Category Archives: Philadelphia

Let Me Tell You About My Favorite Place

Some famous writer once wrote about their favorite bar.  About how the customers were down to earth and funny and interesting.  The beer was good.  The food was delicious.  The prices were reasonable, if not downright cheap.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable and accommodating.  The TVs always played what he wanted to see.  The music was never overpowering, and always good.  And then the famous writer revealed that no such bar existed.  In point of fact, he had created the bar by using the best attributes of his favorite four or so bars.

My friends, this bar exists.

Philadelphia is theorized to be one of the very best beer-drinking cities in the country, if not the world.  Michael Jackson, who is, perhaps, the patron saint of craft beer, once called Philadelphia the “Brussels of the West”.  Brussels, of course, is home to so many of the great Belgian crafts.  More Belgian beer is consumed now in Philadelphia, each year, than it is in Brussels.  There are a lot of good bars here. 

Monk’s gets a lot of love for having been at the Philly beer scene from the beginning.  The food is hit and miss, though the fries (excuse, frietjes) are always pleasant.  The beer is rare and extraordinary, but because of both those qualities, it’s also expensive.  The staff has a reputation for being unpleasant.  That hasn’t been my experience, but I wouldn’t call them chummy.  Is there music or TV?  I don’t know.  The place is often crowded.  So often crowded.  It’s a place to which someone Goes.  People from other states and countries go to Monk’s. And a few other bars of taken to joining them in spirit, if not history, like Eulogy with its 300 beer menu, and in the suburbs, Teresa‘s with their high-falutin’ taps chosen special by Beer Yard owner and brew demi-god Matt Goyer.

There are places like Johnny Brenda’s and the Standard Tap, who have godfathered the Philly gastropub phenomenon.  Good beer deserves good food, after all.  And they’ll always win a few people for being diehard in their commitment to local beer.  Bands will play there (or, at least, at JB’s).  You’ll like some of them, but live music does beat the stuff piped in.  But the place is dark and the staff can be as condescending as they are funny.

Of course there are the few, the proud, the Philadelphia brewpubs.  To the Yunk likes the Manayunk Brewpub, who are known for their fruity beers.  Not lambics, but fruity and sweet.  They’re part of that college scene, and among the brew faithful, more lovely might be given to the nearby Dawson St Pub.  Then there’s Triumph in Old City.  Part of a chain of mediocre brewpubs.  The architecture and music are more reminiscent of a club than a daily attended bar, while the food ranges from disappointing to acceptable, and the staff is barely competent.  In west Philly is the newest incarnation of Dock Street Brewing, which had good (though stylistically constant) beer, and inconsistent pizza, as well as a staff that seems to undergo wholesale changes every time I’m in.  The king of them all is the Nodding Head in Center City, with its legendary staffers, its big claim-to-fame (more NH Berliner Weisse consumed is consumed than any other kind, including those in Germany), its good food and music.  The only downsides, of course, are that it’s in CC, so it’s definitely pricey, probably far, and always crowded.

There is something for everyone in Philly, or at least, there’s a beer bar for any kind of beer you’d want, especially if you like your beer big and rare.

But let me tell you about the best bar in Philadelphia.  It’s in a part of Philadelphia which, depending on who you ask, is Fishtown, or East Kensington, or Port Richmond.  It’s a decently old brick building right where the southbound 25 bus intersects the eastbound 39.  The Memphis Taproom only opened in April, I think, but it might be the best bar in Philadelphia.

I have to admit–part of this proclamation might be geographic.  I live walking distance from the Taproom, which is great if I just want to pop in for a quick, or, if I have a marathon session, I can stumble home without concern.  I imagine the kinds of things I’m about to say about my favorite bar have some variation when people talk about the Gray Lodge, or the aforementioned Dawson Street, or the South Philly Taproom, or plenty of other places.  But outside of that distance, I don’t have any special relationship to the place.  I don’t work there.  I don’t get free food or drinks there.  I don’t know the owners or the staff, except in how I’ve gotten to know them by being at the bar so very often.

