Pat Bruno, restaurant critic of 27 years for the Chicago Sun-Times, got fired over the weekend in a "very unprofessional" way, he told Time Out Chicago: He was put off by the phone call from a "mid-level editor" instead of one of the senior people he's known for years. Now he says he plans to start a local food blog, but the longtime critic has been a pretty grouchy voice in the city's food journalism scene, so while his fellow future bloggers will surely take note of what he writes and link to him, they might not be very nice about it.
Bruno hasn't made many friends in the Chicago food blog world, and he's been straight-up mean to some. He told Chicagoist's Chuck Sudo to "get a life" when Sudo pointed out he had apparently reviewed the same restaurant twice (Sudo tweeted earlier: "I still list Bruno telling me to go fuck myself as a high point of my writing career"). He and Grub Street's Helen Rosner sparred over her report that he had outed himself on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Now that he's planning to start a food blog of his own, he won't go ignored by his soon-to-be colleagues, but Rosner, now the editor of Saveur.com, said via instant messenger that not all the attention he's likely to be paid will necessarily be positive.
Bruno himself is a tremendous character in the ongoing online narrative of Chicago dining; his role as a curmudgeonly, cranky old man transcends his actual journalism in terms of his importance in the blog world. Coverage of his columns tends to be less about his critical opinion and more about ribbing on his negative attitude and what appears to be his army of inexplicably faithful readers who hang on his every word — he's notable not as a critic, but as a living embodiment of Old Chicago. I don't mean Old Chicago so much to mean print media (I think for all the Tribune's and Sun-Times' woes, print media has a deep and loving audience in Chicago) — rather, I mean what dining and food in Chicago used to be, back when fine dining meant red-sauce Italian or a surf-and-turf at clubby steakhouse
But another longtime Chicago food writer, Michael Nagrant, questioned over IM the likelihood that Bruno would even move forward on his blog plan.
I wonder once Bruno realizes how much work a blog entails and how much time it'll cost him, my guess is retirement will look great to him... He's been at it 27 years. I don't know if it would be throwing in the towel or taking a much needed break. I mean as much as I would like it to, Chicago doesn't have the advertising base or even the same kind of zest as a public for blogs like say New York. The number of truly successful Chicago-spun websites is pretty limited to a handful like, say, Threadless. I've seen the best minds of my generation (in Chicago) go crazy trying to make a successful blog. Even as a big name, I don't see him making it past maybe 10 thousand unique visitors a month and a few thousands dollars in revenue a month. And that would be a huge success. If he's really in it for the love of the game, maybe that's enough, but it seemed like his heart had gone out of the game when he was being paid at the Sun Times.
All of this being said. I welcome it. I'd love to see Pat without a leash. Does it look different? One thing missing in the blog world is often a sense of history or even current knowledge of the scene. Pat has that. If he can deploy it in a way that doesn't make him sound crochety or erudite and offputting, he could be a real star in the end.
Like him or not, Chicago's online food writers would certainly cover Bruno the blogger, and he does have his cadre of loyal fans. But as Nagrant pointed out, "It's all fun and games until no one is paying for your meal."