The Hungover Gourmet

 

Bars We Loved... and Lost

Sometimes you find a place that's such a home away from home that you fall in love. Visiting another bar feels like you're cheating. And then, like every relationship, a rift develops and suddenly another bar catches your eye.

For whatever reason, the new place, with its oh-so-new pinball machines and video games starts to take up more of your time... and your old faithful loses some of her charm. And the cycle begins again...

Below are ten watering holes that we loved... and lost through the years. A few were brief flings that came in and out of our lives like a hangover. Others still haunt us, making us toss and turn in our sleep wondering where, oh where, everything went wrong. From time to time we visit these old flames, but it's never, ever the same. You can never recapture that certain special something...


1. Spider Kelly's (West Philly)

Easily the great lost love of my drinking life. I'm not sure who discovered Spider's, but I think it was some guys from Blue Train, a Philly punk band circa 1988. Pretty soon we were hearing about this great bar that was cheap beyond belief. Never one to pass up a research project we rounded up a group from the radio station -- Pauly, Diego, Stan, Andy, me -- and went exploring. What we found was nothing short of our own Shangri-La...a land of 25 cent Meister Brau drafts, free food, and casual enforcement of underage drinking laws.

Even better than the ambience were the patrons. A working class black man's bar by its very location and nature, Spider's attracted a colorful cast of characters that could drink, dope, and spin tales with the best of 'em. A few stand out spectacularly, especially "Cool Breeze," who introduced us to a ball of hash that produced the most heavenly high of my college years (on the morn' of St. Patrick's Day no less) and desperately wanted to coach the Spider Kelly's Chess Team. His groundbreaking concept? Learn to play stoned and drunk, then challenge Ivy League teams. We bring the keg, they lose.

Unfortunately, Jim -- the bar's nightime tapman -- had a tendancy to drink and smoke heavily as the evening wore on. While it might've been a blast for him, the cash register took a beating. It seems that as quickly as we found Spider's it was taken from us...but isn't that true of all great loves?

CURRENT STATUS: RIP -- June 14, 1988


2. The Khyber Pass (2nd Street in Center City Philly)

For all intents and purposes the Khyber was my home away from home from the late 1980s until I moved to Pittsburgh in the fall of 1995. A dingy, dark hole of a bar, it was also home to some of the greatest punk and rock shows in Philly's checkered musical history. (Especially the night the Dwarves played a spectacular 10-minute set that ended with Blag Dahlia triple-lindeying into the drum kit, only to be dragged off to the bathroom by his bandmates.) While it would be impossible to rattle off the names of every great band that I watched -- or simply heard on really busy nights -- grace its tiny stage, here's an all-star ballot of pre-Green Day "alternative" if ever there was one: Didjits, Pegboy, Fleshtones, Junk Monkeys, Figgs (shown playing at the Khyber in the photo above), aforementioned Dwarves, Urge Overkill, The Fluid, Bash & Pop, Lunachicks, Original Sins, Boredoms, Neighborhoods, Elastica, Bullet La Volta, New Bomb Turks, Devil Dogs, Soul Asylum...and the list goes on.

Not just a great band bar, the Khyber was also one of the oldest bars in the city and sported a mind-boggling, world-class selection of draft and bottled beers due to its proximity to Penn's Landing and the city's tourist/naval traffic. Me, I just plunked down my $2.50 and had me another Yuengling Porter. Oh yeah, it was also purported to be haunted! How could you possibly go wrong?

CURRENT STATUS: The previous owners allowed the bar's liquor license to lapse, and sold the building to someone that turned it into a bar/restaurant, removed the dart boards, probably fixed the ceiling over the stage, and reportedly had the bathrooms cleared of the inch of standing water/urine. Bah!


3. The Pour House (Riverside, NJ)

I essentially grew up down the street from The Pour House, thanks to its location mere blocks away from my Catholic grade school. For us first through eighth graders, the establishment possessed a fascination that no other bar in my life would match. We'd watch those doors open to reveal an unearthly interior that looked to be nothing short of pitch black. Patrons entered, perhaps never to return (at least not while we were standing there). Had they put up some real glass in the windows and a few cheerful curtains, perhaps I wouldn't be in the state that I'm in today.

