The Aggravating, Exhausting, Sometimes Just Ridiculous Process Of Trying to Get The Scoop On A New Restaurant

[For everyone who’s ever asked us if we know what’s going on with an empty restaurant space, here’s Victor’s take on the process. — KH, AE]

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you probably know that there is no shortage of food blogs in Philadelphia. In fact, it’s become such a thing that Philadelphia magazine actually paid award-winning journalist John Marchese thousands of dollars to write this story about all the food bloggers out there and their eternal quest for gastronomic glory – or at least the glory of being the first to write about others’ gastronomic glory.

Let me tell you, this can be a tiring pursuit. I’m the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Philadelphia Magazine. I’m also the Research Editor. I also write news stories and food articles in print as well as here on Foobooz. Point is, I’m a busy guy, and that’s without even going into the details on my household of four or my busy schedule playing piano for the world’s tallest and hairiest drag queen, Martha Graham Cracker.

And I’ve spent way too much time over the last two days chasing down a story that might not even be a story that’s worth telling. Of course you never know what story people are going to care about.

Yesterday morning, for example, while doing some research on dive bars for a piece in the magazine, I Googled the address of Jerry’s Bar, a Northern Liberties dive. This was around 11 a.m. I found a real estate listing that seemed to indicate that Jerry’s had just been sold. I called the real estate agency, and the gal there told me she couldn’t disclose the buyer. I then called the listing agent, who gave it up without a second thought. Then I got in touch with the guy actually buying the building, who was only too happy to get me all the details. Finally, I found the photographer who had some great shots of the bar on his Flickr photostream, and he agreed to let me use the photos. At around 2:00 p.m. yesterday, we posted this story, which, I have to say, for a piece that was reported, written and published in about three hours is a pretty damn good story. Just one day later, it has over 120 “LIKES”. Not too shabby.

But this other story has not come so easily.

Also yesterday, a colleague told me that there was an LCB sign in the window adjacent to Bistrot La Minette and that the name on the license was “Bainbridge Bar & Grill“. A cook at Bistrot told me that Starr and Tria had looked at the spot. A friend at L’Etage, also at 6th and Bainbridge, told me that she heard it might be a French BYO, which didn’t really jive with the LCB sign.

I checked the LCB’s god-awful license search tool, but no dice, so I called the attorney listed on some zoning document that another colleague had emailed to me. But the attorney wouldn’t give me the name of the owner. He did, however, offer the following information: the owner is Greek; the restaurant is “not going to be the fancy kind of French place that a guy from Bryn Mawr is going to drive in for”; there will be liquor, but no take-out beer; and there will be no paper plates. He offered to email me renderings, which have yet to surface.

Around the same time, a rumor floated in that the owner was Marinos Fetfatzes (Greek!), the man behind Bella Vista Beer Distributors on 11th Street. If true, this would be surprising, since the LCB doesn’t allow the same person on a beer distribution license to also acquire a liquor license. I called Bella Vista and asked if I could speak with someone about the restaurant at 6th and Bainbridge. “No one here knows anything about that.” Click. Late yesterday afternoon, an LCB spokesperson informed me that once the notice goes up in the window, it takes about five days for them to get the license transfer information. I spoke with another attorney involved in the transfer, but she wouldn’t help me. Then I went home.

This morning, because I didn’t have anything better to do, I got the property’s realtor on the phone. His name is Steven Clofine, and he likes to wear bow ties. He informed me that he and his partner have “an established relationship with Michael Klein” from the Inquirer, but that he could see a benefit of also having a relationship with Philadelphia Magazine. “Michael is very good to us,” he explained. “Whenever he talks about our clients, he makes sure to mention our names, and that’s very important to us.” He said he’d get back to me on Tuesday after discussing the matter with his out-of-the-country partner. Usually, this is code in this cloak and dagger world of food blogging for, “I’m going to make sure Michael Klein writes about this before you do.”

