Renovations underway at historic Al's Restaurant

By Jay Braman Jr.
After being sold and closed down 15 months ago, the historic Al’s Restaurant in Phoenicia looks very different today.

The back portion of the building has been partially torn down by Mike Ricciardella, the local restaurateur who purchased the property shortly after previous owner Paul Pettinato ended its seven-decade stewardship of fine dining.

On Tuesday, Ric Ricciardella, a local realtor and the brother of the new owner, said that the famous structure is not being destroyed.
“Mike’s renovating it,” Ricciardella said. “Some parts of the structure need to be replaced, is all.”

Mulling options
Shortly after purchasing the property, new owner Ricciardella said he was considering using the facility for use as wedding/banquet hall, but that no firm decisions have been made.
Open continuously since 1940, Al’s former owner/operator, Paul Pettinato, the son of restaurant founder Al Pettinato, announced that he was retiring and that the legendary eatery would close its doors on March 19, 2012.

For two weeks prior to closing it was almost impossible to get a reservation as customers flocked to the eatery for one last dinner.

When he closed, Pettinato said it was time for him to retire from the restaurant grind and take care of his family, and his health. “I’ve been working here since I was 10 years old,” he said with a laugh. “I’m tired and I want to sit in the sun.”

The elder Pettinato, the eatery’s namesake, is now deceased, but a slew of memorabilia remains on the walls within the establishment, including original caricature’s of Al drawn by legendary Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo.

The memorabilia was taken by Pettinato so it can remain in the family.
Al Pettinato was a professional musician who had his own band that made the rounds on the local hotel circuit back in the 1930s, when the Catskill Region was still a booming tourist destination. “He fell in love with the area,” Paul said.

He purchased a building about a mile west of the current Al’s location and opened for business in 1940. In 1946, he bought what was at the time Denny Lynch’s Diner and Al’s has remained there ever since.

“Most people alive around here can’t even remember a time when that Al’s sign wasn’t there,” Pettinato said.