In October 1979, weeks before opening a restaurant and bar at the Downtown intersection of Market Street and First Avenue, Steve “Froggy” Morris told The Pittsburgh Press that he was returning the site to its original use. Prior to the American Revolution, he said, a joint called Wilson’s Tavern sat on the corner.
We searched newspapers.com, and indeed we found a Wilson’s Tavern in an April 1845 newspaper listing of establishments burned in the Great Fire, which had devastated the city. But that bar was on Water Street, one block away. Maybe it had moved at some point earlier, or maybe Morris was pulling our leg. He was a great storyteller.
He once told Pittsburgh Press columnist Roy McHugh that he got into the bar business while a senior at the University of Pittsburgh in 1967. One night, he won $2,000 in a poker game. He used the winnings to buy a place called Bimbo’s, not far from the Pitt campus.
A few years later, Froggy — uh, sorry, we mean Morris — got his nickname. He had a custom of yelling at rowdy drunks. (“It’s a lot easier than punching them,” he said.) Amused customers thought his deep, gravely voice sounded something like a croak. At first, Morris wasn’t crazy about the name, but he eventually embraced it.
For the first few years of Froggy’s existence, he published “Froggy’s Diary of a Mad, Mad Saloon Keeper,” a whimsical newspaper advertisement in which he opined on topics ranging from baseball to local culture. “What I like about the symphony is the tap dancing,” he once wrote. He often dropped names of celebrity customers, although it could be difficult to tell when he was spinning a yarn.
“Bucco Phil Garner ordered me to have Froggy’s open by World Series time or he’ll cancel my tickets,” he said of the Pirates infielder shortly before the establishment’s opening. “Princess Grace wired us asking to reserve the second floor for opening night.”
Here’s one entry from 1981: “Preliminaries in a FROGGY SOUND-A-LIKE contest have eliminated 1,837 men, women and children who tried to imitate me.”
Morris also used the diary to announce special events and deals. In 1983, he furnished bus transportation for customers attending a Simon and Garfunkel concert at Three Rivers Stadium. At one point, WTAE Radio produced a Froggy radio show.
“A big fan of my singin’ on my WTAE DIARY Show is former-Prez Richard Nixon,” Morris wrote in July 1982. “He asked me to send him tapes of the Best of FROGGY’S Diary.”
Froggy’s closed in 2003; Morris died five years later. The building that once housed his bar and restaurant has stood empty for years. Courts prevented a developer from demolishing the place. The place of the Mad, Mad Saloon Keeper remains silent, boarded up and surrounded by a fence.