Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Long distance information, give me Memphis...Taproom

Memphis Taproom is open.

We've all been waiting for this, some longer than others. Brendan "Spanky" Hartranft and Leigh Maida, business and life partners (and sappy as that sounds, they make it work), opened the booger tonight. Was it early, was it late? "Brother, it was about as late as it could get," said Brendan. "I never worked so hard without getting paid!" Leigh laughed, really happy to see the door open.

I'll be honest: I think it was the first time I've ever been on Cumberland St., although I've crossed it plenty of times, it's not far from Yards -- er, I mean, Philadelphia Brewing. Both breweries were represented on the taps, by the way: Kenzinger and Philly Pale. O'Reilly's Stout was on, too, Sprecher Black Bavarian, Nodding Head Melvin (Melvin? I asked Curt Decker. "Yeah," said Curt with his constant wry grin, "one more in a series of one-offs." It was a pretty nice hoppy ale, one -- like most Nodding Head beers -- I'd be happy to drink all night), Popperinge Hommelbier, Ace Pear cider, Rogue Buckwheat, Monk's Sour, and one more I just can't remember. Curt told me the beer engine had just come in today, so that will be added soon.

We sampled some hush puppies, some french fries, but I wasn't really there to eat. I was there to catch the vibe, and it was live. Brendan's parents were there, Bill and Sheila, and just proud as could be. Everyone was happy to see the place open; as I said, some of us have been waiting for this a long time.

Brendan's about 30; I met him 12 years ago, when he was a waiter at the Blue Ox, and he was a hustler then, moving, learning, asking, offering, making the table happen. He found out I was a beer writer, and he asked me questions all night. I like to say I knew he was going places, and the truth is, I did. I followed his progress through various Philly bars -- he stayed in touch and made that easy -- and he reached that point at Nodding Head where there was only one place he could go: out on his own.

He's there, and in a perfect position for Spanky: Fort Apache. The neighborhood -- "Port Fishington," at the intersection of Fishtown, Port Richmond, and Kenzington -- is actually nice: small, neatly kept rowhomes, clean streets, families on the sidewalks (free parking, as I pointed out to Curt Decker). But it's Fort Apache for beer: he's an outpost, like the Grey Lodge has been for years. There's nothing else around (not quite correct: see the comment from Mr. Thursday, and a tip of the hat to him for it), and he's going to have to get local trade to survive. I don't think that's going to be a problem. Spanky will make it happen, and before they know it, Port Fishington residents are going to be drinking Kenzinger, and O'Reilly's, and Ace Pear, and not even blinking an eye (prices aren't bad for Philly, either: $4 for a pint of good craft beer).

He's got plenty of backup: note the crew on the corner (that's Jimmy Wiggins, craft beer guy from Origlio Beverage, Tom and Fergie of Monk's Cafe along with chef Adam Glickman, and the aforementioned Curt Decker, all taking a break from the hustle and flow inside). But this is going to be Brendan and Leigh, making things work. The place is a beautiful corner bar, the kind of place that makes me kick myself for settling in the suburbs. The menu looks great, the beer will be excellent, and the service will be top-notch, I promise. Get on down, brother (you too, sister), and you won't be disappointed.

12 comments:

Stephen Beaumont said...

The Philly Beer Mafia extends its iron grip yet again! Congrats Spanky and Leigh! See you next time I'm in town.

Lew Bryson said...

Indeed! Cadet branches of The Family moving out into new territory, proteges being groomed, cross-fertilization...

The talk during Philly Beer Week of Philly being the kind of town where you can find craft in any bar irked and amused me: go to northeast Philly, west Philly, south Philly, and you can find bars with nary a beer clue pretty damned easily. Two things are changing that, and you can see both of them in that second picture.

The Philly Beer Mafia -- not all of whom are pictured here, and not all of whom are part of the Peters-Carey-Decker Axis -- are pushing into new neighborhoods, the "Fort Apache" thing I referenced. Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda's, Grace Tavern, POPE, SPTR...taking craft beer where craft beer's never gone before. And once it gets there, it tends to spread. (Actually, that's not quite fair: 700 had craft beer in NoLib way before Standard Tap, and of course, Poor Henry's was there...for a while.)

The other factor is symbolized by the presence of Origlio-folk Michael Gray and Jimmy Wiggins at last night's opening: the big wholesalers in the Philly market have recognized the power of craft in this metro area, and they're diving in -- diving in smart this time, after some disasters in their past.

