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The Mystery Of Bella Vista’s Little Bar.

August 29, 2011

Text by Kim Maialetti. Images by David Maialetti.

Sitting outside Little Bar on a recent Friday night, owner Michael D’Addesi excuses himself from the table as a young, leggy brunette approaches.

The two embrace at the corner of 8th and Fitzwater streets before she disappears inside to order a drink and he returns to light another Camel.

She walks outside and sits quietly next to D’Addesi as he talks. She’s a bit of a mystery, this woman who is reluctant to reveal her name.

But Little Bar itself is still sort of a mystery.

A former sports bar, reincarnated as a neighborhood speakeasy, it is continuing to evolve into what D’Addesi ultimately envisions as a cultural center that promotes and supports local artists and musicians.

“I’m too old to be in the bar business,” the 39-year-old D’Addesi says. “To help people with their craft and their art is important to me.”

D’Addesi has owned the Bella Vista space for more than 10 years. Little Bar represents a wholesale shift from its previous life as Vesuvio, which was born as a fine dining restaurant and reinvented a sports bar when the economy collapsed three years ago.

Remnants of Vesuvio still exist, including the giant sign on the outside of the building and the flat screen TVs in almost every corner and on nearly every wall.

But the vibe is pure dive.

In fact, it almost feels as if patrons are being let in on a secret when they’re escorted to a back room for the weekly jam session that attracts musicians from across the city, including bassist Mike Boone, a Philadelphia jazz legend in his own right.

Wearing a West Oak Lane Jazz Fest T-shirt, Boone plays the upright with an easy style. He and drummer Rob H. Henderson and pianist Jim Holton riff off each other, while the people in the crowd nod their heads in appreciation.

“He (Boone) is a great guy,” says 23-year-old piano player Jim Torchon. “He’s so humble and he cares so deeply about the music and young musicians in the city.”

Torchon would know. He studied under Boone while a student at Temple University and credits the self-described old head with nurturing his love for jazz.

“I learn something every time I hear him play,” says Torchon, who teaches music at Germantown Friends School.

As he talks, a tattooed server pops in to take food orders and refill drinks.

Little Bar prides itself on its offerings of craft beers in a can (though one could argue that calling PBR a craft is a stretch) and on its kitchen that stays open until 1 a.m. The menu is pretty standard bar fare: chicken wings, nachos, curly fries, and $2 tacos.

However, manager Valerie Boyle says that just like the space – which also hosts comedy nights, rock concerts and art exhibits – the menu will evolve too.

“See us in a year,” says Boyle, who joined D’Addesi after tending bar at the Farmers Cabinet and the Ranstead Room.

She is eager to see Little Bar succeed. D’Addesi credits her with being the brain behind Little Bar, .

“God sent her to me!” he exclaims.

D’Addesi is somewhat eccentric, to say the least. Consider that he self-published a book under the pseudonym Armitage Shanks, which is the name of a British manufacturer of bathroom fixtures.

Why? He’s not telling.

What he will say is that Little Bar is more his style than Vesuvio ever was.

“I love the opportunity to give artists the opportunity to grow and shine and express themselves,” D’Addesi says.

Artists like Jeannie Brooks, a Philly vocalist who takes the stage with Boone to perform Ella Fitzgerald’s “Imagination.”

“Imagination is funny. It makes a cloudy day sunny, makes the bee think of honey, just as I think of you.”

Her voice rises and falls taking listeners on a three-minute journey away from the back room at Little Bar into an earlier decade when jazz clubs in Philadelphia could be found in every neighborhood and when the city boasted a thriving jazz scene.

“We really just want to bring that back,” says Boyle. “We want to be a small intimate space that focuses on local artists.”

Imagine that.

And that mystery girl?

When questioned about her relationship with D’Addesi, she looks at him and then smartly asks if her answer would be in print.

After learning that it could, she just shakes her head and smiles.

Located at 8th and Fitzwater streets, Little Bar is open daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and hosts weekly jam sessions on Wednesday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight. Visit Little Bar on Facebook for its most up-to-date calendar.

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