The place is owned by Brendan Hartranft, who used to help run the show at Nodding Head, and who is known in Philly as “Spanky”.  The guy introduced himself to me as Brendan, though, and so that’s what I call him.  Either he or his wife Leigh have been in the bar literally every time I’ve been there.  And I’ve been there a lot.  Both of them appear tireless, and, clearly, both have lively senses of humor.  They’ve managed to find a staff of excellent bartenders, like John, the daytime fella, who is the archtypal Everyman.  He’ll chat you up, he’ll leave you alone, whatever you’d like, and he’ll make sure you always have a fresh pint in front of ya.  Jess is there in evenings and weekend, often enough, draped in a tattooed map of the world.  After she started working there I found out she lives across the street from me, and have met her beau, Verne.  It might sound redundant, but good owners beget good staff, and good staff seems to beget good customers.  This is the kind of bar you can have a seat at the bar, and jump into the conversations around you without feeling like you’re intruding.  You wanna try that big bottle of beer over there, but don’t have anyone to share it with?  Fear not.  There’s someone who will happily split both the cost and the contents with you.

The prices have been designed to compete with the Applebee’s a few blocks down.  Entrees range from 8-15 dollars, or so.  The food is, at worst, pretty good, and at best, sublime.  Hitting the highlights: their ALT (that’s avacado-lettuce-tomato) might beat any BLT I’ve ever had; the Beef and Onion Pasties combine the sweetness of beef and onion with a salty pocket that balances as nicely as the malt in hops in your beer; King Rarebit with eggs and toast of Old Peculiar fondue…immaculate; they have vegan French Toast that goes down as wonderfully as any egg laden FT you’ll find; and the Port Richmond platter is the absolute best way to over-fill your stomach in the city.

Hartranft is sort’ve obsessed with Elvis Costello, so Declan MacManus gets a lot of play in the bar.  As does musical overlord Tom Waits, and spice appears in Fugazi and David Bowie and every other band you might love.  And if you don’t, fear not.  They keep the music loud enough that you can hear it, but not so loud that you must hear it.  There is one TV, but it’s big enough, and it’s got the sound off.  And it is almost always showing That Local Sporting Club.  Phillies games, Flyers games, plus the Tour de France, soccer games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Eagles and Sixers games show up this fall there.  But, again, the sound if off.  You don’t want the TV, you don’t need the TV.

As for the beer, the philosophy there is different than a lot of the reputable places in the city.  There’s certainly no specific regional emphasis.  Beers will come from anywhere malt gets fermented, apparently, although there will always be one tap for the Philly Brewing Co which plies their trade just a few blocks away, and Sly Fox, which is, according to the owner, the best brewer in the area.  The rest of the taps and bottles seemed to be left to uncovering hidden gems.  Which is not, necessarily, to say RARE gems.  Yesterday, the gem meant Iron Hill’s Anvil Ale on the gravity cask.  The brew is an English Bitter, with loads of floral and grapefruit hops scents, but just a hint of their bite, and a rounding sweetness.  A great sipping beer, but the style isn’t bold or exciting, the alcohol content isn’t absurdly high, and, to the best of my knowledge, the beer isn’t oak aged or wildly fermented.  It’s just a perfectly balanced, well designed, well crafted beer that should drink just as well for the beer snob with Cantillon bottles in his basement (this guy) as it would for the middle aged guy who normally drinks Yuengling (the guy next to me at the bar yesterday).

Otherwise, special beers have included the Laurelwood Deranger Red, which apparently is pretty rare, even in Portland, but, again, doesn’t sport the popular style, nor is it known for the expensive fermentation process or the high booze content.  Sprecher’s Black Bavarian black lager is a creamy, roasted malty brew, which tastes like the best Russian Imperial Stout you’ve ever had, but with half the alcohol content, not to mention a lack of sticky flavors and syrupy consistency.  The surprise beers might be brews you’ve barely heard of, but didn’t realize how good they were until you finally drink them at the bar at the corner of Memphis and Cumberland.

Beautiful people, this is the best bar in the city.  Get yourselves to the Memphis Taproom.

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Cleveland and Philadelphia: Bosom Buddies

So, yesterday, I linked to a post on ShysterBall, which featured the deranged rantings of yours truly.  Shyster had written a post earlier in the day about championship futility.  I wanted to chime in with my two cents, but, in typical Curious Mechanism fashion, my two cents turned into 8.95, and I had to email the comments to Craig (that is, Shyster hisself), who later posted them.

