It’s going to take more than a global pandemic to take out this venerable Providence institution. Still going strong after half a century, Tortilla Flats on Hope Street has made several accommodations to allow for a safe return to business today (details below).
Tortilla Flats was founded by colorful concert promoter, and one-time candidate for mayor of Providence, Skip Chernov. This excerpt from Mike Stanton’s Prince of Providence can be found at Chernov’s entry on the Narragansett Beer Wall of Fame:
[Chernov] cut a deal with Narragansett Brewery to promote the Narragansett Tribal Rock series throughout New England, booking acts like the Band and Led Zeppelin. He opened a bar, the Incredible Organ, and a Mexican restaurant, Tortilla Flats, and bought and motorized a San Francisco cable car to ferry customers between the two. In 1971 he won New England closed-circuit television rights to the world heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and took in a million dollars. He bought a big house on the East Side with French gardens and a billiards room.
Stanton described Chernov in the ProJo which was serializing Prince of Providence:
With long, black curly hair falling to his shoulders and red velvet sports coats, Chernov bore a striking resemblance to Tiny Tim. He did drugs, drove a Bentley and cultivated a flamboyant hippie image that was the antithesis of the Irish-Catholic, shot-and-beer [Providence Mayor Joe] Doorley.
Chernov was quite a character.
So what can customers expect at the restaurant? From the Tortilla Flats Facebook page:
Bar seats will be first come, first serve. Once the bar is full, you can give your name to the hostess to be put on the wait list, just make sure to tell them you want the bar specifically. Unfortunately for the time being it won’t be like the old days where you could stand by the bar and wait for a seat. . . If it’s a nice night you’re welcome to wait outside, in your car or go for a walk and come back! We will text when your seats are ready. This will be the same for the dining room, which is the same way we used to do it.
The 1892 Olney Street Fire Station is noted for its “gabled roof section composed of stepped-up parapets.” (John Hutchins Cady)
Tortilla Flats, 355 Hope Street, (directions)