It was a lovefest. Just four days after a fire destroyed Bridget Foy's restaurant, a group of stalwart fans of the Society Hill pub gathered at neighboring bar Paddy Whacks to watch the Eagles game, share nostalgic stories, and raise funds for the workers whose jobs went up in flames.
With one eye aimed at the football game, regular customer Terry Grayboyes reminisced about her perch at Bridget Foy's for the last three decades — the first bar stool. If another regular occupied that spot, he or she would quickly clear out when Grayboyes arrived. If the stool was taken by someone who didn't know better, a Bridget Foy's employee would simply slide one more stool on the end for her.
Mingo Reynolds, selling $30 entrance tickets at the door for the Paddy Whacks event, reflected on the support Bridget Foy's gave her while fund-raising for her upcoming New York marathon. It not only provided space and food, but donated to her cause. For Reynolds, giving back was simply the right thing to do.
The Foys were astounded by the generosity. "It just means everything," said John Foy. "I didn't know until two days ago that you could laugh and cry simultaneously."
The outpouring of support began as the first flames licked the nearly 40-year-old restaurant. First named East Philly Café when it opened in 1978, owners John and Bernadette Foy changed the name to Bridget Foy's when daughter Bridget was born in 1982. The restaurant became a local watering hole for neighbors to watch games, share holidays, and enjoy a meal or cocktail.
Watching the firefighters put out the flames, stunned neighbors were already figuring out how they could help. Mike Harris, executive director of the South Street Headhouse District, offered to move Bridget Foy's annual Halloween party to the Shambles, but turn it into a fund-raiser for the employees who lost their jobs. Through word of mouth and social media, more than 300 neighbors showed up in costume.
Other local restaurants pitched in too, which may seem surprising for competitors. The Twisted Tail, Cavanaugh's, O'Neills, Pietro's, Lucky's Last Chance, Philadelphia Brewing Co., and more provided food and beer, space for fund-raisers and moral support. "We have a very tight community," explained Foy, who said he heard from probably 100 area restaurants.
The fire also shuttered South Street's Doggie Style, tragically killing two rescue dogs, Precious and Yogi. Ironically, Yogi came from Puerto Rico after surviving the hurricane. Owner Howard Nelson was "overwhelmed" by the neighbors' support, which included a makeshift memorial in front of the boarded-up store in memory of the lost dogs. "We sincerely appreciate our customers and friends of Doggie Style Pets," he said.
The 15 or so residents in apartments adjacent to the fire who were displaced received aid from the American Red Cross and helpful neighbors. It is now John Foy's mission to help his 30 employees find new jobs. In the meantime, proceeds from the fund-raisers will help.
More events are planned, said Harris, including a fund-raiser with celebrity bartenders from the Foy's staff at O'Neal's Pub, 611 S. Third St. at 1 p.m. Nov. 12. Then, on Nov. 15, a community dinner at the Shambles, co-hosted by South Street Headhouse District businesses and Queen Village Neighborhood Association, will feature food and drink tastings from area restaurants. More details will follow on social media as the event is pulled together.
After 40 years, Foy is leaving the rebuilding up to daughter Bridget and son-in-law Paul, though he's pretty sure they will rebuild. "I think the neighborhood has made the decision for them," he said.
In a world too often focused on divisions, it's refreshing to see a community pull together. Bridget Foy's will come back better and stronger, in part due to the love and support of the neighborhood.
Terri Akman is a Philadelphia writer. email@example.com