This ain’t your Daddy’s Bonk’s Bar (and that’s OK)

Jul 27, 2011

by Crabby-Patty-Pat Kozlowski

DSCF0960For Rich Sites, it all began with a “dirty” crab. And by dirty, we mean a crab pulled right out of the pot and served, letting the eater do all the work and cleaning. Some people prefer their crabs dirty, they like the taste of the crab meat seasoned with, well-what my dad used to tell us was mustard, but the smell and the taste proved otherwise.
About five years ago, Sites was told the best place to eat crabs in Philly was a place called Bonk’s Bar, in the shadow of I-95 in Port Richmond along the busy Richmond Street. When Sites finally found the bar and saw the outside, he thought he was lost, it wasn’t much to look at. Inside wasn’t much better, with sticky floor, mismatched tables and chairs, a neverending loop of 3 Stooges shorts on the TV, Sites had his doubts but when he was served, he knew he found the best place to eat crabs in Philly.

Bonk’s Bar was a legend, not only in the Port Richmond riverwards, but in the City. A place where you could get the handmade and formed Mom-burger, a dozen pick and peel shrimp, pulled out of the hot steam bath of Old Bay and other secret spices and served on a paper plate with kick-ass cocktail sauce and yes, those crabs. Cleaned or dirty, the crabs came out on a cafeteria style tray with a boil of steaming crab juice that had more people guessing the ingredients than JFK’s assassins.
When you went to Bonk’s for crabs, you wore a t-shirt you didn’t mind getting dirty and you always remembered to not only wash your hands after going to the bathroom, but more importantly-before. The crab juice was spicy and addictive.
So when the landmark of Bonk’s went on the real estate market, Sites knew this is the bar he wanted. Not only did he buy the property, but he bought the name and that crab recipe too.
He bought the bar in October 2007 and made some changes but just like the crab recipe, he keep the things that mattered most.
Tin ceilings used t o be synonymous with corner tap rooms back in the day, and Sites took notice and appreciated the copper colored tin ceiling that enclosed Bonk’s Bar. After a much needed cleaning and painting, the tin ceiling, with well placed soffit lighting, is back in all its glory. And over his dead body, he was not getting rid of the bar.
Handcarved wood and stained a dark cherry, the bar at Bonk’s is the epitome of an old fashion watering hole, a shot and a beer place, a bar that you could drink at.
The sign outside still reeks of old school advertising-Bonk’s Bar written in blue on a illuminated white sign, and of course, a silhouette of a crab.
And that is where the nostalgia stops. Sites plowed through the rest of the bar, breaking through and opening up the dining area to meet the bar and then tackled the menu, knowing that even though he had the best damned crabs in Philly-and the secret recipe to the crab juice-he’d still need some accompaniments.
“I know what I like-good food, so that’s where I started,” he said. With an Italian mother who always fed her boy and a stint working at Monticinni’s Pizza, Sites added a butter and garlic sauteed crab to the menu.
When Bonk’s crabs meet Mama Site’s recipe in a hot sautee pan full of fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil and plenty of melted butter, the smell drifts out to the bar and heads turn toward the kitchen doors. The same with their popular crab bisque-which doesn‘t have a glamorous backstory, but has a huge following, making it one of their best sellers.
“We found a basic crab bisque recipe on the internet,” the always bandannaed Sites admits. “So we started with that and kept tweaking it, adding some more spice and cream until we loved the taste.” So do customers. Even though its advertised on the menu board, even without the sign the bowls of the terra cotta colored bisque with a side of crusty bread move out of the kitchen.
Bonk’s now serves all their sandwiches, from their roasted pork, roast beef, Philly cheesesteaks on seeded rolls and bread. The roast beef is served with a drinkable au jus and their roast pork with sharp provolone and hot peppers gets topped with the best horseradish in the world-Zayda’s, a locally made brand that gets peddled the old fashion way by Steve “The Pickleman” who still goes bar to bar selling the condiment that makes eyes water and cocktail sauce worth a double dip of the shrimp.

Since opening his bar, the kitchen plays around with specials, this summer popular appetizers are buffalo chicken dip, pierogies and pork pot stickers in an Asian soy sauce. But its apparent the crowd comes for the crabs, always did and always will.
Yep, this ain’t your daddy’s Bonk’s Bar, but with the way things are going, the old man just might take a likening to it.

Bonk’s Bar, 3467 Richmond Street at Tioga Street, 215-634-9927

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