Bruce Cooper’s cell phone rang sometime after 4 a.m. on July 15, 2016. The frantic voice on the other end told the veteran restaurateur that water was shooting out of the sidewalk in front of his dual-concept establishment, Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar, in Manayunk. A six-month closure and an almost $1 million insurance claim followed. “Did I mention I originally opened on Black Monday 1987—the day the stock market crashed?” he says.
Thankfully, the resilient chef’s been back in business since January of last year. Severe water damage and economic downturns aside, his eateries look and taste better than ever.
Jake’s remains warm and subdued, laid-back yet grown up. It still serves several of those baby-boomer classics that my parents, grandparents and I enjoyed years ago: portabella mushroom soup, duck-confit spring rolls, plump crab cakes, Bruce’s signature grilled calf’s liver, and a long-running selection of local cheeses.
Across the foyer is Jake’s millennial-aged brother, Cooper’s Wine Bar, which debuted in recessionary 2008. “I had to open it in order to keep Jake’s going,” says Cooper.
Cooper’s sleek and contemporary L-shaped layout offers a vibrant, 18-seat bar and lounge that lures pizza and wine lovers alike. The crispy pizzas come straight from the impressive wood-burning oven, which resides just beyond the rows of wine bottles standing at attention. Fontina, Parmesan and truffle aromas waft overhead, while a pop-music soundtrack resounds.
Both restaurants share the same menu, so you can order Jake’s rich chicken-liver mousse with crostini at Cooper’s or a savory French-onion pizza at Jake’s. The joint culinary vision ties the two distinctive atmospheres together, as does the owner’s thoughtfully priced selection of 40
Old World wines by the bottle—with close to 30 by the glass.
Almost five years ago, Cooper downscaled Jake’s. He removed the starchy linens from the tables and substantially lowered his prices. Yet he still managed to retain most of the beloved dishes, albeit in more modest portions. Other items were added for variety, like a raw bar with chilled shrimp, oysters and crudo, plus assorted shareables like briny cured olives and addictive malt-vinegar crisps. Cooper’s respectable desserts—think chocolate pot de crème and carrot cake—are still made in-house.
After three decades filled with happy customers but also hardship, Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar remain as relevant as ever. It’s a survivor’s story, with Bruce Cooper in the lead role as perhaps the hardest-working chef on Main Street. Whether you choose a timeless dish like duck à l’orange or a trendy pizza-and-wine pairing, you can dine like it’s 1987—or 2017.
4365 Main St., Philadelphia, (215) 483-0444, www.jakesandcoopers.com.