Well, in the comments on the post, there can be found this comment:

Blogger Peter said…
Dear Philadelphia,

Call me in 2024, when you’ve gone 44 years without a championship in a major sport.

Sincerely,
Cleveland

So, Peter, this post is for you, mostly.
They say that misery loves company, and thus, I ask, why must you belittle my misery?  I don’t know you, but I know I can understand your pain, as no Philadelphia teams have won a championship in my lifetime.  Let us commiserate together.

Obviously, there’s a high degree of subjectivity in talking about the “most futile” franchises.  Cleveland has seen (I think) 137 seasons pass since its last championship, between the Tribe, the Browns, and the Cavaliers.  That hurts.  Philadelphia, between the Sixers, Phils, Eagles, and Flyers have suffered 100 losing seasons.  I don’t think any other cities are particularly close to us.

I wouldn’t want to argue which town’s sporting life is more worthy of mourning and pity.  That kind of thing seems to me more life a cry for attention–we’re not arguing over the respective glories of a team.  We’re arguing who’s had the rougher fan-life.  Any victory would be, undoubtedly, Pyrrhic.  I don’t knock the suffering of Cleveland or Boston or any other fans in my email.  The closest I come to it is a bit of a knock on Dan Shaughnessy, but I don’t mean that to say that Red Sox fans weren’t suffering.  I’m sure they did.  I meant to belittle the idea of a “curse”.

To me, the idea of a curse is to glorify a lousy team, or many years of lousy teams.  It’s a device to make fans feel better about their lot by throwing undue attention about the pale basement dwelling team to which they’ve given their time, money, lungs, and spirit.  While Boston might have been gloriously cursed (by Babe Ruth, no less), and the Cubs have long been the Lovable Losers, the Phillies, and by extension, their fans, have mostly lived in either anonymity, or in the enmity of other fans.

From where I sit, Cleveland’s had plenty to be upset about, even aside from the number of years and seasons of losing.  I can only imagine what it’s like to hear the ESPN talking heads pontificate on how native son LeBron James will someday soon leave his hometown team for the Big Money, Big Market, Big Fame.  It must sound like a reminder that Cleveland Just Isn’t Good Enough.

The Tribe is a team that has seen more than its fair share of awful squads, and if you go back in history, you can’t help but notice the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who sported, I believe, the lowest winning percentage in baseball history (an unnecessarily brutal .130 mark).  Over the past decade, things have more or less been looking up, teamwise, though the amount of flak the team takes for Chief Wahoo seems to be gradually increasing.  I can only guess at what it’s like to reminded that you’re rooting for a team whose founding racism is so front and center at all times.

The Browns…  Okay, I’ll be honest.  I don’t follow the NFL very much, and I especially don’t really follow the AFC, so I can’t speak much to the mind-numbing experience of rooting for the Browns.  But, from my distant perch, the Browns have always seemed to me to be football’s Cubs–that is, the Lovable Losers.  You’ve got the Dawg Pound, right?  And the teams have had a few outstanding players since 1964, but not enough good ones around them to do much.  Of course, there are those legendary losses, and I imagine that “John Elway” tastes sour on your lips.

I’m 24 years old.  I was a fetus when the Sixers won Philadelphia’s last championship.  I don’t know if my sporting experience would be more infuriating and depressing and relentlessly addicting in Cleveland than in Philly.  Honestly, I don’t.  My best guess is that it wouldn’t be harder or easier, just different.

I’ve long felt a kinship to the sports fans in Cleveland.  No other city, I think, understands the drowning feeling of rooting for losing teams year round.  Boston had the Patriots, and before them, the Celtics to keep things happy while the Red Sox lost.  Chicago had the Bulls.  But Philly and The Cleve, Peter, they only have each other.

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1-2

040308_phils270.jpgIn a nail-biter, the Phils staved off getting swept in the opening series for at least the third season in a row (I am not up to checking if they did it in 2005).  Certainly, they didn’t make it easy.  A quick recap:

Old Man Moyer takes the mound for the Phils, and promptly got shellacked to the discordant tune of 5 first inning runs at the hands of just about everyone on the Nationals.  It’s always a treat when the hometown fans get to see the opposing pitcher batting before they see him pitching.  According to Tom McCarthy, one of the horses on the Phillies’ carousel of game callers, after the inning, Mr Thursday favorite Pat Burrell could be heard encouraging his teammates: “No worries, plenty of time left.  Plenty of time.”  Of course, by the time he finished those words, the Phillies had already gone down in order, and Pat hat to grab his glove and head back to the field.

