Last call at the mall: In the bowels of the Gallery, a gem fades
Owners, regulars and friends gathered to party one last time in 2 Street Cafe, a subterranean hangout for 25 years.
IT WAS LAST CALL on the final day for a bar in the basement of a mall, and after all the whiskey got passed around and the kegs kicked one by one, there was nothing left to serve the regulars but heartache.
Frank "Steeler Nation" was there with his buddy Raider. One woman kept calling him Radar. Both men pointed to their friend Stan "The Man" Logue as the veritable mayor of 2 Street Cafe, although Stan wasn't the man with the answers, either.
No one knew why 2 Street Cafe, a survivor in the Gallery for 25 years, had to close forever yesterday - or where they'd go now that they couldn't go there.
"I guess I have to go find another bar to drink at," said Logue, 68, sipping a snifter of Hennessey. "Or I could just go to AA."
It felt like an Irish wake led by a family of proud Greeks.
Owner Jimmy Plessas, 70, was mostly stoical, hiding out in the kitchen preparing last suppers. He had played soccer for the Greek national team, and came to the U.S. in the late 1960s to play professionally for the Chicago Spurs at Soldier Field. He later moved to Philly and opened several eateries in the Gallery's food court after it opened in 1977.
"I was one of the original tenants of the mall," he said.
Plessas said he owned another bar in the Gallery, simply called "Clam Bar," and opened 2 Street Cafe in 1990 near the 10th and Market entrance, a spot where sunlight comes down from skylights. Plessas said he named it 2 Street to honor the Mummers, and was hoping to pass the bar down to his kids.
Plessas said the Gallery's management company, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, told him it won't renew his lease when the mall reopens after renovations. A PREIT spokeswoman declined to comment.
Yesterday, a phone number for PREIT got passed around the bar and everyone was urged to call it, to tell management that 2 Street deserved a place in the bright Gallery of the future.
"Take my hand, and we'll make it, I swear. Whoa-oh, livin' on a prayer," the crowd sang, glasses raised to the ceiling.
There was a loud cheer when Plessas came out from the kitchen and posed for pictures with his family and employees. His daughter Kaycie had never seen him cry until yesterday.
Kaycie herself never really stopped crying, or laughing, or singing. She yelled a few times, too, including when a security guard asked if the bar could turn the music down.
"It's our last day!" she shouted from behind the bar.
Kaycie and her older brother Johnny both practically grew up in the bar, they said. Johnny, 29, was taking some swigs from a fifth of Bankers Club whiskey, which he admitted wasn't so great, but it didn't really matter between one hug or another.
"We've watched Johnny grow up," said bar regular Jill Monahan, 60.
'This is Philadelphia'
Monahan pointed out something that was evident yesterday: the diversity of the crowd. At 2 Street Cafe, you could always see men in suits with briefcases at their feet, grandmothers and their grandchildren getting lunch, men who appeared fused to barstools, every color, broke and better-off, drinking together and picking at shrimp baskets in an outdated shopping mall.
"This is Philadelphia," she said. "I don't know what this place is going to look like later, but this is Philadelphia right here today."
Stacey Jackson, the bar manager, met a handsome postal worker at 2 Street 18 years ago and married him. She got a standing ovation when she showed up about 4 p.m. yesterday.
"I didn't think I was going be able to come," she said, wiping away tears. "This is more than just a bar to all of us."
Jackson shared a hug with a mall janitor, who said 2 Street had given her husband a job when no one else would.
By 5:30 p.m., the mall had emptied out. All the chairs in the food court were stacked on the tables and more mall employees stopped by before going home, leaning against the wooden wall that separated bar from mall, dancing to DMX's "Party Up" and laughing at the scene inside.
A security guard and her supervisor began to hover. It was closing time, whether anyone liked it or not.
John Plessas yelled out, "Thirty years doesn't shut down in 10 minutes!" and he knelt on the bar and asked everyone to raise their glasses.
"We love you, and this place would not have been the same without you guys," he said. "You are the ones that made this place what it was."
People filed out onto the Gallery's dark-tiled floor, up the stairs to Market Street or off to catch a train. John Plessas washed pint glasses, and little girls helped waitresses stack salt and pepper and ketchup bottles on the bar. Someone grabbed the chain and the padlock to close the brass gates for the last time.
On a chalkboard in the back of the bar, someone had written: "Sunday is our last day. Thanks for all the memories." People had brushed up against the sign all day and left the bar with chalk on their backs and elbows. By the time 2 Street Cafe had closed and the lights went off, the word memories was nearly gone.