Anthony Spagnuolo lived in Leominster for years before relocating to Ashburnham. He also works in downtown Leominster as the business development manager for Franklin Professional Associates. His brother has worked in Leominster for 20 years at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
Classics was originally a piano and martini bar, which opened 20 years ago by Leominster resident Andy Rome, a well-known community business owner who died in March 2019.
“We have an eclectic following, everyone is welcome,” Anthony Spagnuolo said of their clientele, adding that their continued success is “a testament to the staff, our eyes and ears and the faces of people see. It’s a good feeling.”
Rocco Spagnuolo echoed his sentiments, saying that “they know it’s a home away from home,” and the duo proved their point by greeting regulars by name and giving out hugs at the anniversary soiree and buying all the patrons seated at the bar a pineapple- flavored shot.
“We love you guys,” Anthony Spagnuolo said to his patrons.
Amanda Robichaud has tended bar at Classics on and off since 2018.
“I love everything about it, it’s like a family here from the staff to the patrons,” the Gardner mom of two said. “There are so many things I could say about this place.”
Relative newcomers Trevor Bancroft and Jesse Brisson work the door on the weekends and barback there. When asked what they each enjoy about working at Classics, Brisson said “meeting all kinds of people” and Bancroft stated “it’s very welcoming.”
“I came in here not know anyone and now people say, ‘Hey Trev’,” Bancroft said. “There are a lot of friendly faces.”
Classics Pub is offering $5 Tito’s and Absolut drinks all month long as a thank you to their customers and there’s no shortage of entertainment at Classics with karaoke on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. DJ dance parties are held on Fridays and Saturdays, a poker league is held on Mondays, and a pool league is hosted on Mondays and Wednesdays. The bar is also available for private events.
Anthony Spagnuolo said they had someone inquire about holding a fantasy football draft party there and that they recently hosted a fundraiser for a local young woman who had died, netting over $1,000 for her family.
Classics is part of a strong restaurants and bars lineup in Leominster that is booming, including right in the heart of downtown spots such as Tavern 13 and a trio of spots across the street from it — Bocado, Columbia Tavern, and Logan’s Table, which offer outdoor dining with a relaxed vibe that often includes live music on the weekends.
Nearby is Christopher’s Pub, which will be celebrating 40 years in business next month and also has a legion of loyal followers — including dedicated karaoke mavens.
Betty Lindsey, who co-owns Christopher’s with her former son-in-law David Corliss, said business for them has been “excellent” since reopening the same time Classics did.
“We lost some customers during the pandemic but got some new ones, very nice people,” she said.
When asked if their revenue stream has rebounded compared to prepandemic, she said “I think so, it feels that way.”
One pandemic-related kink when it comes to her future is that Lindsey was planning to retire but because they were closed for so long “the two girls who were going to take my place went somewhere else.”
“I don’t blame them,” she said. “I’m trying to find the right person to take my place.”
She said they do “very good” on karaoke nights, typically held every Saturday, and that she is relishing seeing both their old and new patrons at the bar again.
“They always hug me when they come in, I’m like their mother.”
Fitchburg also has a strong downtown business presence with a slew of offerings to get people out and about. Bion Greek Kitchen, Dario’s Ristorante, Partner’s Pub, and Tacos Tequilas are just a sampling of the eateries along and near the main drag and some of the bars in that area include The Boulder Cafe on Main Street, Mill City Pub on Airport Road, and Paddock Lounge on Water Street, among others.
Fitchburg resident Jonny Dickhaut purchased Partner’s Pub in 2019 the night before Thanksgiving, four months shy of when the pandemic hit. When they had to close in March 2020, he decided to do some renovations.
“We were able to remodel it and rebrand it,” he said, adding that, like so many other food and beverage business owners closing down the night before St. Patrick’s Day, one of the biggest days for the industry, “was awful for us but we made the best of what we could do.”
He laid his employees off during the shutdown and said they “luckily got help from the government” and were able to collect unemployment.
“It was crazy, it was touch and go,” Dickhaut said.
They reopened in June 2020 and he said since then business for the most part has been steady.
“I think the economy is taking a turn, so we have been slow this summer and people are traveling too, which is more of a normal summer. Last summer was really good, people were still around.”
The overall fiscal picture for Partner’s has improved thanks in part to grants he received from Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority and NewVue Communities to help them stay afloat and recoup lost revenue.
“It has been very good now,” Dickhaut said. “I love Fitchburg, it’s a great place. It has been good to me.”