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The lingering intrigue of the Bomb Bomb Restaurant

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PHILADELPHIA – Few eateries in this town say “neighborhood landmark” more emphatically than the curiously named Bomb Bomb.

A pair of cartoon-style bombs fashioned in red neon illuminate the front door of what was once a corner taproom situated among the shade trees and brick rowhomes of Wolf and Warnock streets.

Inside, the kitchen pumps out house specialties such as barbecue ribs, homemade pasta and seafood creations, along with tempting pub grub like wings, mac-and-cheese, crab-cake sliders and pulled-pork French fries.

Bomb Bomb could literally not exist anyplace outside of South Philly, because it plays a key role in an intriguing chapter of city history involving racketeers, business rivals, revenge and a couple of explosions that demolished the front door of the establishment and sent neighbors tumbling from their beds in wonderment.

According to a history posted on the Bomb Bomb website, the original owner Vincent Margarite drew the ire of local racketeers when he opened the taproom
in the tight-knit, predominantly Italian neighborhood. Dissatisfaction with the new business resulted in an earth-shattering BOOM after closing hours on Feb. 16, 1936.

Not one to be intimidated, Margarite was back in business the very next day. But a little more than a month later, some unknown parties decided to send a louder message.

An article from the Philadelphia Inquirer appeared the next day with the headline
“Mystery shrouds S. Phila. bombing; police question 3.” The date was April 6, 1936.

The article detailed how at least three sticks of dynamite had been detonated on the front step long after closing time.

“The front door and the best part of the interior of the taproom were blown to smithereens yesterday morning, and slumbering residents for blocks around were tumbled from their bed amid the wreckage of bedroom windows when a dynamite bomb let go at 2:45 a.m.,” the article reported.

While there was no word about the three who were questioned, one theory was that “a gentleman who deals in bombs as a part of their persuasive equipment had endeavored to impose a ‘shakedown’ of some kind,” the article stated.

The article downplayed the “business rival” motive in the bombing, with police saying a mere business rival would not go to the trouble of obtaining and planting such powerful explosives.

Margarite kept his thoughts to himself, but caved to local pressures following the circulation of a petition demanding the shuttering of the taproom for the safety of the community. He sold his bar to Jimmy Cataldi. Jimmy’s Tavern operated for years peacefully, although never shaking the reputation, as locals and regulars referred to Jimmy’s as Bomb Bomb.

In 1951 Frank Barbato Sr. purchased Jimmy’s Tavern from Cataldi. Celebrating the infamous history and reputation of the bar, Frank Sr. re-named the tavern “Bomb Bomb” and the name has stuck ever since.

Like Vincent Margarite’s family, Frank Sr. and his wife, Regina, lived on top of their restaurant with their two sons until 1957. Frank Jr. and his wife Debbie took over operation of Bomb Bomb in 1990, updating the bar and creating a sit-down dining room atmosphere to accompany the traditional corner taproom.

Al Kemp
Author: Al Kemp

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