Tucker’s Kozy Korner is about to get much-needed improvements as barman Jeret Peña and The Boulevardier Group (The Brooklynite, The Last Word, Rumble) now hold the keys to the storied Eastside bar. The news comes after the popular bar/brunch spot announced it would close until further notice Tuesday afternoon via social media.
“The first time I went there was in 2008 or 2009, and I was just blown away,” Peña said via press release. “It was love at first sight, and it was the type of bar I always wanted to own.”
Tucker’s will remain closed as it undergoes cosmetic changes such as flooring and a new paint job, to start — all necessary upkeep to a 69-year-old bar that holds a special place in the hearts of its community.
First opened as a burger and hot dog joint in 1948 by the late John Tucker, Tucker’s Lounge has seen its fair share of lives and iterations with everything from barbecue to cocktails gracing the joint. Chris Cullum’s transition stirred up less chatter than his successor. The 39-year-old started serving Attaboy burgers and fries there in 2011 and his name was already familiar with those at Tucker’s. Cullum’s father, cornetist Jim Cullum (of The Landing on the Riverwalk and the Jim Cullum Jazz Band) has been a staple at Tucker’s for as long as he's been active in San Antonio. Chris went on to take ownership of Tucker’s in 2014, but as he nears 40, he wants to focus on his first love: food.
“I got disinterested in doing the dance stuff at night, I just wanted to sell food,” Cullum said. “I wanted to have [Tucker's] be more of a restaurant, but it’s really a bar that happens to have food.”
More specifically, he wanted a change of pace.
“I don’t want to be up ’til 5 a.m., I’m not a bar guy,” Cullum said.
Cullum will focus on his two food concepts Attaboy and Attagirl in the coming days, with Attagirl at the corner of Mistletoe and King’s Court just off the St. Mary’s Strip getting a “big girl” kitchen. The expanded kitchen means Attagirl will be capable of serving salads, fries, seasonal items and, of course, a brunch comparable to Tucker’s. Until then, Attagirl will serve an abridged brunch menu of chicken and waffles and Pop Rocks mimosas for the next month or two.
Peña’s construction crew has already been toiling at Tucker’s since the announcement was first shared this past Friday. A lone Swisher Sweet was tossed out along with the carpet, and new banquettes will be installed in the 1,200-square-foot space. The wrought iron fence will be replaced with concrete Mansonry unit (or CMU) fencing, and the bathrooms will get facelifts along with the rest of the space, using a gold, black, white and red color scheme.
Aesthetic modifications, mostly, but still change for an area that’s seen a lot of it in a relatively short amount of time.
Reader comments showed both sides of the spectrum: Bar-goers ready for the new iteration of the beloved bar (like Joseph Rodriguez, who said, “If anyone can revive that place it’s Jeret. It’s a shame what happened to what was such a vibrant bar just a few years ago. He’ll right that ship”) voiced glee, but not everyone’s on board.
“There was nothing wrong with it in first place! Don’t Austin my San Antonio!!!,” said commenter Joey Gomez.
Chris Gleason noted Peña’s proclivity for craft cocktail bars — something Tucker’s hasn’t been in many moons.
“Cool another “upscale” place with overpriced drinks, first time in Tucker's, 1990,” Gleason commented.
Still, Tucker’s has had cocktails. Their brunch offerings were boozy and as craft-forward as you can get. And while Peña’s iteration will come equipped with bartenders capable of making a solid Old Fashioned, they’ll also focus on beer and shot combos with pricing comparable to the current menu.
The conversation of gentrification is nothing new for Brian Dillard, president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, who says it comes up “whenever we get something nice,” and has himself seen the bar change.
Dillard’s grandparents would drive up from Corpus Christi in the ’50s and ’60s to visit Tucker’s. And he and his wife kicked it at Tucker's from 2010-2012 until the vibe went away and it “didn’t feel like family anymore.”
“There’s always a concern, especially from older folks who have spent decades in the neighborhood, but Jeret is a puro San Antonio guy, and I don’t expect it to turn into some weird thing,” Dillard says.
He did caution one thing.
“The vibe is changing and it is what it is … as long as they leave the wall and black history up there, and make good food, it’ll be good,” Dillard said.
On the food front, Peña consulted Dignowity resident Jeff White for help. The menu will include a “killer burger, pickle-infused fried chicken and a badass grilled cheese” when Tucker’s reopens. And yes, a mock brunch menu has already been drawn up.
Neighboring businesses owners see the change as a positive.
"It will bring new energy and an elevated cocktail and culinary ambiance to the near Eastside," Brian LaBarbera told the Current.
For bar-goers who pack the place on weekends, the soul of Tucker’s lies inherently in its music. JJ Lopez has turned First Friday* at Tucker’s into The Soul Spot for the past seven years.
“We came on board, and we were the new spot off the beaten path,” Lopez said. “There was Limelight, The Mix, but the Strip did not have Hi-Tones, Squeezebox, the new Limelight, no Phantom, we were the new bar in town and it caught on.”
Though the Strip’s resurgence caused a dip in attendance, Cullum and co. helped the establishment fine-tune its sound to meet audience needs. Cullum hinted at the impending change of ownership at least a month ago, Lopez said. But Lopez is optimistic about the change, which includes music programming by musician Jordan Peña.
“There have been no conversations, but we have set some meetings. We’re eternal optimists. I welcome the new team. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t and the imaging [behind Tucker’s] is really strong. I think they see that too,” Lopez said.
Tucker’s will be the second bar menu for Peña on the Eastside as he’s also teamed up with David Malley to open The Cherrity Bar on Montana Street.
If there’s anyone that can attest to change in the area, it’s longtime resident Kenneth Dominique. The 88-year-old, who’s father, Don Albert Dominique, opened up the city’s first integrated club, The Keyhole Club, has seen several of Tucker’s owners come and go.
“It’s one of the bars anyone could go to … they wanted to have a good time, have a beer, and listen to music, the most important factor — everyone loved the music,” Dominique said over the phone.
“I don’t go over there much nowadays, the music’s too loud,” he said.*The article reflects the correct day of the week The Soul Spot is held.