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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Frank And Mary’s Tavern Celebrating 50th Anniversary Saturday: ‘A Little Neighborhood Bar Goes A Long Way’

The neighborhood tavern, open since 1972, continues to serve cheap drinks and homemade, tried-and-true lunch specials its regulars have grown to rely on.

Those who've come to love Frank and Mary's Tavern plan to celebrate its 50th anniversary this week.
Provided//Tony Mata
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AVONDALE — When Tony Mata took over neighborhood staple Frank and Mary’s Tavern in Avondale, he told the regulars changes were coming.

He was going to replace the bar’s beloved comfort food menu with vegan meals and swap out its old-timey decor for bright orange walls and white leather stools, he said.

“I really scared them for a second because they didn’t know if I was serious,” Mata said. “They really didn’t want anything to change or even for me to make the potatoes any differently than Mary did.”

The regulars were thankful Mata — only the second person to manage the bar at 2905 N. Elston Ave. after its founders — was joking.

Instead, Mata found ways to spruce up the decades-old tavern while preserving its “gritty character” and continuing to serve locals’ favorite recipes, he said. 

“It’s still the same old bar, just with new conversations,” Mata said.

This weekend, fans of the bar plan to gather there to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The party kicks off 3 p.m. Saturday with food from 1613 BBQ and vintage rock and soul music curated by DJ Killer Diller.

Mata started managing the tavern — founded by siblings Frank and Mary Stark, who grew up in the neighborhood — in October after Mary died and Frank retired, Mata said. 

Mata already had experience managing bars and working as a chef, and he had been visiting Frank and Mary’s since he moved to Avondale in 2011. He didn’t want to see it replaced with a chain, he said. Previously, he was a chef at the beloved Silver Palm train car and a manager at the Matchbox, 770 N. Milwaukee, before it changed ownership.

“It’s important to me to keep this kind of neighborhood tavern alive because there’s not many left,” Mata said. “I’ve gotten a lot of help from my friends, who believe in bars like this.”

Credit: Provided//Tony Mata
Chicago artist Andrea Jablonski painted an aquatic mural to match the fisherman’s decor Frank collected over the years.

Mata got help from his wife, Callie Roach — Director of Operations at Kaiser Tiger and Max & Issy’s — and friends to add a few updates. They put in outdoor lights, built a patio and planted new flowers for the exterior. They also commissioned a mural from artist Andrea Jablonski to accentuate the tavern’s existing decor.

Frank Stark is among the many customers who visit weekly, drawn by Mary Stark’s tried-and-true recipes. She never wrote them down, instead describing each as “a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Mata said. The most popular item is Mary’s meatloaf with parsley and onions — but no tomato sauce, Mata said.

“I get a lot of support from people who are like-minded and understand that it’s not all about giant restaurant groups that own multiple bars,” Mata said. “Sometimes a little neighborhood bar goes a long way.” 

Read more about the history of Frank and Mary’s here.

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