Controversy brews over fate of Frankford corner bar

Primos Sports Bar has been closed for years, but the prop­erty at Ar­rott and Griscom streets re­cently was pur­chased at a sher­iff’s sale and the new own­er wants neigh­bor­hood back­ing so he can get a li­quor li­cense for the res­taur­ant he wants to op­er­ate at the corner.

Vern Mc­Don­ald made his pitch for that sup­port at a June 30 meet­ing of North­east EPIC Stake­hold­ers at Aria Health’s Frank­ford cam­pus. His idea for a res­taur­ant was met with ap­prov­al tinged with some skep­ti­cism. The very no­tion of a li­quor li­cense on the corner, however, was not only not wel­comed, it sparked some out­rage.

“We know what that corner will at­tract,” said Mar­ie DeLany, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Over­ing­ton House.

Javese Phelps-Wash­ing­ton, who lives nearby, said she op­posed a li­quor li­cense there. Her son, Chris Spence, was killed in Feb­ru­ary at an­oth­er Frank­ford tav­ern.

Mc­Don­ald, some­times hav­ing to shout above the com­ments dir­ec­ted at him, re­peated sev­er­al times that he had no in­ten­tion of open­ing a bar. He said he wants to open an up­scale res­taur­ant with seat­ing for 30.

“Where every­body got a bar from, I don’t know,” he said.

The idea of a bar re­open­ing at 1520 Ar­rott St. has been rumored for more than a month. Mc­Don­ald bought the prop­erty in May from an­oth­er party that had pur­chased it at a sher­iff’s sale.

His ini­tial plan for the build­ing was to open a mem­bers-only gen­tle­men’s club with adult en­ter­tain­ment, but he said get­ting the ne­ces­sary ap­provals to open that kind of es­tab­lish­ment looked to be too time-con­sum­ing, so he altered his plans and now wants to open a res­taur­ant that serves li­quor. He said he would em­ploy 15 per­sons. The gen­tle­men’s club, he said, would have cre­ated more than 60 jobs.

Mc­Don­ald said he thought own­ing the prop­erty with its three apart­ments would be a good busi­ness op­por­tun­ity, giv­en the thou­sands of people who daily come to the area to use the Frank­ford El or buses. The trans­it stop sits di­ag­on­ally across Ar­rott Street from the prop­erty.

He ad­ded that he had been un­aware of the bar’s rough his­tory — one marked by shoot­ings and the murder of the bar’s own­er — when he made his pur­chase.

The bar has been closed for sev­er­al years.

On March 30, 2006, four people were crit­ic­ally wounded by gun­fire out­side the bar, in­clud­ing a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old boy, who were in car parked out­side the bar. A bar­tender and pat­ron in­side the bar also were wounded.

In April 2006, the North­east Times re­por­ted gun vi­ol­ence and drugs traf­fick­ing had been prob­lems for years in and around the 1500 block of Ar­rott St. 

In late May 1999, the own­er of the bar, then called the Jolly Post, was gunned down on the street out­side his busi­ness. 

Mc­Don­ald said he be­came aware of the corner’s repu­ta­tion and saw the prob­lems firsthand. He said he en­closed a porch that was be­ing used for gambling and that he will in­stall 10 high-defin­i­tion video cam­er­as around his prop­erty so that, if any­thing il­leg­al does hap­pen, he will turn the sur­veil­lance re­cord­ings over to po­lice. He ad­ded that he has chased drug deal­ers from the corner.

He said he has not be­gun renov­at­ing the down­stairs, which was once Primo’s, but has con­cen­trated so far on the build­ing’s three apart­ments. Mc­Don­ald said he already has in­ves­ted $100,000.

Many at­tend­ing the meet­ing loudly vowed they would fight any at­tempt to get a li­quor li­cense. Oth­ers said they wanted to see something on the prop­erty that would be­ne­fit seni­ors or youth.

Loc­al busi­ness­man Chris Gulledge said it should be un­der­stood that Mc­Don­ald is “put­ting something in there that will make a profit.”

But DeLany was very doubt­ful about Mc­Don­ald’s res­taur­ant plan.

“Let us see a menu,” she said, “so we know you’re sin­cere.”

“Maybe you should think about open­ing the res­taur­ant be­fore you get the li­quor li­cense,” said Tracy O’Drain of the Frank­ford Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp.

If he doesn’t have a li­quor li­cense, Mc­Don­ald said, the res­taur­ant would al­low pat­rons to bring their own bottles. He said he didn’t want to do that be­cause such eat­er­ies have a large chance of fail­ing and that he would have a bet­ter con­trol of how li­quor flows if he is the one selling it. ••

Con­tact re­port­er John Loftus at 215-354-3110 or by e-mail at

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