Then, lo and behold, like a miracle from the heavens, the liquor transfer order popped up in the LCB’s records around noon today under the name “6th and Bainbridge Bar & Grill, LLC”, but no other information was listed. I consulted with the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Corporations department and found that this corporation’s registered address is 755-69 South 11th Street. The LCB’s god-awful license search tool confirms that this is the same address on the distribution license for Bella Vista.

Since the people at Bella Vista aren’t talking, I tracked down Chris Fetfatzes, owner of South Philly’s beloved Hawthornes. He told me that he didn’t know anything about it but that he was pretty sure his father wasn’t getting into the restaurant business. He also mentioned that Drew Lazor of the City Paper had called him with the same questions.

All I know is that it’s now 5 p.m. on Friday and I have spent a lot of two days researching an article that basically boils down to this: someone that is somehow associated with Bella Vista Beer Distributors and of Greek descent intends to open a bar-restaurant at 6th and Bainbridge. They will not serve French food. The plates will not be made out of paper.

Have a good weekend.

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  • Anthony Sica

    Amen.

  • bp

    Will they have good beer?

  • Timmy Tucker

    Victor-
    I live around the corner from Jerry’s and walk my dog past it every day (2 years running.) After your piece about it, I took a good, long look at the building this morning. As a former 10-year homeowner who has completed significant renovations to said home, I am going to make the bold prediction that the building housing Jerry’s will be completely razed and rebuilt. I think it’s safe to say it is about a whisker away from being condemned…or from just falling down of its own accord!

  • brianbrews

    As somebody who is always interested to find out ‘what’s going on’, I find this story of a professional hunt to be absolutely fascinating. Well done and thanks for sharing.

  • James

    as someone who is concerned with the state of LCB laws and enforcement I’m interested to see a follow up on the status of who is applying for and getting permission to serve alcohol when the address of record is already a beer distributorship.

  • http://www,phillychitchat.com HughE

    I love this story. The research, speculation, anticipation and consideration is the behind the scenes process that goes on for all of us to get the story. I hate when someone tells me they are saving the story for someone else, or to hang tight, especially after putting in all the leg work.

  • Allitia

    Awesome story about finding the facts that go into a story! Thanks for sharing this. I live across the street from the Bainbridge building and we ran into the owner (didn’t catch him name) when the lower window blew in over the winter. He’s converting the upper units into condos, one of which he’ll live in. He didn’t look old enough to be the elder Fetfatzes, but I have also heard the restaurant will be a Greek restaurant.

  • http://www.thefeast.com/philadelphia/restaurants CEF

    Vic, thanks for this. On the LCB license, it stated 5002 N 5th (One Loooooooooooove Inc) which is the old Johnny’s Top Cat up in Norfilly. Was that previous owner? Was this place ever anything?

    A place with no take-away beer would not jive with the Fetfatzes whole steez. But “no paper plates” could be the name of a new spot and I would go for that. I would also go to a beer spot called “no plastic cups”.

  • http://citypaper,net A.D.

    V
    During some of my very worst binges pre 2000, Jerry’s was the sort of place where you could hide out – have that drink without the fuss. Lots of dive bars have been like that and sadly too many of those spaces are gone.
    On the writing tip – funnily done and very easy to relate to though I dare say that when people ask me to cool my heels but for a moment, I”m not always as gracious as you appear to be.
    Brava
    A.D.

  • Lord Chezza

    Interesting to hear what goes into researching a story. It’s so easy to take for granted that all the salacious newsy tidbits that we devour every day on foobooz are the product of an individual’s dogged research, which can take a lot of work.

    What we can do without is the whingey tone. No one cares how busy you are.

  • http://cakeandlobster.com Martha rich

    Just an FYI I walked by there yesterday and there was a Bella vista beer van parked out front and two guys got out and were knocking on the door and yelling to the people inside who were hammering away. Looked like they were dropping something off.