The second inning, though without additionally scoring from the Nationals, was terrifying enough as Moyer reloaded the bases, and reached down into wherever Crafty Wizened Veterans reach when they need a lot of damn luck.  He escaped the jam.  The Phils did nothing in the 2nd, and the Nationals did likewise in the top of the third.

In the bottom of the inning, Chris Coste lifted the spirits of Philadelphians everywhere, ever so slightly, as he slapped the first pitch he saw in the 2008 season over the left field wall.  The Legend of Chris Coste continued, but everyone thereafter found their way to some quiet outs.

In the forth, Moyer found himself in trouble yet again, and this time Charlie Manuel gave him the hook, bringing in one of the Flying Durbins (JD?  Chad?  Does it matter that I don’t know which one?), who miraculously kept things from getting any worse.  Two innings go by quietly, with the only thing changing were the chances that the Phils would make a comeback.

And then came the sixth inning, when the the Phillies and their mighty power hitters strung together half a dozen sissy singles to kill the Nationals lead, leaving themselves on top, 7-6.  In the 8th, the Nationals tied things up on their own string of soft hits.  The Phils threatened again in the bottom frame, eventually leading Luis Ayala to intentionally walk both Utley and Howard–loading the bases–to get to Jayson Werth, who, disappointingly, couldn’t capitalize on the bizarre strategy of giving free passes to two guys in a row to bring up a hitter who is still pretty good.

The game went to extra innings, which, of course, brought about one of the more bizarre and fabulous game endings in recent memory.  Jimmy Rollins, who is, apparently, irresistable with the game on the line, grounded to second base, but screamed up the line and managed to reach when Ronnie Belliard’s throw pulled Nick Johnson from the first base bag.  Next up, Shane Victorino dropped a bunt right in front of the plate.  Third basemen Ryan Zimmerman, who already has 2 game winning home runs this young season, fielded the ball and made a strong and clean throw to first to out the Flyin’ Hawaiian.  Rollins, meanwhile, didn’t even pause at second base, and advanced from first to third on a bunt.  Recalling Harry Kalas’ wild declaration when Chase Utley scored from second on a bunt, let me say: “Jimmy Rollins, you are the man”.  With two bases left open, the Phils two best hitters, Utley and Howard were intentionally walked.  Both of them.  For the second time.  This time, the strategy made more sense, as any run ends the game, and it’s easier to have a force at home than a tag play.  However, Jesus Colombe couldn’t recover from throwing ball after ball, and couldn’t find the strike zone at all with Jayson Werth.  Werth made up for failing to capitalize on a bases loaded situation earlier, and he didn’t even have to take the bat off his shoulder to do it.  Four pitches, all balls, and Werth jogged to first while Rollins jogged on home to claim victory.

Really, if you’re going to wait 3 games to get your first win of the season, you can’t do it much better than that.  Lots, and lots of fun, even as we ignore the possibility that Jamie Moyer may be thoroughly washed up.

Coming very soon: Mr Thursday makes his first foray into Major League Baseball’s Pitch F/x data.  We’ll talk about Cole Hamels’ first start, with some interesting charts and half baked observations.  For tonight, we enjoy pizza, and winning.

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0-1

lego-citizens-bank-park-of.jpg

Our long national nightmare has begun, again. My heart is as empty as this Lego Citizens Bank Park, which is, obviously, more sturdy than the Phillies’ pitching. Sure, the Phils lost their first game last year, and that team made the playoffs. Of course, they were 0-1 here, too (shucks), though not this year (double shucks), or this year (damn), though, terrifyingly, they did lose their first game this year.

Will the Phillies rebound tomorrow? No, no, they won’t. Because Major League Baseball is a prude, the Phillies have lost today, and will take tomorrow off so we, the wretched masses, can twist on our hooks for just a few hours more, before our team seeks out ways both ancient and novel to enthrall or disgust us. Super.

