On a recent Friday night, Il Cibreo—the red-awninged restaurant on Broadway between 112th and 113th streets—had a handful of 30-somethings at the bar, a collection of graduate students huddled around a table in the back, and a few older couples taking in a late dinner.
It’s not quite the image of a campus bar, and the restaurant’s management knows it.
“We want the kids to come back,” bar manager Dawn Cantwell said. “We want the Mel’s crowd to come here. Our happy hours are the best prices and most extensive around the area ... But on Friday night, this place is empty. We just can’t figure it out.”
“We want people to come back,” she said. “Honestly, we need people to come back.”
Students said that the new place just doesn’t carry the same feel as Campo, its predecessor.
“It just seems more like a bar for older people, or for a romantic date,” Aaryaman Vir, CC ’14, said. “Not the kind of place for tequila shots.”
Campo opened in April 2008 as an Italian trattoria specializing in grilled pizzas and other Mediterranean dishes. In few years, it became a Columbia institution. “Campo Mike,” or Michael Wetherbee, the former Campo co-owner who organized the restaurant’s late-night scene, was well-known on campus and was the butt of a joke in last year’s Varsity Show.
“I would always see a lot of people hanging outside Campo,” Rebecca Clark, CC ’13, said. “It was just a funny thing that people always talked about—it was almost like a campus character.”
The food was eclipsed by its nightlife scene as it became a go-to spot for fraternities and other student organizations to host parties.
“They were really good at organizing events with our rugby team … we filled the place up,” Ray Caban, SIPA ’12, said.
Karla Casariego, CC ’12, said the parties that student groups held at Campo were often the main reasons why students were compelled to go there. “Now it’s more of a restaurant vibe,” she said.
Jonathan Ricketts, SEAS ’12, described the Campo as “very fratty,” and many students noted that Campo was known for its lax ID policies.
But Campo had received noise complaints from its landlord, general manager John Lenahan said, contributing to the revamping as the sleeker, more adult Il Cibreo.
Cantwell said the restaurant’s image change is most likely what has driven students away in the evenings.
“The problem with Campo was, when we were so sustained by the college kids, in the summer we would just die, die, die,” Cantwell said.
Il Cibreo has two happy hours every day, from 3 to 7 p.m. and from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Cantwell said the restaurant is planning to add a karaoke machine soon.
“A lot of people thought that we weren’t doing the late night anymore after we became Il Cibreo, but that’s not true,” Lenahan said. “We’ve got the same ownership, we just tweaked the menu, and we don’t do the DJ anymore, but we do have a sound system.”
But the new management is insistent that it will maintain a strict door policy. “We are going to card you,” Cantwell said. “We’re not trying to be that bar where there is throw-up every five feet.”
Lenahan said that, as much as Il Cibreo aspires to have a successful nightlife scene, it won’t seek out the college demographic as actively as Campo did.
“We want the late night crowd,” Lenahan said, “but we’re trying not to go to the same lengths as before.”
Adam Koling, Casey Tolan, and Ben Gittelson contributed reporting.