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Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar has been a staple in Bridgeport for decades.

The establishment has been around since the late 1930’s when it was a packaged goods and liquor store named Kaplan’s. In 1986 Maria Marszewski bought the business, and Maria’s has been expanding and changing ever since.

Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar is a social experiment in constant flux. Together, Maria’s two sons, Ed and Mike, and music director Joe Bryl are using the cultural hub to push the creative boundaries of Maria’s talented family and artistic collaborators. Ed broke away to start his own microbrewery on the south side, Marz Brewing, while Mike took over most of the business for Maria. With two magazines, Lumpen, an arts and culture magazine, and Mash Tun, a quarterly journal for the craft beer industry, expansion of Maria’s to include a kitchen which will serve an oddly delicious combination of Korean and Polish street foods, and an online radio station (which will soon take off into a full-fledged FM station), there seems to be no stopping the Marszewski family empire.

We sat down with Joe Bryl to get the full details on the history and future of Maria’s Packaged Goods.

CUSP Magazine: So Maria’s has actually been an establishment and a liquor store since 1939?

Joe Bryl: It was Kaplan’s…it was basically a packaged good store and a bar, a neighborhood bar. Maria bought it 26 or 27 years ago.They were a shot and a beer place, where neighborhood Bridgeport-ers would come. Maria made a very good living being the only destination place in town.  She’s here all the time– she’s kind of the iconic figurehead.  Her sons, Ed and Mike eventually took over…[they] decided that they would transform the business. It was four or five years ago. Ed’s brother-in-law, Eric, was starting to look into the craft beer business. It hadn’t grown into the kind of monolith that it is now a days, so at that time I don’t think anyone knew that much about craft beer.

Ed and Mike were a good compliment to one another. Mike does a lot of construction work; Ed has always been involved in the arts movement. He does Lumpin Magazine and other ventures, he runs Co-Prosperity Sphere down the street. It was a good balance.

CM: When did you start having shows here?

JB: There was music from day one. But it was never properly utilized; it was just the thinking of ‘let’s play something different’…Then I took over a few years ago, just talking to people I consider crate-diggers, music historians. Because of the connection we had with different people, we were able to get a varied [lineup]. So sometimes you come up here and someone like Cathy Only might play some Turkish psychedelic. The crew from Sonorama will play latin and boogaloo and cumbia. We try to make the music eclectic with the people that we work with.

CM: Do you use this same idea, of making everything eclectic and a unique in all aspects of the business?

JB: It’s how we curate the drinks here. You’ll find one of Chicago’s best selection of craft beer. There’s a very good liquor selection, a very well thought out cocktail selection, here. There’s no place like this, here on the south side, at least here around Bridgeport– it’s a diamond in the rough.

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CM: I see some construction, what do you have planned?

JB: Things have changed because of the build out. The expansion is to double our capacity, to offer more options in the draft beer selection. There are 18 drafts here, there will be another 18 to 20 drafts, but different selections, on the other side. There’s going to be a kitchen called Kimski, which is a strange combination of Korean/Polish street food. You’ll be able to buy that from outside, also you can come inside and order. That will change the dynamic because, now, we don’t open until 3 o’clock but we’ll start opening up at noon to offer food.

CM: Can you tell me a bit more about the Marszewski family?

JB: Ed has his own business, he runs Marz Brewing. Mike is the owner of Maria’s, while Ed is over at Marz. Right now we’re building a radio station. You know that’s totally distinctive, it’s very time consuming, WLPN is. We got the FCC license to have an FM, and it’s 101.5 FM. We raised the funds to build out the station. It’s running right now on the Internet, but once we build a tower it will be broadcasting live…it’s just another level to the business. Ed just produced Lumpin magazine, which is about various subjects, sometimes about economic issues. One was all about cartoonists. And with the Marz Beer they produce a quarterly journal called Mash Tun, which is aimed towards the craft beer industry. So these are all branches, from the same entity.

CM: You offer so much beer but how do you maintain your identity as a craft beer bar now that they are popping up all over the city?

JB: We are learning that size doesn’t matter. It’s good to have a great variety, I mean, at one point we had 400 and some beers. You know, people drink different beers in the winter and summer. As opposed to stouts, even though we still have some stouts on, now people want to be drinking lighter beers, like Pilsners, or beer brewed with watermelon. We’re learning that maybe we only need to have 150-curated beers, as long as we curate it really well.

 

At Maria’s, you really never know what you’re going to get. The music playing in the back of the bar will always be a surprise, and the beer menu will rarely be the same twice. It’s a true collaborative, community driven establishment that stays true to it’s long history while constantly evolving into the future. If you haven’t been, we definitely recommend stopping by.

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Andrea Racine
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