Maria Marszewski might just be one of the most prolific identities in Bridgeport. Although you may not be familiar with her “let me triple check the spelling” last name, she is the owner of Maria’s Packaged Goods in Bridgeport, which is a landmark in itself. I’d like to refer to Maria as the Queen of Bridgeport, and I’m sure she’ll probably read this and wonder why I would even refer to her as the Queen, but that’s what makes her so freakin’ great. She’s humble; she’s considerate; she’s hard-working; she’s one of the sweetest women on the face of the planet. I can go on and on, but the best part about Queen M is that she keeps it real. She doesn’t sugar coat life, she passes out advice and wisdom whether you like what she’s saying or not, and it always helps. Maria treats strangers as if they were her own family..she talks to her customers, she gets to know them, she takes an interest in their lives, and she genuinely cares. I’ve heard from many of her workers that she is their best bouncer; she uses reason, and never raises her voice. But don’t piss her off because Queen M is a black belt in karate. No joke.
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar was created with her children in mind. Now, that might sound a little strange…children and bars don’t really go together in a legal way, right? Right, well, Maria made a promise to her husband before he passed away “I had to make money for college for my kids. Feed them, clothe them. I worked hard. At that time, if you were hard-working, you could make money. Whatever I do, to my husband..I promised him..it doesn’t matter how hard it is, I will educate your kids, and I will take care of them. So I think I did.” WOW. So in 1986, this particular slashie (half bar- half liquor store) was born. Maria worked hard to get to know her customers, and she worked even harder to become a part of the community. To this day, she has never once had her windows broken, she has never had anything stolen or had to report vandalism. Maria attributes this to her involvement in the community. She has never turned anyone away. It doesn’t matter her customers religion, race, upbringing, background, affiliation, or anything else: as long as she is treated with respect, anyone is welcome whole-heartedly by the bar’s matriarch.
In 2010, Queen M passed the torch to her sons Ed and Mike, the Founders of what we now formally and officially know as Maria’s. I had a chance to sit down with Ed and talk to him about his mom, the bar, and the community and he made sure that he was addressed as a co-founder and not the
owner. “[I’m] not the owner, not the manager,” as he shakes his head, “Got it? [This is] the family business…because people constantly f— it up.” Ed, you’re welcome.
“I think it’s always been a working class neighborhood…historically it’s been mostly European immigrants who moved here and moved on. In the past decades, you have an influx of Chinese Americans and, I guess we’ll call, Latin Americans move into the neighborhood along with other ethnicities, where it’s become one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago…and that’s according to the census, not my propaganda.”
He touched on how the community has transformed into a legit melting pot of diversity. There are contemporary restaurants, hole-in-the-wall bars, food manufacturers, coffee shops, art galleries, and quick Northern Chinese food restaurants all within walking distance from each other. “What’s fun is that you have this multi-generational business thing going on, small family businesses that the family members keep iterating and changing the businesses. You have this tradition, and you have this, kind of, changing
demographic. There’s so much development on the North Side, that it also has effected the South Side, as well. You see the gentrification happening in Pilsen, it’s going down Halsted Streed into Bridgeport, it’s moving to McKinley Park, so you have the near South Side developing different small businesses and industries. That’s a big change.” The Marszewski’s think it’s great. “Maybe the big change is the tolerance for other human beings in general. That’s the most amazing thing about the neighborhood, that kind of South Side tribalism…every neighborhood, every block, every parish hates the person from the next parish, the next block [laughter]. So, in Chicago, everyone hates everyone two blocks away, right? So, that kind of still exists a little in a way over here, but at the same time, since it’s a smaller neighborhood..you get to know your neighbors better, you see the same people over and over, there is a stronger sense of understanding and knowing who your neighbors are…so that’s super cool.” Tradition meets new ideals. Bingo.
The newest addition to Maria’s is Kimski’s, the Korean-Polish kitchen that offers just that: a crazy, awesome blend of Korean and Polish food served via counter service. The menu is a fusion of Polish specialties with a Korean twist and vice versa. It’s really, really cool. Although the staff worked with guest chefs to help refine and pinpoint certain blends and tastes, the Marszewski’s really just worked with what they knew as far as food they made and mixes they created in the past. If you just want to stop in and eat in their cozy front spot or outdoor front patio, you can or you can order and have it delivered to the bar (my personal choice). With the Kimski addition came a second bar that is decked out in thin wooden slats, sharp shelves, bright yellow stools, and wooden modernist booths, which gives you access to the back patio that has a light feel to it. A “warped-space beer hall” is what they call it. The huge, overhead skylight gives off a gorgeous natural light which gives the whole place an airy, modern vibe. Avant Garde. Futuristic. Somewhat opposite from the original Maria’s over in the next room, which has a dark, smaller, old-school feel.
From talking to Ed and his mom I can see why so many people love to come here. I can see why the regulars tell their grown kids about Maria’s, and why their kids tell their friends, and so on. All are welcomed, and none are judged. So if you’re looking for awesome eats, great beer, good times, and maybe some life advice (if you’re lucky), make sure to stop into Maria’s, and it’s almost guaranteed that it won’t be your last.
Maria Marszewski is the owner of Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, and she currently lives in the suburbs, but, still commutes to her namesake every day except Sunday…but some Sundays. http://community-bar.com/
Ed and Mike Marszewski are the co-founders of Maria’s. Ed is the publisher of another Bridgeport gem: the underground publication Lumpen, which supports local art, music, sound, performance, ideas, collaborations, creativity, writing, beer and more. Lumpen has their own independent radio station and artist space that helps up and coming musicians and artists begin their path in an open and creative environment. Lumpen Radio is located on the dial at 105.5 fm.
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar and Kimski is located at 960 W. 31st Street.