“I really thought I’d be here for another 20 years.”
It’s a reflective day for Steve Frankowski, owner of the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. The restaurant, which is just shy of their 32rd birthday, is instead celebrating their last day of business today, October 21, 2017.
The tavern has long since established itself as a destination in Pittsburgh for Polish food and live music.
“I always say, ‘We have the second best Polish food in Pittsburgh.’ Nine out of ten people always ask, ‘Well, who makes the best?’ And I tell them, ‘Thank you so much for asking, any friends or relatives you know that make Polish food always make the best.’ I guess the other 10% just keep wondering,’” says Frankowski.
In the end it was insurance issues that forced the tavern to close. A few accidents occurred within the bar in the past few years, and multiple claims were filed against the establishment. The insurance premiums are now too cost prohibitive for the bar to remain open.
Although the closure is sad and unexpected for Frankowski, he remains positive. His son recently suffered from health issues, and that is where his priorities are currently focused.
“My son is getting better, and that is all that matters to me right now,” says Frankowski.
Thirty-plus years is a long time in one spot, and as we talked with the gregarious Frankowski, memory after memory returns to him about the space.
For example, some people might be surprised to hear that the tavern did not originally serve Polish food.
“We started with a basic bar menu. We had burgers. My wife convinced me to do a grilled chicken breast. The Polish thing started on Tuesdays, years later. We had all this Polish food – creamed cucumbers and beets. Finally, I told my dad, ‘Listen, we need to just pick the five most popular items and do that,’” recalls Frankowski.
He has many more memories of his father, Stan – who originally opened in the tavern – as do the patrons who have been coming there for years. His favorite part of the job was meeting the customers who came in year after year , some as children, and then later with their own kids.
“My dad was a very generous, and he was always buying trinkets for people. People will come in say, ‘I still have that thing your dad gave me, I don’t know why I kept it.’ It will be a bobble-head or whatever, but they still have it,” says Frankowski. “He was the man. We miss him every day.”
One of the most popular items on the menu – the “Polish Platter” – also has an interesting story. This is the item that Frankowski himself suggests that all people start with. It will give them a great first sample into Polish food, and they can figure out what they like.
There are currently two types of Polish Platters on the menu. The “Red” with meat, and the “White,” which is vegetarian. Initially, people kept suggesting that Frankowski include a vegetarian option, but he was hesitant. Finally, someone told him to call it the “White Platter.”
“He said, ‘Look at the Polish Flag, Steve – red and white. You can have the “Red Platter” with meat, and the “White Platter” without.’ That was a great idea and I tried to buy it off of him, but he wouldn’t let me. In the end, I traded him a platter for the idea.”
This platter also had its moment in the spotlight. Frankowski recalls, with a laugh, the time it was featured on the 5:00 o’clock Monday-night news. The network was running a story on calories in all of Pittsburgh’s “iconic dishes” (places like Primanti Brothers) – and the “Polish Platter” was one of the items analyzed.
“The nutritionist said we actually had the healthiest food out of all the places they visited, because of the cabbage and whatnot. Want to know the funny thing? It was a beautiful day in October that the story ran, kind of like today. Everyone was outside and only a few people caught the segment,” recalls Frankowski. “If it had been a rainy day, we would have been packed.”
The tavern has always witnessed a lot of change in the neighborhood, and to Pittsburgh’s food scene, since they opened over 30 years ago.
“It makes me happy to see young people getting houses and opening up restaurants in the neighborhood. The housing market has changed a lot, but we still have our identity.”
And even in regards to popular spots like Apteka, which is famous for serving vegan Polish food, he is excited.
“I am very impressed. I love it because they are Polish, working hard, and doing it. I’ve heard the pierogis are very good,” Frankowski says of Apteka. “Now that I have free time, maybe I’ll stop by.”
However, for the time being, he plans to cool off from Polish food.
“I think I’m gonna take a break for a little bit. Im double the man that I was back then. If you eat polish food every day… yeah,” laughs Frankowski.
The Bloomfield Bridge Tavern will opens its doors tonight at 5:00 p.m. for the last time. Everyone is invited to come enjoy live music, and lots of Polish food.
“I just loved it being a family business. I loved being with my dad, brother, sister, and kids over the years.”
Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (4412 Liberty Avenue)