New York. Los Angeles. Bridgeport? One of these things is not like the others; Bridgeport might not have the size and notoriety of these other urban centers, but restaurateur Phil Hartman recognized its potential and, being a pioneer at heart, decided to make the Park City home for a new branch of his successful Cajun-style pizzeria and bar, Two Boots.
A New York native, Hartman launched the first Two Boots in 1987 in the East Village. Today, Two Boots boasts six Manhattan locations including Grand Central and Rockefeller Center, as well as a pizzeria in Brooklyn and one under construction in Los Angeles.
In Bridgeport, the newest Two Boots is part of the broader Bijou Square revitalization, which includes the historic Bijou Theater, built in 1908, and the Jennings Building, constructed in 1911. Hartman’s interest in the emerging entertainment district at Bijou Square began with the theater itself, reportedly America’s oldest theater that was built as a theater and never used for another purpose. As owner of New York’s new old-fashioned Pioneer Theater, Hartman was intrigued by the Bijou’s history and style.
“We couldn’t let the oldest theater go permanently dark,” said Hartman. He initiated plans to re-open the theater with a focus on mainstream independent films as well as special community programs. Hartman knew that movies alone would not be financially viable—so he planned for pizza to offset the cost.
Hartman’s Bridgeport venture began in March of 2005. Two years later, with renovations of the restaurant and theater well underway, finance shortages stalled construction. Hartman turned to CommCap for a $200,000 loan.
“CommCap came in at a critical point,” said Hartman. “Their assistance enabled us to get to the finish line when we were staggering. Being locally based, CommCap understood what we were doing and tried to expedite the process. I don’t know if we would have made it without them.”
Opened in December, Bridgeport’s Two Boots is the restaurant’s largest branch. In addition to soul-flavored slices, Two Boots offers live entertainment, including surf music, gospel and jazz. An outdoor patio will further enhance the restaurant’s community feel, adding an urban summer ambience.
“We’re here for the long haul,” said Hartman, who sees Bridgeport as a blank slate, ready for creative urban renewal. Phil and his son Leon, who moved to the Park City after graduating from college and now helps manage the restaurant, hope to see Bridgeport grow with new retail spaces that are artistic and unique. To that end, Leon serves on the City Lights Gallery Board and Two Boots is contributing to the Seaside Arts Festival.