It’s true that amenities transform neighborhoods, but it’s equally true that those hubs are only as good as the people who make them tick. Whether it’s that much-needed smile as you’re handed your morning coffee, the nightcap therapy sessions with your favorite bartender or the squeaky-clean environment that makes you feel that much safer (see: broken windows theory), these are the characters who help give the community not just its communal functionality, but its magic. Below, find a cast of six neighborhood service-industry personalities worth passing a thank-you to next time they catch your eye.
Susan Holland (pictured above)
Through all the barista change-ups at Ultimo Coffee since its 2009 inception, Holland’s been a behind-the-counter staple — as comforting as the coffee itself. To boot, as the staff’s longtime manager, Holland’s been juggling order-taking (and -giving), milk-steaming and Ultimo’s notorious bee-drip coffee-pouring long enough to have witnessed the neighborhood’s evolution first-hand. “When we first opened, if someone was walking down the street, you knew they were walking here,” she says. Now, she adds, that’s not the safe assumption it once was. “The neighborhood’s really changed a lot.”
Adam Garbinski, a bartender for six years at South Philadelphia Tap Room, impishly chuckles to himself when asked for a noteworthy bar story — as if lost in a sudden storm of bar memories. Then he reels into a fond recollection of winter’s past with the locals. “When it snows, all the neighbors walk to the bar and hang out,” he says. “Everyone [this year] had hot cider, then ran out into the fresh, virgin snow and had a snowball fight. It’s always a great time with the neighbors.”
After leaving SoWe with executive chef Jennifer Choplin, bartender and manager Brian Padgett found a home at Tap Room on 19th. Excited to work with owners Michael Strauss and Pete Fry at TR19 (as it’s now branded), Padgett has taken his mixology skills and added specialty cocktails as well as an impressive draft list into a bar menu that previously looked a little … bereft. The newly revamped and rebranded neighborhood bar, he says, is now bringing a mix of older regulars and new neighbors from Newbold and Point Breeze. “People come up and tell us every night how great it is that this bar is in their neighborhood,” Padgett says.
Johnny N. Dolo
Bars don’t clean themselves, folks. Johnny Dolo — or just “Dolo,” as patrons call him — has been hiking it all the way from Upper Darby every day since 2008 to give South Philadelphia Tap Room a thorough wipe-down. Naturally, the extensive time in the area’s made him a sort of honorary member of the neighborhood. “It feels like home,” he says.
Since opening in January, The Pharmacy at 18th and Wharton streets has slowly morphed into a neutral-ground community center for both Point Breeze and Newbold neighbors. A crochet circle sinks into its couches on Thursday nights, its space is set to serve as a voting center for the May 20 primary election and locals pop in and out all day long to spend time with baristas like Doyle Campagnini. Campagnini, who lives on the second floor of the shop, transcends the coffee-brewing job description to become something altogether unique to community members. “Lately, there are these 10-year-olds who will hang out for four hours, and we hang out on the stoop, listen to music and have a good time,” he says. Lately, he’s taken up skateboard lessons with the kids. “It’s funny,” he adds with a grin.
Anthony “Hollywood” Bozza
Take a good look at that smile, Newbold newbies. You’ll be seeing it quite a bit. “Hollywood” — real name: Anthony Bozza — is the neighborhood’s star character, swinging in and out of South Philadelphia Tap Room and Ultimo Coffee on the regular, initiating honest chitchat anyone who will listen and spreading the kind of gaiety that turns bad days into good ones. What’s little known by neighbors, however, is that he’s been paid since 2002 to sweep and mop 1500 Mifflin Street for South Philadelphia Tap Room. His nickname, as one might wonder, stems from his younger days as a budding performer. “I used to do karaoke at Charlie Bird’s,” he says. “So they call me ‘Hollywood.'”
– Text and images by Brandon Baker and Kate McCann.