Tapas, not fracas

Francis Hogan said that every time he would walk through the charming East Passyunk area, he would envision a Mediterranean-style wine bistro there.

"I thought it would bring a sense of community and spark life into the neighborhood," said the 23-year-old Hogan.

Fresh out of Drexel University with a degree in hospitality management, he and business partner Claude d’Hermillon found what they thought would be the perfect spot for their venture — the former 10 Spot tavern at 1601 S. 10th St., at the corner of Tasker.

"South Philly, particularly in that area, was just right for growth, and it needed the type of establishment we were wanting to do," said Hogan, who lives on the 1000 block of Winton Street.

But, fearing the negative history of the former 10 Spot would repeat itself, a group of area residents and merchants has tried to defeat the renewal of the site’s liquor license.

The concern, according to the opposition, is that the new venue will serve up misdeeds and mayhem instead of bruschetta and Beaujolais.

Named 1601 after its address, the bistro would feature flavors of Italy, Spain, France and Greece, Hogan said. The menu would consist of smaller, tapas-style dishes like bruschetta, mussels and thin-crust gourmet pizza, along with daily and seasonal specials.

"The wines will complement the regional foods we will be serving," said Hogan. "Because of the wine, the foods will be at a very reasonable cost."

Yet, despite the proposed menu and extensive wine list, some residents and merchants contend that 1601 wouldn’t be a bistro at all.

"It’s a bar. And the proposed owners have told us they have to move a certain volume of alcohol to make the money they need," said Sue Montella, president of the Passyunk Square Civic Association, which is representing neighbors who oppose the new venture.

A bar would do nothing to enhance the area’s quality of life, Montella argued, adding the neighborhood already hosts 15 taverns, many of which are close to churches and schools.

In addition, she said, the former 10 Spot’s troublesome legacy still haunts nearby residents.

For years, neighbors fought to shut down the bar that was the source of several crimes, including a rape that occurred outside its doors.

"The previous owners were nuisance-bar owners," said state Rep. Bill Keller, who represents the East Passyunk constituency. "The neighborhood really had enough. There were some violent crimes that happened in there and [the owners] just would not cooperate with the neighbors."

The bar finally closed last summer.

According to Keller, neighbors want assurance from Hogan and his partner that 1601 will not be a repeat performance of the 10 Spot.

The bistro’s hours of operation have been addressed at various community meetings, as well as at a Sept. 20 Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hearing. In hopes of securing a lunch crowd, Hogan plans to open daily at 11 a.m. The kitchen will close at 1 a.m. and the bistro at 2 a.m.

"This has been known. There hasn’t been any vagueness in this area," Hogan maintained.

The LCB confirmed that Hogan applied for a restaurant license with an extended-hours food permit and an amusement license, said board spokesperson Molly McGowan.

A restaurant license is a full permit for beer, wine and other spirit sales, McGowan explained. Such a license mandates that the establishment have a kitchen and seating for at least 30 people, serve food and cease liquor sales at 2 a.m.

The extended-hours food permit means food can be served after 2 a.m., said McGowan. But Hogan said he did not apply for such a license and was unaware of it.

"Apparently my lawyer must have taken it upon himself to do this. We have no intentions of ever using this. We will shut down the kitchen at 1 a.m. daily," Hogan said, adding that it might be standard procedure to apply for such a license, but that until he talked to his attorney, he wouldn’t know for sure.

Montella said she became alarmed when she saw the amusement-license posting in a window at 1601 S. 10th St., as such a permit would entitle Hogan to have live music or entertainment on the premises.

But, according to Hogan, an amusement license is required to play even a stereo inside a restaurant.

"We made it very clear at various community meetings and the LCB hearing that we were not going to have live music or karaoke or anything like that," the proprietor said. "All the music will be controlled by employees from behind the bar."

Some of the bistro’s opposition has alleged that the operators applied for a club license that would allow them to serve alcohol until 3 a.m. and patrons to stay until 3:30, but McGowan confirmed that they requested no such permit.

"We’ve been nothing but honest with anyone who has opposed it," Hogan said, "and we understand there is a lot of miscommunication. A lot of the apprehension does stem from our predecessors in the 10 Spot. We have explained that we have no link to the previous owners. Our intentions are nothing but good for the neighborhood."

Any problems the neighbors had with the 10 Spot should not be taken out on Hogan and his partner, maintained Lynn Hoffman, one of Hogan’s former professors at Drexel and a resident of 11th and Tasker streets.

"I am sorry that people are afraid. But I’m even sorrier that the fear has shown itself in this nastiest way," Hoffman said. "It is shockingly ugly. These guys don’t deserve that. They are trying to do something good.

"I really think the people fermenting the anger should be ashamed of themselves," added the professor.

Hoffman said he believes 1601 would attract a younger crowd from Center City, and that the resulting foot traffic would only benefit the East Passyunk area.

"The most important thing is that when people come to a neighborhood like ours, and they see it, they become interested in it. It’s good for the neighborhood. It drives real-estate values up," he said.

Montella said her organization is pro-business and encourages local development, but that she would have preferred that Hogan pick any number of empty businesses along East Passyunk Avenue to open his bistro.

Neighbors were given the chance to voice their concerns at the LCB hearing.

"The opposition to this place had a sort of foaming-at-the-mouth quality to it," Hoffman said. "These people were just snarling at [Hogan]."

Keller maintained that both sides could compromise. "I believe the neighbors’ position is not that far from the business owners’ and the two can come to an agreement," he said.

For now, the fate of 1601 rests with the LCB; Hogan’s application will be reviewed on Monday, McGowan said.

If the state board gives its blessing, Hogan said he’ll open 1601 regardless of community opposition.

"We are making conscious efforts to appease as many people as possible, but we still intend to open up," he said.