The Making of Charlie Was a Sinner, Part 1

Nicole Marquis (left) and her director of operations, Michelle Soda, review ideas for Charlie Was a Sinner at Canno Design's office.

Part 1

About two years ago, Nicole Marquis, an enterprising young woman with a background as a server and restaurant manager, met with Center City Realtor Allan Domb. 

She had an idea for a vegan fast-food restaurant - a concept that the city lacked.

Domb, who owns or controls a staggering 189,624 square feet of retail space in Center City, had an empty former noodle shop on 18th Street just north of Rittenhouse Square. And so in April 2012, Marquis opened HipCityVeg. Instant, line-out-the-door success. A second location opened in late 2013 in University City.

Marquis, crossing age 30, wanted something more refined and grown up: a bar that served vegan food.

Domb had his eye on a long-vacant building on 13th Street near Sansom, a neighborhood that sank into a drug-and-hustle seediness in the 1960s but saw the beginnings of a revival about 10 years ago. "Midtown Village," as this slice of Washington Square West is known, is now one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Center City.

Full Moon Saloon at 131 S. 13th St. had fallen on hard times in its final years. The top floors of its building at one time had been residential. More recently? Let's just say that if the walls could talk, these would moan loudly.

Neighboring buildings had been restored. An adult bookstore, a holdover, is next door on an otherwise solid block with El Vez on the corner, Vintage wine bar next door, and Sampan iacross the street.

Clearly, 131 S. 13th needed a hero.

That would be Domb. After another chat with Marquis, he bought the building. Apartments will go upstairs.

This spring, what was the Full Moon on the ground floor will become that vegan bar from Marquis.  

Surrounding the project with an air of whimsy and mystery, Marquis is calling it Charlie Was a Sinner - 42 seats in a narrow footprint. "It's not a restaurant that has a bar," Marquis said. "This is a bar."

Marquis began interviewing interior designers. Through Judy Spielman, whose specialty is designing restaurant kitchens, she got to Gabrielle Canno at Canno Design, whose office happens to be less than a block away.

Canno and designers Carey Jackson Yonce and Trudy Watt quickly understood Marquis' idea: an edgy tribute to literature and movies. "Femininity is there, though with darker overtones," Gabrielle Canno explained.

In coming weeks, we'll follow the process.