Friday, February 20, 2009

Thank You, Kung Fu

So, as I mentioned in a previous post - in the midst of the XPN fund drive, I did get time to catch a live show - sort of.

After a few hours of 'beggin for bux' on XPN on a Sunday night, I took the El to Girard Avenue and walked a block or so under the tracks to a new spot in town - Kung Fu Necktie.

First, some history: Flashback twenty years and you would have had to pay me to 'walk under the tracks' on Front Street at Girard Avenue. The area was sca-ree at best; especially at night.

I remember when Au Courant Newsmagazine - the gay & lesbian weekly that I helped launch back in 1982 - first started. We had no overhead, so we rented out a corner of the second floor of Publiset Inc. - which was a old-school publishing house at the corner of 3rd & Girard.

Publiset was home to the Star papers: Port Richmond Star, Fishtown Star and also the South Street Star. Weekly free rags that competed with the Welcomat for territory. Au Courant fit right in with that scrappy mentality.

I remember getting off the El at Front/Girard and walking three blocks to work each morning; through the thick haze of the smell of yeast; a scent that could truly make your nose hairs curl! The scent was courtesy of Schmidt's Beer - whose brewery was located on the 200 block of Girard.

Schmidt's was Philadelphia's last independent brewery. As the Christian Schmidt Brewing Co., it was founded in Philadelphia in 1860 and at its peak, the company was the nation's ninth-largest brewer and employed 1,400 people.

Back then, the neighborhood had all the workings of a community that surrounds a beer plant; greasy spoon diner, a cheap and dirty corner store, a tattoo shop and a few shot & a beer bars; including one incredibly grimy go-go bar!

The neighborhood wasn't dangerous, just desolate. The plant was just a few years away from closure and the bleak future hung in the air, just as think as the yeast scent. However, if you stayed clear of the El tracks, you were okay. But, once you entered that permanently-darkened strip under the El, it was like someone turned the 'creepy dial' up two degrees.

Within that dangerous spot under the El tracks was the ultimate dive bar, which lived its final years as The Penelty Box.

Well - times have changed. The neighborhood, although still quite gritty, has been given an overhaul of sorts - thanks to the influx of 20-something hipsters (sorry) who have taken over the empty rowhomes and warehouses. Nightlife has begun to flourish and there's always a safe and interesting destination at night - no matter which night it is.

The Penelty Box closed and was transformed into Kung Fu Necktie - a sweet little watering hole - complete with classic wood features, booths for group sitting (complete with tables topped with wood from bowling alley lanes!), and a back room that hosts live music throughout the week.

The one block walk from the Girard Avenue El stop to the bar is well-lit (and quite empty, with the exception of skinny jeans trudging to the bar along with you).

The band we saw was "The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart" - a quirky, cute indie band -- which I'm sure I'll probably forget in a year. However, the venue... seeing the work done in the space and realizing just how much transformation has occured on some of my old stomping grounds from back in the 80s - that will stay with me for quite some time.

1 comment:

brandy101 said...

Sounds like someplace I would have enjoyed when I was 22 or so :)

Back in my youth, my girlfriend and I fell in love with a tiny bar in what was then a bad but up-and-coming neighborhood. We had no car so we would take two trains (Chicago El) to get there; sometimes it would be a train and a bus, but either way there was always part of the commute that involved a scary walk avoiding gangbangers and guys who thought we might be hookers (it was an area known for such ladies purveying their wares on the neighborhood streets.)