Will we keep tabs on the Phillies in this space this summer? It’s too early to tell whether the delights and defeats of the national pastime will lend themselves to this sort of storytelling, or if we’ll just take the sorrow of our meager expectations (prediction: the Phils will miss the playoffs) internally.

While sitting in the family abode watching the opening games with brother Goose (speaking of which, prediction #2: the Royals will win more games this season than the White Sox), I remembered the joy that comes with baseball. Sitting in that same abode several hours later, with no one but me and Tom Gordon, I remembered why I hate baseball with a sort of oozing, black, vulgar obsession, too.

Cole Hamels pitches on Wednesday. As always, I’m predicting (#3) a no-hitter.

(Hat tip to Home Run Derby for the pic)

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The Professor, in the Library, with the Message

Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia yesterday, and signed copies of his book, “Creating a World Without Poverty”.  Hopefully, a bit later, we’ll have a little report on his speech, his message, and, perhaps, some commentary on the larger issues.  Maybe later today.  Maybe tomorrow.

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Ed Wade Continues to Bring Veteran Relievers to Phillies

Astros (and former Phillies) GM Ed Wade completed a trade with current Phils GM Pat Gillick last night, sending Geoff Geary, Michael Bourn, and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo to Houston for closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett.  [Link]

Personally?  It’s hard to tell what’s happening with Lidge.  His numbers were mostly good in 2006, though his home run rate was elevated, and his general luck worsened, and posted a hefty 5.28 ERA.  Last year, his K/9 rate was down, and his home run rate was almost identical to 2007, and yet the ERA dropped to a nice 3.36.  The question is, of course, whether Costanzo or Bourn turn into league average every day players.  Costanzo is a slugging third basemen with a pretty good eye at the plate, but he’s a catastrophe in the field, and will likely have to be moved to first base or left field.  Plus, there is, apparently, some question about whether his swing translates to the majors.  Bourn is a very light hitting speedster, who may or may not have some semblance of plate discipline.  He’s certainly a good baserunner, and appears to be an above average defensive outfielder, but I have serious reservations about whether his bat can play every day in the majors.  Given Costanzo’s and Bourn’s 11 combined years until free agency versus Lidge’s 1, it would seem that if either Bourn or Costanzo pan out in the majors, Houston gets the better end of the deal.

For the time being Brett Myers will move back into the Phillies rotation, and Lidge will assume closer duties.

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Nutter Wins Race, Philadelphia Declared ‘Utopia”

Michael Nutter is Philadelphia’s mayor-elect, defeating Republican opponent Al Taubenberger in what could have been described as a clean, but unfair, fight.  Nutter gathered 83% of the votes, which comes in shallow of the hoped-for 85%, but it bests the Philadelphia mayor’s race record, set by Ed Rendell in 1995 (77%). 

Naturally, upon his election, criminals have lined up in front of police houses to turn themselves in, picking up street trash on their way.  Bill Gates has cut a check for one-point-five jillion dollars for “Like, Philadelphia schools, and shit”; construction workers all over the city have begun to build classrooms that are green, energy efficient, and even without teachers, are able to give children a high school education by the age of 11.  SEPTA has decided to put solar panels on all their regional rail trains, which not only power the trains, but provide extra energy which SEPTA has sold back to the power grid, and that money has been invested to improve the city’s public transit infrastructure.  It is now possible to go from the Philadelphia International Airport to the Italian Market for a hoagie, and then to the Grey Lodge in Wissinoming for a drink from the firkin in under 3 minutes (16 miles).  The city’s “citywide Internet hotspot” now works.  Donovan McNabb has been possessed by the ghost of Joe Montana.  The Phillies have traded Michael Bourn for Johan Santana and Greg Golson for Scott Kazmir.  The city of Philadelphia is now subsidizing public health care plans for all city residents.  Camden has been annexed and is now called “East Philly”, and south Jersey has likewise become the “southeast suburbs”.  The next Olympics will be in Philadelphia, as will every Olympics after it.  Comcast is now providing ESPNU, but no one will watch it.  The crack in the Liberty Bell has been mended.

Right?

Lots of problems for Nutter to deal with.  I think he’s the right man for the job–I’m not alone in this, obviously–but hopefully he’ll live up to the hype.

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