Frog Restaurant's Finale Is Quiet, Dignified

Posted: November 29, 1987

There were no crowds fighting to get in the door at 1520 Locust St., no weeping customers and no clumps of nostalgic waiters locking arms and bursting into "Auld Lang Syne."

The Frog was never that kind of place to begin with. And when it closed for good last night, the Center City restaurant that many people credit with launching a culinary renaissance in Philadelphia went quietly.

"We were delighted that everything on the menu was the same, and there was no sense of last-minute closing frenzy," said Frederick Kent, who heads the music department at the Free Library. "All the linens were fresh and the music was going, and when I pulled out my card from the Pennsylvania Ballet entitling me to a discount, they honored it."

In all, insisted owner Steve Poses, the evening went just the way he hoped it would.

"Our goal was to close with the same kind of class with which we opened, so we will try to maintain our dignity this evening," said Poses as he sipped, by turns, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet bouchet, trying to decide which one he would serve his family and a few close friends for dinner.

In the end, he picked the cabernet bouchet. "The other has just faded," he told a waiter. "I don't know if there's some symbolism in that."

Never the sort of host who greeted Frog patrons at the door (indeed, some current and former employees noted, this may have contributed to the restaurant's demise), Poses marked the passing of the Frog by throwing a birthday party for a staff member in a private room on the third floor.

At 7 p.m., the downstairs bar where Poses was conducting his wine-tasting was empty, as it so often was - the bar never caught on as a local watering hole and merely served as a place to stash the overflow dinner crowds.

Lately, there hadn't been much in the way of them, either.

The restaurant with the witty little dots over the "o" in its name, meant to signify the eyes of a squatting frog, the restaurant that more than any other weaned Philadelphia from its steak and lobster ways, had been losing money in recent years.

Some blamed competition from newer restaurants, notably the elegant DeLullo Centro up the block.

Others cited the baby boomlet and a dearth of reliable babysitters, which is said to be turning middle-age baby boomers into couch potatoes who prefer curling up with a pizza in front of the VCR to dressing up and dining out.

The customers who dropped by last night to say goodbye had few theories to offer, but many pleasant memories to share.

Kathy and Arthur Miller patronized the Frog when it opened at its original location on 16th Street 14 years ago. "We dated there," said Kathy Miller. She and her husband were surprised that all the tables were not booked at the first seating, and they were a little puzzled, too.

'The food was delicious as always and the service was wonderful," she said. "We're only sorry we can't come back."

Elizabeth Slobasky, age 8, said she thoroughly enjoyed her dinner of roasted oysters with caviar, roast chicken and chocolate mousse cake. Her mother, Renee, noted that Poses "was in the forefront of this city's restaurant renaissance. Coming here has always been an experience in eating."

Renee's mother, Doris Edelstein, who once took cooking lessons from Poses at another of his restaurants, the Commissary, said, "I feel sad about the closing. I always brought guests here from out of town. This was the heart of Philadelphia already. It's the passing of an era."

The closing of the Frog did not signal the end of the Poses restaurant empire. He continues to operate the Commissary, the 16th Street Bar & Grill and a thriving catering and gourmet take-out business.

Shutting the Frog, said Poses, "was the right and necessary decision." But, he added, "even when you make these mature decisions, sometimes growing up is a little hard."

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