Mario’s Fishbowl has been filling Morgantown’s glasses for more than half a century.
If patrons of Morgantown’s neighborhood bar Mario’s Fishbowl had visited the block building in the 1950s, they would have found Tom and Anna Torch selling groceries and scooping ice cream at the Richwood Avenue Confectionary. But they’d recognize one treat—beer. The alcohol then took center stage when Mario and Rose Spina turned the business into a bar in 1963. Christened “fishbowls,” frosty beer goblets created by Morgantown Glass Works were forever memorialized as the hangout’s namesake.
In 1997, Mario’s Fishbowl changed hands to yet another duo: Mark and Karen Furfari. It remained a bar, but the new owners added their own flavors. While Mario served hot dogs and meatball subs, the Furfaris concocted baked Italian hoagies and cheddar cheesesteak sandwiches to satisfy the hungriest of WVU game-day appetites.
No bar would be complete without chicken wings. Mario’s Fishbowl dressed theirs with homemade sauces: mild and honey BBQ for conservative wing-eaters or sweet chile habanero and hot garlic for the more daring. In 2012, the other side of Morgantown also got a taste when a second location opened in the Suncrest neighborhood.
The Furfaris retired two years ago and passed on the business to five of their longtime employees. Together, the group has more than 60 years of experience at Mario’s Fishbowl. “One of the best parts of us all being here as partners for so long is that we have an appreciation of Mario’s Fishbowl and its tradition,” says Kim Zweibaum, one of the co-owners.
The original Richwood Avenue building speaks of its storied past. Sit down to grab one of the 16 beers on tap—a mix of nationwide and West Virginia–brewed brands—or a house-made sangria, and you’ll still get it in an ice-cold fishbowl. What should you expect of your inaugural fishbowl experience? “It’s kind of like your first trip to Disney World,” Zweibaum laughs. “It’s the best feeling in the world to see how happy people get.”
But the Mario’s experience is more than just the frosty fishbowls—the ambience wraps its arms around you like a long lost friend. The eclectic decor of scribbled napkins, autographed walls, and assorted papers started with Mario, says fellow co-owner Greg Craddock. Mario would invent a daily riddle, hang it, and award the first correct guesser with a free beer. Original menu signs continue to advertise 25 cent meatball subs and 35 cent meat and cheese platters.
Customers soon added their own memorabilia, some of which announce strange eating and drinking competitions. Some document contests where groups of friends try to see who can collectively polish off the most fishbowls. Others, who can suck up a fishbowl through a rolled dollar bill. Or—in one of the more stomach-turning competitions—who could drink a fishbowl filled with wing sauce. These make up just a few of the odd love letters written to the neighborhood hangout that’s served the city for over half a century.
And Mario’s Fishbowl casts a wide net. “I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that I’ve had a Fishbowl shirt on and not had someone approach me during the day and say, ‘Oh, I know Mario’s Fishbowl,” Craddock says.
Whether serving blue-and-gold–clad alumni, new-to-town college students, or a local family of five, the current group of owners continues to write a chapter in the community’s history. “Although some roads have changed and there’s new hotels or new businesses,” Craddock says, “people know that when they roll into Morgantown, Mario’s Fishbowl is going to be there.” 704 Richwood Avenue, 304.292.2511; 3117 University Avenue, 304.599.4309; mariosfishbowl.com
Photograph courtesy of Katie Hanlon