“I’m a permanent fixture here,” said Sam DiCarro, a lifelong regular at Tap Room on 19th, a neighborhood bar in Point Breeze.
After changing hands many times throughout the years, Michael Strauss and Pete Fry acquired the catty-corner bar in late October. With some cosmetic help, as well as a total rebuild of the food and drink menu, this taproom aims to be more than a seedy shot and beer bar.
South Philadelphia developer, John Longacre, feels establishments like Tap Room on 19th — coined TR19 — and his own American Sardine Bar and South Philadelphia Tap Room bring a revitalization of commerce into a residential neighborhood. The type of clientele (whether that be yuppies, families or young professionals) in these more upscale businesses allows for more control over the effect the bar has in the immediate neighborhood.
“We’ve only thrown out three or four [people] since we opened,” bartender Brian Padgett said. “With no bouncer, that’s pretty good for six months.”
The old Tap Room on 19th was known as a filthy shot bar, with bartenders in bikinis and no real consistent hours or menus. The new executive chef, Jennifer Choplin, said regulars have told her stories of underage drinking on the roof of the bar throughout their teenage years. In comparison, the new bar is quite tame.
With more than 40 bars south of Washington Avenue and west of Broad Streets, most being neighborhood dives, it’s difficult to brand a bar that allows neighbors to feel there’s more than Bikini Top Tuesdays, bar fights and chicken fingers with fries.
“I just hope they change their name and create their own identity,” Longacre said, feeling the identity of the old tap room would stick.
But the co-owners and Choplin decided to keep the name, so as to not change everything, allowing old regulars to still feel at home.
Regulars like DiCarro, who has lived in the neighborhood for over two decades, swears he is in a photo of TR19 taken in the 1920’s.
New groups frequent the refurbished spot, with Secret Suppers, bottle shares and family parties in the TR19’s upstairs space. Community organizations meet at the establishment in swarms, Strauss expressed. Five civic groups even met in February as a communal meeting spot for South Philadelphia. Strauss said he wants to always welcome anyone to use the space and generate community in the neighborhood
Jeff Belonger is new to the neighborhood and Newbold Neighbors Association, one of the civics that meet at TR19. Belonger has found a new home in both Philadelphia and the Tap Room on 19th. Owner of MyPhillyAlive.com, Belonger is familiar with the bar and restaurant scene of Philadelphia and understands its importance in the neighborhood.
“There’s no weird hipster food here,” Belonger said. Mocking the idea of goat cheese and dinosaur kale, he feels the menu is accessible to most demographics. In all seriousness, Belonger applauded the taproom’s efforts at keeping costs down and the service up, welcoming newcomers and reaching out to old fans.
And that’s why Strauss even added some vegan-friendly menu items, under his elevator pitch: “upscale, comfort, stoner food,” as crafted by co-owners and Choplin.
“We looked through the Yelp reviews of the old owners and found out what people hated and what they wanted,” Strauss said. Both owners strive to appeal to all types of eaters and drinkers in order to expand the clientele.
Padgett has been a bartender at TR19 since it opened in November, coming from the now closed SoWe with Choplin and a number of other employees, viewing it as an opportunity to work with Strauss and Fry. Employees felt hopeful about the spot and wanted to be a part of the bar’s rebrand.
“I came in for my interview to the old bartender trying to keep her job. She was in a tight bathing suit, there were cooks eating old food and drinking Jack and Coke, it was in bad shape,” Padgett said.
Being so far into South Philly, there is some concern that the patrons of TR19 are solely locals and industry folk.
“It’s kind of like the Mason-Dixon line,” Belonger said. “There’s no reason for most people to pass Washington Street for just a beer.”
But this sentiment does not scare Padgett, who feels the bar is for the neighborhood’s people.
“They have been wanting something like this here for a while,” Padgett said. “They thank us every night.”
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-Photos, video and story by Kate McCann