Three years later: loss and rebirth at Simeon’s

The crash shook the community three years ago, late on a mild Friday afternoon, as a truck crashed into Simeon’s, on the corner of the Ithaca Commons. The next morning, officials identified the sole fatality, Amanda Bush, a young mother and Simeon’s bartender.

The scene after a truck crash at the corner of the Ithaca Commons. 14850 file photo.

Police said at the time emergency responders believed Bush was killed on impact when a runaway tractor trailer carrying seven cars slammed into the facade of the building.

“If this were 40 minutes later,” Mayor Myrick said, “an already tragic scene would have been far worse. Anyone who’s been downtown on a Friday at 5 knows there would be dozens of people at the sidewalk tables, dozens more at inside tables.”

Built in 1871, the Griffin Block building that houses Simeon’s contained a candy shop early in the 20th century, followed by a clothing store, and was restored in the 1970s. Named for Simeon Dewitt, who founded Ithaca, Simeon’s first opened as a soda shop in 1975, and then evolved into a tavern and a restaurant.

A truck carrying cars crashed into the building that houses Simeon’s on the Commons. Photo courtesy Helen T. Clark.

It was owned for a little over a decade by Alan Cohen, a former mayor of the City of Ithaca. Just a few years before the crash, the restaurant expanded into what had been a pizzeria next door, adding an additional dining room and upgraded kitchen space. The second floor has at various times contained a used bookstore, a copy shop, 14850 Magazine’s offices, and other businesses.

A little over two years after the crash, Simeon’s reopened late last August, following a huge renovation inside and out. The south end of the building was rebuilt, brick laid by hand, and new upstairs windows installed to match the design of the rest of the building. The entryway moved to the southwest corner of the restaurant, allowing for a single, larger seating space in the corner windows, replacing the two cramped spaces with the door between them. An interior staircase takes diners to a new second-floor dining room with a balcony overlooking the bar.

The inviting new bar at Simeon’s. 14850 file photo.

Structural changes inside the building include a new elevator that serves every floor, including a basement area that now houses the restaurant’s bathrooms. (The barber shop that occupied the basement for decades won’t be reopening.) The bathrooms built several years ago in the former pizzeria space, along with that space’s new dining room and kitchen, were removed to allow for an expanded kitchen.

If you hadn’t been back to Simeon’s in a while, you might remember the Sandwiches with a History or Pastabilities — large sections of the menu that reflected the fact that Simeon’s barely had a kitchen. That fare was left behind when Simeon’s expanded several years ago under its new owners, taking over the old next-door pizzeria space to make room for a proper kitchen.

The new dinner menu brings back the Simeon’s oyster bar, featuring fresh raw seasonal oysters — and there’s now a casual Oyster Room near the kitchen, if you’d like to enjoy them there.

There’s no question Simeon’s is different, three years after the crash. Some familiar faces and some new faces. We’ve now dined right where our desks used to be. And we’ve sat at the bar for a beer or a cocktail, where we can see the plaque, overlooking the scene, that remembers Amanda.

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