So what? Well, so they are using their savvy sales staff to push craft into bars and neighborhoods that never saw it before, they are driving real growth for craft in this market, because they've seen the returns it brings, the stuff we've been preaching for years: craft means better margins; drink less, drink better; craft complements more kinds of food; craft belongs in upscale restaurants and chefs love it.

An auspicious evening indeed. This may be a blog post all its own. Thanks, Steve!

Mr. Thursday said...

I think it's inaccurate to say "there's nothing else around" for beer. Just a few blocks away is Atlantis, which serves local craft stuff, and slightly farther (though still in walking distance) in the other direction, is the Green Rock Tavern, which is a fine place to snag a craft brew, too.

Neither of these places has the reputation that the Memphis Taproom already possesses, and neither serves the same quality of food that MT is expected to, but, for some good company, and good craft beer, both places are great neighborhood bars.

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks for the correction, MT; that kind of shout-out is always welcome. I'm just not as familiar with this neck of Philly as I should be, not sure of where I am in relationship to things I know. Nancy Barton told me I should get my ass to Atlantis; guess I'll have to check out Green Rock. I like bars. Thanks!

Rustmeister said...

Damn,

I thought Memphis was getting another beer place....

Kevin said...

I don't know if I have ever been more jealous of people in a community. I really wish I lived within a block or two of here. I stopped in this afternoon on my way home from a meeting. While there at least 5 people from the area stopped in just to see what the place was like and said they would be back in when their spouses got home from work. I think and hope the place will be successful. Great beer great food, great people, and great neighbors.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Oh, god, 700......... I remember hitting that place back in, what the hell was it, 1994 or thereabouts, when it was the best beer selection in the area, seemingly, and the Foodery was still a dive of a corner convenience store with a jaw-dropping selection.

Lew, according to the Philadelphia Weekly, it appears your next assignment is Teresa's Next Door in Wayne. 26 taps, half of them Belgian, and 200+ bottles.

Lew Bryson said...

Sandy,
Once again, Philly Weekly is way behind my curve:

http://lewbryson.blogspot.com/2008/01/green-flash-ipa-ridgeway-ipa.html

And that's the third time I'd been there, not counting the time I visited before they opened. Teresa's vaulted into the top tier of beer bars the day they opened; the food is quickly catching up.

Ron Pattinson said...

Love the terraced housing in the background of the photo. But I can't quite make out the bond of the brickwork. Which bond do they usually use for such houses?

Lew Bryson said...

Mom!

Ron's geeking again!

Anonymous said...

yes, atlantis--the Lost Bar-- has been pouring good beer for a while now, most PBC productsalways on tap. atlantis has no food, but you can order in whatever you want...

The Green Rock Tavern has good beers AND good food, they have a sweet little older lady chef--I mean like 4'10"--that makes a variety of killer plates to include local keilbasa and pierogies, local italian sausage on good bread, etc. I would put her bar food up against any competitors--including what I tasted at the memphis tap room opening night, she uses good local stuff and cooks it well.

I would argue that atlantis and green rock are the "local" bars for the newer generation in the 'hood that happen to serve good beers and very decent food--in the case of green rock.

Memphis Tap Room--so far, seems to be focused on beer for beer geeks--it's tough to have a true "local" bar in fishtown/kensington if you are not pouring kenzinger 24/7. I wonder how the whole thing will shake out once the beer geeks at the home brew fest go home and the bar has to rely on the "i want to drink 6-12 pints of local--eg NOT from wilkes-barre-- beer tonight and not wake up with a hangover tomorrow" crowd.

In any case, it is truly nice to have such a good selection of bars/beers all of the sudden, and Brendan is one of the best people in the bar scene. so glad he has brought his ass to the 'hood. I am sure he will do well cause he deserves it for being a righteous bartender and decent person...

Lew Bryson said...

Given that Memphis isn't even open a week yet...I'm sure Brendan and Leigh are wondering how the whole thing will shake out, too. I don't think 'beer geeks' keep ANY bar open, or any brewpub, for that matter. You've got to have locals (except for the obvious places: tourist areas, in airports and the like) to stay open. It looked to me like they were off to a good start. Brendan is the kind of honest, hard-working guy that will appeal to locals. It's not an issue of being better than the established places, it's about being different and offering a choice. It looks like PBC and Yards have taps at Memphis for the foreseeable future. It's not competition, it's about adding to a neighborhood. I love the location: smack-dab in the middle of homes. I strongly suspect that Memphis will be a much better neighbor than some corner bars, too.

(You've got a real problem with The Lion, don't you, buddy?)