At a time when a long-term relationship can exist without a single face-to-face meeting, and when kids and parents text each other from different rooms of the same house, it is comforting to know that there are still places where people congregate for some good old-fashioned camaraderie. In South Orange, that place is called Bunny’s.
“It’s the ‘Cheers’ of South Orange,” said Ben Salmon, regular customer and owner of Kitchen a la Mode. “Everybody knows your name.”
Today, Bunny’s re-opened after a renovation that took it out of commission for several months – much to the dismay of its fiercely loyal patrons.
“A lot of magic has happened here,” said Bunny’s matriarch Leslie Pogany, perched on her usual seat at the corner of the bar. The place has been run by the Pogany family for four generations. “My grandmother said you never close your doors, because you lose your customers,” Pogany said. Judging by the eager hordes waiting for those doors to open up again, she needn’t worry about that.
Bunny’s (now officially “Bunny’s Sports Bar”) is many things to many people. For those looking for a comfortable spot to split a pitcher of beer and watch the game, for families wanting an early pizza dinner where a fussy child won’t attract a single dirty look, for flirting Seton Hall students, church groups, local merchants and commuters blowing off some steam before heading home – Bunny’s somehow manages to be all these things.
The place looks terrific: there is a brand-new bar, gleaming Brazilian cherry floors, comfy new stools and, perhaps most impressive, 18 flat-screen TV’s. There is not a bad seat in the house – you won’t even have to turn your head. There are plans to use an outdoor garden in warmer weather.
But regulars should rest assured that some things are exactly the same: the great selection of beer on tap, for instance, and much of the menu, with a few tweaks. “All the memorabilia is going back up on the walls,” said Pogany. That includes a set of signed drumsticks from local jazz star Max Weinberg, and a basketball jersey from the Seton Hall Pirates legendary Final Four win in 1989. “One of our most exciting moments,” said Pogany.
One menu addition is Brodey’s Mac & Cheese, named for the young son of a regular customer. “He asked me if I would make it one time, so I went into the kitchen and did,” said Pogany, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Bunny’s regulars have been lighting up Maplewood Online’s Message Board and Facebook wondering when their haunt would re-open. One, Jerry O’Connell (aka “Monster” on MOL), the restaurant’s computer consultant, has been going to Bunny’s every week for nearly six years.
“By the time you walk from the front door through the restaurant, the bartender has seen you and already knows what you want to drink,” O’Connell said. “Leslie is fantastic,” he continued. “She is always smiling and happy to see you.”
Indeed, Pogany is well-known around town as someone always willing to help out the community. For instance, the restaurant held an auction for a local family who lost their house in a fire, raising $5,000. And every Tuesday is Our Lady of Sorrows (OLS) Church and School night, with a percentage of the proceeds going toward the school. “Many of the OLS families visit Bunny’s regularly and are looking forward to returning,” said Marli Craig, an OLS mother.
“There are a lot of stories to tell,” said Pogany. Like the time JESPY House, a program for developmentally disabled adults, was having their holiday luncheon and a nearby customer told Pogany he would pick up the check. Or when the president of Seton Hall University took under his wing a young waitress who had just lost her mother, and encouraged her to apply to the school (she got in).
Pogany’s three children have all worked at and grown up in Bunny’s. Her son, Ryan, still tends bar. She has seen so many local kids grow up and then come to work for her. “I knew some of these kids when they were sitting in baby seats,” marvels Pogany.
She plans to hold a grand re-opening party soon. But for now, the door is open, the beer is flowing, and everything is right with the world again.