We truly discovered The Pour House when a friend started dating the bartender and they began a "$1 Import Night" to boost their mid-week crowds. While living at home during my senior year of college, The Pour House was...well, another home away from home. I must admit that I never ate their food -- we usually ended up at the Golden Eagle Diner for a late-night meal -- but I never left The Pour House anything but satisfied.

CURRENT STATUS: Still in operation, though I don't think I've set foot in there since 1990.


4. The Towne Tavern (Riverside, NJ)

For a small, mostly blue-collar town, Riverside boasts a remarkable number of drinking establishments. Then again, the town houses plenty of people reliving their past glories and wondering how they never got any further away than their parents before them. Which probably makes for great bar business all around!

The Towne resides only a few blocks from The Pour House, and somehow became our establishment of choice in the period of the early 1990s. Though they didn't feature the extremely potent mixes of The Pour House, or that establishment's dollar beer nights, they did have amenities that couldn't be matched: a disc jockey that played any request we dreampt up, great food including the hottest wings this side of Buffalo, and a cute bunch of waitresses that we entertained thoughts of getting somewhere with.

CURRENT STATUS: RIP -- I passed by the other night and it's called Murphy's Pub.


5. Troy's (West Philly)

Not so much a bar as a diner with package goods store attached, Troy's attracted members of our radio station like flies to shit in the days before Spider Kelly's. Walls of glass-faced refrigerators greeted you when you entered, and your latest take from Penn's medical experiment studies could buy everything from Knickerbocker to Yuengling, Old German to, well, Yuengling.

More importantly, Troy's was home of the "Eggel," a fried egg and cheese sandwiched between the halves of a toasted bagel. Oh yeah, I forgot the dripping grease and artery-clogging additions like sausage or bacon or ham. Many was the night we'd grab some Eggels and a few pitchers, watch the static-ridden b&w tv, and tune in WKDU on the box that rested behind the cash register.

Much to the chagrin of program directors and station managers, Troy's was frequently our last stop before a nighttime air shift, and it was never too tough to get a delivery of Eggels and beer as your stomach lining devoured itself in search of nourishment.

CURRENT STATUS: RIP -- date unknown. The folks at Troy's were never too careful about carding, and that, coupled with the "No Re-entry" policy of the Chestnut Cabaret (also defunct) spelled its demise.


6. Bacchanal (13th and South, Center City Philadelphia)

I should probably have rotten memories of this place. I won't go into them now, suffice to say they include my one and only mugging and the beginning of a relationship that brought me nothing but misery for four years. (Okay, I'm lying. There was probably a great 10 months over the course of those 48.) But Bacchanal -- with its great band-room mural, artsy-fartsy gutter-drunk crowd and Yuengling on tap -- always made our list of places to go on a Friday, or Saturday, or Wednesday night back in the mid-to-late 1980s.

CURRENT STATUS: RIP -- date unknown.


7. Firenze Tavern (Philly's Chinatown section)

Few clubs can boast the show-seeing pedigree of the Firenze. A bowling-alley like setup (a long, narrow room with a door at one end, a stage at the other, and a bar running its length), the Firenze sticks out in my mind for no less than two brilliant occasions. The first was in August of 1990, when we trecked over the bridge to see the brilliant Happy Flowers (Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly-Charred Infant to you and me, who should have their boots licked by and liquor bills paid for until the year 2000 by Ween) only to find out that it was in fact their final live performance. If you never saw "Mom, I Gave the Cat Some Acid" performed live, you have no idea what you missed. The second evening was a spit-freezing cold Sunday in February, though I can't recall the year. Must've been 1995. I'd just watched Mose Allison -- the only jazz artist I enjoy -- blister a set at the Blue Note when I hustled into the relative warmth of the Firenze to suck back some Porter, smoke some cigars, and watch Nine Pound Hammer, the New Bomb Turks, and my beloved Devil Dogs rip the lid off the suckah! I even ran into some old radio station friends that night...and the walk back to my car wasn't quite so frigid.

