Remembering The Stoop

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The original Stoop was conceived in 1995 and opened in 1996. Having experienced great success with Slices Pizza, my gateway into food service, and owning an unused second floor in the same building, I naturally (and so innocently and naively) believed that an additional success could be achieved by opening a full-service restaurant and bar on the second floor. The idea was to pursue a second love (after pizza) of Tequila. When passion collides with naiveté, anything seems possible.

(Below: Earlier this year we invited a few people from The Stoop’s past to take a step back into history before launching into the future with a re-imagined version of the restaurant.  Featured here- Ashley Cox of Professional Victims, Joe Driscoll, Meggan Camp of Corelife Eatery, Rebecca Sheridan, and Shauna Diliberto of MaeFlowers Vintage)

This time was prior to the more recent national explosion of Tequila. Opening a second-floor restaurant that could not be seen from street level, at the top of a long, steep set of stairs was unknowingly ambitious. And little did I know then, that my instincts essentially would lead to the creation of a secret speakeasy-type form of bar long before this genre explosion in NYC, although our new sign would belie that secrecy.

We wanted an old-school “marquee-type” sign to hang prominently from the building facade to make the building iconic, especially then, when it was  adjacent to the corner of West Fayette and South Franklin Street and the long-standing and well-loved Crown Hotel bar. To obtain the sign permit, in the first instance, we needed to make the sign in some form conform to the brick façade. We went all around to sign makers with a design that was ambitious in its size, weight, wiring of neon, and back-lit lettering. Finally, a then relatively new Kassis Superior Signs of Syracuse, accepted the challenge. (We are so happy that even after 11 years of dormancy, the sign re-lit at the first flick of a switch).

The goal was to create an environment that was urban (think NYC), unpretentious, irreverent, fun, unique, nostalgic, and comfortable. The bar would be dedicated to the best selection of Tequilas and high quality, hand-built and proprietary Margaritas (we obtained a special recipe margarita mix from California).

We had to get a special permit from the State to use the second floor for restaurant occupancy.  We built a stage at the front of the second floor so we could have live music three nights almost every week.

I remember the galley kitchen, narrow and long, like the building, but was open, and as more commonly seen today, as a “performance kitchen.” The food, incongruously, would be North American comfort food with irreverent names and descriptions (“Mom’s Meatloaf and mashies, crab cakes, and Belgian fries were our among our best sellers); there were varied and fun popular dishes: “One potato, two potato…” (as my younger daughter Dani (3) only ate potatoes and peanut butter at the time), “Matzo Brie” and “Fricken Chickasee”. The menu offerings often came in 2 or 3 serving sizes, introducing the first tapas-like concept in Syracuse, and the early adoption of vegetarian dishes.

I remember the constant whir of Waring blenders making the “El Stupido”, “Bionic”, “Hero” (celebrating 9/11 responders), the “Millionaire” and 21 other types of frozen margaritas, as popular throughout the winter as in summer.

I remember that when we built the new landing to the stairs, Dani, and my older daughter (7) Emily’s hand prints were imbedded in the new concrete, where they still exist today. A nationally recognized muralist, Corky Goss, spent three months painting all the walls (other than the uncovered and restored original 1884 brick walls) with NYC sky and street-scapes, embodying an homage to the namesake of the restaurant’s “stoop,” a place where neighbors met, sat on the steps, played “stoopball” with Spauldeens™ and shared stories through the warm summer nights. A Hop Scotch board was painted on the floor.

I remember designing the  bar stools and the difficulty of finding a designer to make them from salvaged street signs that surrounded the small bar, with a bar top covered in antique illustrations from the 40’s and 50’s.

I remember the creation of an audio track of background city sounds played at low volume on a 6 hour loop.

I remember that for a time we were plagued by pigeons perched on the roof’s ledge, always a risk for people walking underneath!

I remember a host of great staff members (Jimmy, Jim, Lynn, Beth, Amy, Amber and so many more, too many to mention) over the years, mostly young, who worked so hard in a small and crowded space, and including the bartender Tobin Ellis, who has gone on to become a nationally recognized bar and restaurant consultant, and Ben and Siobhan Reilly of Life Of Reilley fame.

I remember the prowess and force of the indominable Dawn Custer, our chef and manager for so many years, who was  an originator of the Mohegan Manor and now the owner of the Canal Street Café in Baldwinsville, NY as well as her wonderful desserts which were always accompanied with our “life is short, eat dessert first” philosophy.

I remember the array of musicians who hosted and played at our Thursday “Mike Night” and weekend feature performers, including Donna Colton, Rick Balestra and Spaces, Sinker, Rebecca Keefe, Burma, Joe Driscoll, Mike Estep Band, Mike Crissan, Lenin & Frenay, Lisa Gentile, Ashley Cox, Connor Hopkins, Dark Hollow, Supergush, Brian Francis, Mike Delaney, Amy & The Operatives, Ben Wayne, Andrea Higgins, Chris Lizzy Band, Chili Mac, ESP and Jemba.

I remember thousands of Jello shots and the longest day of the year on St Patrick’s Day.

I remember searching for more seating and the opening of the second floor “rooftop patio” and how it turned into so much fun, packed every night under the two ancient trees and the stars, as a romantic city escape. I remember searching salvage yards to find the antique wrought iron fencing that surrounded the patio.

I remember that it was a struggle with the City to keep and protect those two huge 150 year-old trees in the rear courtyard, that so many in the City wanted us to take down.

I remember the attempted and short-lived plastic-walled and heated enclosure erected to extend the patio season, ultimately removed at the direction of the City Fire Marshall.

I remember when our “Slices” pizza was on the first floor, still serving 14 different types of pizza by the slice and “smooches” til 3:30am on Thursday-Saturday nights, at a time when the bars in Armory Square were full until 2:00 AM closing.

I remember Thursday night softball nights when we were packed with students from Lemoyne College.

I remember the custom-made Stoop license plate menu covers that were so hard to keep in-house and of which only 3 remain.

I remember that every night felt like an event.

I remember that The Stoop was a feeling, an emotion, a philosophy of comfort, irreverence and fun, an escape from the norm of the City; as much more than just a physical place.

I remember this and so much more, and that when I closed it in 2011, I could not sell it, or the building, because deep down, I always knew I would re-open it someday.