Mort Wernik, longtime owner of local LGBT bar Uncles, died April 21. He was 73.
Wernik had been battling pancreatic cancer for the past several months.
Wernik opened Uncles, 1220 Locust St., 25 years ago and, earlier this month, took part in the bar’s anniversary celebration.
A native of Metuchen, N.J., Wernik was a graduate of the college of pharmacy at the University of Pennsylvania and moved to Philadelphia in the late ’70s.
Although he was a licensed pharmacist, Wernik was drawn to the city’s LGBT nightlife and opened Season’s Bar on Drury Lane and Back Street Baths on Chancellor Street.
Joe Brazill, manager of Uncles who worked at the bar for the past 21 years, said that while neither of Wernik’s initial LGBT endeavors survived, his “next adventure,” Uncles, obviously had staying power.
Brazill said he’s unsure what will happen to Uncles but that Wernik’s family will be involved in the decision-making process. He believes they may leave the establishment as it is.
Brazill said that when Uncles opened in 1984, it also housed a restaurant, which closed after about 10 years, while the rest of the bar continued to evolve into the neighborhood hangout it is today.
Brazill noted that Wernik’s dedication to the LGBT community was evident through his treatment of his staff and the bar’s patrons.
“He was a good and caring person and a good person to work for,” Brazill said. “He did a lot for the entire gay community.”
Tony Lantz, a bartender at Uncles for the past five years, said Wernik had a straightforward attitude that made him a pleasure to work for.
“At work, if you knew what you were doing, he left you alone, and he was very blunt — either he liked you or he didn’t like you,” Lantz said. “But he was an extremely kind and compassionate person. He was a wonderful man and a great person to work for, a great boss.”
Franny Price, president of Philly Pride Presents, noted that Wernik was highly active in the LGBT community but often chose not to step into the spotlight and take credit for his work.
“Mort was one of those people that I don’t think people realized all the things he’s done for the community. He was a behind-the-scenes type of guy,” Price said.
She added that before Wernik converted the upstairs level of Uncles into an inn, he let the local town watch use the rooms as a home base.
Price said that Wernik, the former president of a now-defunct Philadelphia LGBT business alliance, also opened up the establishment for a drag-show series she was involved with in the early ’90s and, more recently, hosted a large birthday party for local drag queen Les Harrison, for which Wernik did a lot of the cooking.
“Whenever there was anything going on in the community, he always called someone to find out what he could do,” Price said. “He cared so much about the community and was always there, but he didn’t have to be getting all the glory.”
Wernik, an avid traveler who frequented the theater and enjoyed vacations at his beach house in Atlantic City, provided volunteer and monetary contributions to numerous local organizations, such as the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutritional Alliance.
Jeff Sotland, commissioner of the City of Brotherly Love Softball League, said Uncles was a longtime sponsor of the league and Wernik’s support of CBLSL exemplified his extensive community involvement.
“Mort was a great friend to the softball league and the community in general,” Sotland said. “We will miss him and his personality that has been a constant in the City of Brotherly Love for decades. It is with his passing that a friend will be missed, but not forgotten.”
Wernik’s funeral was yesterday at the Temple Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., with burial at Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge, N.J.
Wernik is survived by brothers David, Malcolm and Rabbi Joseph, sister Charlotte Sheratsky and many nieces and nephews.
The family will observe Shiva and receive guests beginning at noon April 26 through 10 a.m. April 29 at Wernik’s home, the Residence at Liberty II, suite 4002, 50 S. 16th St.
Memorial contributions in Wernik’s name can be made to MANNA, P.O. Box 30181, Philadelphia, PA 19103 or to the Jerusalem Open House, P.O. Box 2652, Jerusalem, Israel, 91026.