Center City Sips is over for the summer in the Comcast Center’s plaza.
Center City Sips is a city-wide happy hour event every Wednesday in the summer from 5 to 7 p.m. Nearly 90 bars and restaurants in Philadelphia participate.
The Comcast Center’s promotion was held at CHOPS Restaurant & Bar’s outdoor bar, which is located in the building’s plaza. The Comcast Center’s weekly event at 17th Street and JFK Boulevard would sometimes see thousands of patrons.
On July 26, a brawl broke out between at least four to six people during a Sips event at the Comcast Center location. Multiple witnesses captured the melee on video. No arrests were made after the video surfaced.
John Gattuso, senior vice president and regional director of Liberty Property Trust, which owns the plaza, said the decision to discontinue Comcast Center’s Sips was made several weeks ago, so that the plaza can be safer location for visitors.
“The Plaza at Comcast Center was created so that citizens and visitors to Philadelphia can feel safe and comfortable when going to and from work, accessing the regional rail system, visiting the Shops, and enjoying good food and the city,” Gattuso wrote in an email statement. “In order to maintain the use and flow of this public space, we felt it important to suspend participation in Center City Sips, so that the Plaza could be enjoyed as intended.”
Gattuso added that because of the Comcast Center’s central location and size, it quickly became a popular Sips destination over the last two years. Since it has grown, it’s required more resources like security and maintenance for plaza tenants as well as commuters.
Evon Burton, who has attended Sips at the Comcast Center, said he was both disappointed and happy about the cancellation.
He was happy, however, that the Comcast Center took the violent situation seriously.
He added that it’s concerning to him that Sips is no longer consumed by Philadelphians, and that it’s mostly people coming from the suburbs. Burton said he’d like to see Sips be more inclusive of people living in the city.
“A lot of my friends who go out to Sips think it’s too preppy,” said Burton, who attends 2-3 happy hours in the city per week. “It doesn’t feel like Philadelphia. It feels like the city is being taken over by people not from here.”
In the future, Burton said he’d like to see the Center City District — which runs Sips — work to make sure the bars and restaurants participating in Sips are inclusive of all races and demographics.
Johnny Looch, who was the DJ each Wednesday at the Comcast Center Sips, said the July fight wasn’t indicative of what often happens at Sips. He added that Sips is helpful to other restaurants in the city, where happy hour attendees may go to after leaving one of the locations.
“It’s a phenomenon that goes on at that Sips that congregate each Wednesday night,” Looch said. “[The fights] were isolated incidents. [When it’s] that crowded with liquor flowing, you are going to have your moments, that goes without saying.”
Looch said he understands why the Comcast Center no longer wants to host Sips after the incident, but said it hurts him because he’s now out of a job. Since the July incident, the Comcast Center hasn’t hosted a Center City Sips.
“I am a family man and I depend on that pay,” said Looch, who has been a DJ for the Comcast Center Sips for several years. “I did nothing wrong to lose that job.”
In an emailed statement, Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications for CCD, said the organization is focused on making the remaining Sips happy hour events successful.
“We have worked with participants to add security at their venues and the CCD has retained additional police to patrol on Center City streets on Wednesday evenings through the balance of the month,” Shannon wrote.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will also place additional personnel to address underage drinking, which has been a concern at several Sips locations.
Shannon also wrote that CCD plans to meet with participating businesses next month to discuss possible changes for the 2018 CC Sips season.
Johnny Looch hopes that next summer “things go back to normal,” at the Comcast Center Sips.
“I hope come summer 2018 the Comcast Center participates again,” Looch said. “The exposure [I’ve received] from that work, I can’t even put a price tag on it.”