There’s a new mayor in Bridgeport, and his name is Ed Marszewski. Yes, the Daley legacy still hangs over this South Side stomping ground, an area known in the 1800s as Hardscrabble for its blue-collar residents and in later decades as the home of Richards J. and M. and the Sox. But Marszewski—owner of the contemporary art gallery Co-Prosperity Sphere; publisher of the art magazines Proximity and Matériel, the left-leaning Lumpen, and the newsletter Bridgeport International; coorganizer of the art fairs MDW and Version; and owner, with his mother and brother, of the bar Maria’s—has his own vision for the neighborhood. He calls it the Community of the Future. And he has blueprints for how to make it happen, beginning with a new brainstorming session Sundays at Maria’s—just don’t call it a salon. This is Bridgeport. It’s a bar night.
Though he’s worked off and on at the tap since his mom, Maria, took over the place in 1986, Marszewski, 43, an Evergreen Park native, first moved to Bridgeport in 1998. He’s had his finger in a bunch of pies since, but he has recently ratcheted up his involvement in economic and cultural development—beginning with the 2010 overhaul of the bar, from an old-timers’ dive to an all-welcoming craft beer destination, and lately with efforts to match budding entrepreneurs to empty storefronts.
Why the flurry? Marszewski has an ulterior motive: “All of this activity stems from the fact that I have a baby girl.” That would be Ruby Dean, not quite two, his daughter with his wife, Rachael, an artist Marszewski met when she moved in next door to the bar. “It’s very selfish. We want to increase business here because we want people to have jobs here. We want people to know this isn’t scary old Bridgeport,” he says, citing reduced gang presence, better infrastructure, and a more inclusive attitude from the local government. “I’ll work on any possible project to make this neighborhood awesome.”
In 2012, his list gets even longer: In addition to one-off beer and food publications, he plans to launch a trade show and a directory of small local manufacturers, as well as a series of pop-up shops modeled on a 2005 effort, when he talked the Wicker Park bookstores Quimby’s and Myopic into opening temporary locations on Morgan Street. He’s also on the board of a prospective charter school, Be the Change. And, to the delight of carnivores and beer geeks citywide, he’s planning a summertime street fest, tentatively called Bridgepork, with an as-yet-unnamed microbrewery expansion of Maria’s to follow.
It would all sound like a pipe dream—a street festival? in hard-bitten Bridgeport?—if Marszewski didn’t have a track record of getting things done. Heck, this is the guy who convinced the Michelin-approved Bill Kim to give away kimchi on Maria’s patio.
Speaking of Kim, any chance Marszewski has been lobbying the chef to open a South Side outpost? “We should all keep asking Bill Kim to come down here,” Marszewski says coyly. Kim, consider yourself warned.
GO The Community of the Future, a Bridgeport bar night on topics including schools and health care, runs 6 p.m. Sundays beginning Jan. 8 at Maria’s; for info, community-bar.com.