CURRENT STATUS: Still going, still doing shows...but I haven't been back since the last show mentioned.


8. Dirty Frank's (Center City Philadelphia)

Frank's is a Philadelphia legend, attracting a mix of newspaper people, art students from nearby schools, neighborhood residents, and mouthy punks. We frequented Frank's on Wednesday and Thursday nights during the late 1980s, always closing the joint down, usually flirting with close friends (bad move!), and inevitably stumbling to the Diner on the Square for "something with eggs and English muffins".

Frank's also enters into one of the ugliest nights of my life (as does #10, where I'll relate the story). The only background info you need is that the apartment of an ex-girlfriend's current boyfriend was across the street from the bar's front door. See if you can fill in the rest.

CURRENT STATUS: Still going strong.


9. McGlinchey's (15th St., Center City Philadelphia)

I wasn't a big fan of this place until after college, when I started frequenting its dark environs on Saturday afternoons after thrift shopping and record buying in the city. My friend Jackie -- another 'KDU veteran -- was a bartender, they served Yuengling Porter on tap (see a theme devloping here?), and the jukebox was among the city's finest (regularly featuring Big Black, Replacements, Ramones, AC/DC, and The Who).

It was also here that I rediscovered one of the key figures from #10. We never spoke of our bond, but our eyes met knowingly on more than one occasion.

CURRENT STATUS: Still going strong, though probably attracting an artsier crowd than ever.


10. Some Go-Go Joint, possibly The All in the Family Lounge (Center City Philly)

My brother John (aka JT) is eight years older than me. It wasn't until 1988 that we had the opportunity to legally drink together during the time that I was living in Philly and he visited from Oklahoma.

The night began innocently enough at a Japanese grocery store where we pounded Fosters Oil Cans (back when they were actually canned in Australia) and ate something, though this ocurred after downing some beers at my apartment. We then made our way to Dirty Frank's (#8) where we accosted several turtle-necked art students by telling them "The Joke" (an incredibly long bit by Pee-wee Herman from 'Late Night with David Letterman') and asking, "If Martians came down and challenged Earth to a game of basketball for ownership of the universe, who's your starting five?" (Our lawsuit against the makers of SPACE JAM will be filed shortly.)

The trip across the street to the house of Rick K., then-current boyfriend of my ex-girlfriend, wasn't exactly pretty. The mugs we lifted from Frank's dropped through my thrift store trenchcoat and shattered on the street -- surely puncturing someone's tires minutes later -- and we gained access to Rick's place. Somehow. It was then that I insisted my 6'8" brother play Rick's guitar. And he -- being much shorter -- quickly agreed.

It isn't clear how we ended up at this bar, but this is where the story truly takes flight. Imagine a go-go bar where your mother and her friends dance in nasty polyester lingerie to the sounds of 1970s K-Tel albums. By the time we played Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" for the eighth time, we'd made a new friend.

He was a scary-looking drunk with coke-bottle glasses and an Army fatigues jacket, but we quickly dubbed him "Uncle Pegger". (Don't ask me how we reached this pseudonym for our new drunken compadre.) The next thing I knew, we had The Pegger purchasing drinks for us -- and anyone that we deemed worthy (like the "toothless old crone" that took a shining to JT) -- and I decided I would give him the shirt off my back... literally. My third attempt at removing my shirt resulted in the mutual decision between ourselves and bar management that we take our fun elsewhere.

At the next club we visited the doorman told us, "You don't need to come in here." That may be the only reason I'm not still in jail tonight.

CURRENT STATUS: Who the hell knows?! I don't even know where it was/is! However, Carbon 14 publishers Larry Kay and Leslie Goldman have suggested that it was The All in the Family Lounge, a name that cuts through the booze-induced haze of that night too many years ago.



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