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A Bridgeport Dive Bar Launches a GoFundMe to Renew Its Liquor License

Bernice’s Tavern finds itself with a shortfall due to pandemic closure

A dimly lit dive bar with folks sitting on stools at a wooden bar, with light illuminating the liquor bottles.
Bernice’s Tavern’s owners are asking for the public’s help.
Lee Wooten/Flickr

Bernice’s Tavern, the tchotchke-filled dive bar that’s been serving Bridgeport for more than 50 years, has set up a GoFundMe to raise the $4,400 its owner says it needs to renew its liquor license.

“Our last city license got us only about 9 months of business instead of two years because of the pandemic,” owner Steve Badauskas explained on the GoFundMe page. “We are so happy to have had our doors open again but COVID took a bigger bite out of us than we thought and we need just a little more help to make it through this year.”

City records show Bernice’s last renewed its tavern liquor license in December 2019. That license expires on December 15 of this year. Badauskas wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The fundraiser launched on Friday and has, so far, raised more than $2,500. Liquor licenses come in different classifications. The basic bar, or “tavern” license for 2 a.m. bars costs $4,400 and is good for two years. Badauskas held another GoFundMe last year to raise money to cover utilities, stock, and dram shop insurance to maintain the liquor license while the bar was closed and raised $7,791. The bar reopened in March 2021, a year after shutting down on-premises service for the pandemic, and resumed its regular schedule of open mic nights and Wednesday bingo. Before reopening, Bernice’s sold to-go drinks after the state allowed the practice as a pandemic lifeline for struggling bars.

Originally known as Adam’s Place, the tavern has been on Halsted Street since Prohibition ended in 1933. John Badauskas, a bartender, took over operations when the original owner retired in 1965 and bought the building in 1975. When John took over, he renamed the tavern after his wife, Bernice, who was a fixture behind the bar until her death in 2017. “I came down one day... John asked me to watch the bar. And I never left,” she told the Chicago Reader in 2015.

Online fundraisers were widely used last year as restaurant and bars scrambled shortly after the government deployed COVID-19 restrictions. Some campaigns were more successful than others, and some felt race played a factor.