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 firstname.lastname@example.org