In 1976, Rudy and Judy Ross turned an old drugstore at the corner of 39th Street and Genessee into a fun and funky neighborhood hangout, the first "hip" joint on the block, which was downright gritty back then. The comfortable, tile-floored bar became so popular that it kicked off the commercial renaissance of this stretch of 39th Street, which is now known as Restaurant Row.
Ironically, food wasn't all that important in the early days, says Max Ross, the couple's 32-year-old son, who now helps run the joint. "There wasn't even a grill until 1981. They used to serve deli sandwiches and hot-plate dinners. It was really more of a bar in those days."
Fric & Frac has expanded in size over the past three decades, adding a large back room (which now boasts a pinball machine and two pool tables) and pumping up the menu, which offers an appealing selection of burgers, Philly sandwiches, salads and a $9.50 steak dinner on Tuesday and Friday nights (after 6:30 p.m.). You never know who you'll see eating a Red Neck Burger (topped with bacon, grilled onions, jalapeños and pepper-jack cheese) or sipping a cosmopolitan. Hanging out in the front room last week, I saw a Ward Parkway socialite, a young actress, two twentysomething skateboarders, a couple of lipstick lesbians and one of my least favorite former employers. But not all together, thank God.
A block or so to the west, the classy brunchette known as Room 39 (1719 West 39th Street) will start serving evening meals on Monday, February 13. Co-owner Ted Habiger says dinners will be served only Monday through Wednesday until March, when the restaurant will add Thursday nights, too. "The menu will be fairly small," Habiger says, "five or six appetizers, the same number of entrées and three desserts. Twelve wines by the glass, too."
Entrées at Room 39 will be priced between $15 and $22. So if you want a steak dinner for less than 10 bucks, you'll have to walk over to Fric & Frac.