Good Times at Gerber’s
A restored neighborhood speakeasy connecting the community of Utica.
by Cassidy Hatch
Authenticity of place and making people in Utica feel good about where they live, that’s what’s important about Gerbers 1933 Tavern. Located at the corner of 16 Liberty Street, Gerber’s brings back the history of Utica into Baggs Square. All of the elements that make up Gerbers, the interior, the food, the drinks, the furniture, make Gerbers a unique and special place. Gerbers is a perfectly restored speakeasy that has a very rich history to it, not many people in Utica may know.
The building that houses Gerbers originally opened as Richmond’s Produce in 1848, as Globe Tobacco in 1856, as Daniel Batchelor’s Seed Company from 1856 – 1902, as Harry Gerber’s, Gerber’s Grill in 1933 and now is Mark Mojave’s Gerbers 1933 Tavern. I talked to Mark Mojave, the owner of Gerbers to find out more about what makes it so special to Utica. Mark Mojave, along with his wife Susan are residents here in Utica. Mark grew up in Whitesboro and moved to Utica when he was 11 and has called it home ever since.
I was curious to know why Mark decided to restore Gerbers in its original style rather than remodeling. Marks says, “I’m of the opinion that what identifies one successful community from another is authenticity of place.” Mark made sure that all original elements were kept while re-storing Gerbers. After digging up 4 layers of flooring, he discovered the original 1850s hardwood cherry floors and kept the Gerbers name because of the antique original light fixtures with Gerber daisies on the sides.
The Gerbers menu and branding also reflect the idea of bringing back history into Utica. Gerbers has an amended version of the original 1933 Gerbers Grill menu. The favorites are the fried bologna sandwich, an old school classic, they make a killer Reuben and feature a nice whiskey menu in honor of the original menu. Along with the food, they have new wooden Gerber’s labeled beer handles and wooden beer chips, good for one cold beer.
Gerber’s also wants to be an outlet for the community of local artists in Utica. For the past 3-4 months, Gerbers has featured a new artist/ artist’s every month and offered open gallery spaces to exhibit their work. They also have specialty drinks made for the artist (21 and older), Mark says “We talk to the artist, find out what they like, and feature a specialty cocktail just for that artists opening.” This is Gerber’s way of connecting to the community of Utica. Mark has additionally made Air B&Bs above Gerber’s for people to stay and visit Utica. Gerber’s in addition features live music whenever they can and also host smaller and intimate events. All of this is to help connect Gerber’s to the community and the community to Gerber’s.
To Mark, “art and music are a part of that.” He says, “this business has been part of this community for many decades with a rich, proud, and interesting history … The place that I want Gerbers to occupy in the community’s mind is that it’s a neighborhood gin joint, a nice one. It’s a place to gather, to stop on your way by or if you’re in town for a few days. You can come here, hang out, try some nice whiskey, have a good steak dinner or fried bologna, and you can’t go wrong. It’s simple, it’s to connect to the community and to make people feel good about where they live.” Mark is proud that Gerbers is a unique and special part of Utica’s history and it has the opportunity to become relevant again.