The dining room at Pietro’s. Photo: Sophie Fabbri

Over Memorial Day weekend, the stalwart Italian steakhouse Pietro’s served its last veal parmigiana on East 43rd Street. Once a destination praised by Ruth Reichl for serving the best steak in town, the restaurant has, in more recent years, represented a bygone era of three-martini power lunches. The owners, Bill Bruckman and his son David, tell New York Times reporter Alex Vadukul that they decided to close after the sale of the building and that their lease had ended. Among the regulars who came to say good-bye was Michael Kors, who told the Times aptly, “There is no Carbone without Pietro’s.”

Last year, Bill Bruckman and his son Billy (who now runs a second location in Roslyn on Long Island) sat with New York to talk about the restaurant’s history. Bruckman started working at Pietro’s in the 1980s, at which point it was already a half-century old. The restaurant was opened by brothers Pietro and Natale Donini, and Bruckman — who married into the family — later bought in 1992. Over the years, Pietro’s has become a place where regulars have been visiting for decades, and where some of those regulars got very territorial about “their” tables.

One customer would complain so much if he wasn’t seated where he wanted that Bruckman says he eventually told the guy to “lose the address” and get out. “I’m keeping track because every time you come in, if you don’t get your table, all the food goes bad. Is it the table or the food? What do you come here for?” he says he told the guy. “They always come back,” Billy chimes in. The high-maintenance episodes notwithstanding, the Bruckmans say they love their customers and that philosophy is simple. “I don’t ask them, ‘What do you do?’ I don’t care. You put your pants on the same way I do, right?” Bruckman says of the power players who’d come in over the years. “Just be nice to me, and I’ll be twice as nice to you. You going to be a douchebag, we’re going to have a problem.”

Those customers have loved Pietro’s back — a lot. One retired lawyer named Paul Nix flew up from Fort Lauderdale just to be there on the restaurant’s last night, telling the Times that he’d “had hundreds of martinis at this barstool over the years.” Bruckman was characteristically blunt about it, describing the closing as “bittersweet” but admitting that he will not “miss having to repeatedly kick our air conditioner” to make it work.

The restaurant’s closing means the end of Steak Row. The other notable survivor, the original location of the Palm, closed in 2020. That restaurant lives on elsewhere as a chain; the Bruckmans say they intend to reopen Pietro’s in midtown. If that does happen, it will not be as a museum exhibit. While there are longtime customers who want “the next Pietro’s” to be a shot-for-shot remake of the original, Bruckman says their plan is “kick it up” and even shared with the Times a rendering for a new location.