Ten years ago this month, Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney popped open the door of Lolita, a Mexican BYOB on 13th Street between Chestnut and Sansom.
The two women, who had a home-furnishings shop across the street called Open House, were sold by a sweetheart deal from their landlord, Tony Goldman (who died two years ago). The neighborhood, already home to Capogiro and El Vez on opposite corners of 13th and Sansom, was on the rise.
Ten years later, the neighborhood is the most restaurant-rich of anywhere east of Broad Street, with more recent arrivals such as Zavino, The Corner, Sampan, Green Eggs, Indeblue and Nomad Roman. Safran and Turney built an empire. In addition to Barbuzzo and Jamonera, a grocery store called Grocery and a gift shop called Verde (plus a candy company) on the same block, last year they opened Little Nonna's two blocks south.
But you'll notice that all of these newcomers have liquor licenses; even Green Eggs, a bruncherie, is applying for one. People love BYOBs, but in many cases their profit margins are just too tight to sustain. Especially when rents are rising.
And so Lolita, which helped make a neighborhood, needed a license.
Safran and Turney closed Lolita last August for what was supposed to be a short renovation. But the opening of Little Nonna's intervened, and the couple decided that a full makeover of Lolita was in order.
At the reopening Friday, April 25, you'll see that the kitchen has been moved from the back wall to one side. A new, 30-foot concrete 16-seat bar/chef's counter looks into the open kitchen. The whole place seems to pop.
Menu (here) is billed as Mexican street food. When I stopped last week for a look-see, Turney was cranking out corn tortillas on a hand press. She also has a vertical rotating spit, or trompo, that slowly cooks stacked layers of thinly cut meats. Dishes will range in price from $4 to $24.
The bar, with eight beers on tap, will serve margaritas using the mixes that Lolita made famous in its BYOB days.