When word came that Snockey's Oyster House would close its doors for the final time last weekend, cries rang out that a piece of old Philadelphia was gone forever.
In addition to serving seafood, the 103-year-old South Philly institution has been home to something completely different - a monthly poetry reading series known as Frank O'Hara's Last Lover. The readings were held inside the restaurant's Rose Room, a hideaway with a shiny tin ceiling and a stained image of a baby riding a sea horse.
Hosted by Jason Mitchell, a member of the Snock clan that owned the restaurant and an occasional bartender there, the series has been one of the few ongoing poetry-reading series in the city that is not affiliated with an institution, such as the University of Pennsylvania's Kelly Writers House.
"He's kept it an open reading, where anyone and everyone could attend," said Ken Snock, Mitchell's uncle and one of Snockey's owners. "There were times customers would join the group, and the group would become customers of Snockey's."
For now, at least, Frank O'Hara's Last Lover will rise again. Mitchell will host another poetry reading Friday night featuring British poet Keston Sutherland, a visiting professor at Princeton University.
Mitchell wasn't sure how long Frank O'Hara's Last Lover will continue. He plans to keep it going until his uncles, Ken and Skip Snock, sell the building.
"There's this idea of carrying this wonderful thing over to another place. But it's been so strong and so good and so connected to that space, letting it stand as its own thing is at least a little attractive," Mitchell said. "I'm treating each one I do as the last one, because I can't know what they'll do until they tell me."
Frank Sherlock, poet laureate of Philadelphia, who wrote a poem about Snockey's founder, Frank Snock, believed the setting infused the readings with something unique.
"The character of the reading series itself has been shaped to some degree by the surroundings. Plenty of cafés have poetry readings, but not plenty of oyster houses," Sherlock said. "It's such a historic landmark of old Philadelphia. It would be difficult to plug it in somewhere else without something being lost."
Mitchell started the series in 2013. The name came from a class he took on Frank O'Hara, a 20th century writer, poet and art critic, while studying for his master's at the University of Maine. Mitchell happens to share initials with O'Hara's boyfriend, J.J. Mitchell.
The readings have been a mix of the local and the national, allowing Mitchell to bring his heroes to his hometown.
"I send fan mail to poets," Mitchell said about how he courts the more prominent names on the roster, including Kevin Killian and Jennifer Moxley. The series also allows Mitchell to hear new poets, such as Connie Scozzaro, Oki Sogumi, and Sophie Dahlin.
The sense of community created by readings like Frank O'Hara's Last Lover is critical to local poets and poetry lovers.
"A lot of the time, all we have is each other," Sherlock said.
Bringing poetry to Snockey's allowed Mitchell to bridge the gap between two very different spheres of his life.
"It took my parents a long time to accept that I was a poet. It's like being an alien from a different planet," Mitchell said. "When they could see these readings, see the gathering of people in a communal space, and they saw me doing it time and time again, they began to understand my life as a poet and a reader."
Frank O'Hara's Last Lover will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Snockey's, 1020 S. Second St. Admission is free.