Sunnyside will soon have a new place for pizza and drinks, one that resurrects the spirit of an old mainstay. In October, James Samara and his business partner, Brendan McManus of the Mighty Hospitality Group, which includes El Jefe, Lucky Pie Pizza & Tap House, The Mighty Burger, and Ok Poke, purchased the building at 2915 West 44th Avenue for $3.1 million from Larimer Associates.
The space has a long history in the neighborhood. In the ’40s, it debuted as Ernie's Supper Club, then became 3 Sons Italian Restaurant in the ’80s. Larimer Associates purchased the property in 2009 and resurrected the spirit of original owner Ernie Capillupo, reopening the space as Ernie's Bar & Pizza. "Brendan and I have lived in northwest Denver for, like, fifteen years, so I used to come to Ernie's," Samara says.
Then a June 2018 hailstorm forced the restaurant to close for what was supposed to be only roof repairs. Instead, the project turned into a nearly two-year, $1.2 million renovation as the space was transformed into Earnest Hall — which opened exactly 21 days before Governor Jared Polis ordered bars and restaurants to close to indoor dining on March 17, 2020.
Though it made a go at takeout and did reopen for a short time, Earnest Hall permanently shuttered in June. "Earnest Hall didn't really have a great shot at opening with COVID," Samara notes. "But I have always just loved this building and loved this neighborhood, and had beers here and was always like, 'Man, if that ever comes available, I'd love to get my hands on it.'"
The large bar remains, where there will be wine and cocktails on tap along with a wide selection of craft beer, something Samara and his team have experience with from running Lucky Pie. "I feel like this neighborhood kind of needs that," he notes. "There's not a lot of late-night drinking spots."
The menu will still have "an Italian backbone," he adds, including Neapolitan-style pizza and pasta, but there will also be an emphasis on appetizers and small plates for prime snacking during football games, which will be shown on the many televisions. Where Earnest Hall aimed for ordering food-hall style at a counter, Sunnyside Supper Club will mark a return to full service. There are also plans to turn the coffee bar that was added for Earnest Hall into an ice cream counter, with flavors available by the scoop.
"Living in Sunnyside and Berkeley for so long, and having so many friends that live in Sunnyside, everybody missed Ernie's so much and loved being able to walk down the street with their kids to grab a pie, grab a beer," Samara says. "That was kind of the calling when it came to this. That's what the people really wanted. Great pizza, good beer in a neighborhood joint to hang out. So that's the goal for us."