The city of Buffalo recently installed a plaque in the sidewalk at 770 Seneca Street, on Buffalo's blue collar east side.
Between 1946-1966, Big Joe's Tavern, run by sports star and local politician Joe Dudzick, teemed with life in a neighborhood that is now depressed. His son, playwright Tom Dudzick, reimagined his late dad's tap room and called it "Chet's Bar and Grill" in Over the Tavern, which was a smash at Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre when it premiered there in 1994.
The gentle comedy was universal enough to touch the hearts and memories of theatregoers around the nation, and the play was one of the most-produced titles in regional theatres in the 1990s. Over the Tavern and its two sequels have had more than 200 productions, large and small, in North America, the playwright told Playbill.com.
"Big Joe" Dudzick got his nickname for his height — 6 feet, 11 inches. He was (naturally) a basketball star at Canisius College during the Depression. In addition to pouring drinks at his watering hole (where his family lived upstairs — "over the tavern"), Big Joe served two terms as an at-large member of the Buffalo Common Council.
The first Over the Tavern play focuses on vivacious 12-year-old Rudy Pazinski (the playwright's young self), who sasses his parochial school teachers and impersonates Ed Sullivan. The three-story building was torn down in the 1980s; the site is now a parking lot for a business.
The Buffalo historical marker reads:
On This Spot
770 Seneca Street
Stood "Big Joe" Dudzick's Tavern (1946-1966),
Boyhood Home Of
Playwright Tom Dudzick,
Inspiration For "Chet's Bar and Grill," Immortalized
In His Play "Over the Tavern"
First Presented By
Studio Arena Theatre in 1994