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.