(Northeast) Philly Beer Week

Out of more than 100 bars and pubs that celebrated Philadelphia Beer Week this year, only two beacons of craft beers and micro-brews – the Grey Lodge Pub and Three Monkeys Café – shone for the Northeast.

Mayfair’s Grey Lodge Pub, known for a massive selection of local and craft brews, and Three Monkeys Café, a bar and restaurant in Torresdale that recently entered the craft beer arena, were the only two bars in the neighborhood to host events.

However, executive director of the annual festivities Don Russell wants more.

“The Northeast is lagging with craft beer and their participation in Beer Week, but Three Monkeys and the Grey Lodge have done spectacularly,” Russell said.

Also known as Joe Sixpack of the Daily News, Russell helped start the nonprofit in 2007 and launched its first city-wide event in 2008. This year’s Beer Week ran from June 4 to June 13, and featured more than 500 events, according to Philly Beer Week’s website.

“It was and still is largely volunteer work with a board of directors that I answer to,” Russell said.

With such a massive annual turnout that garners attention from national publications, Russell wonders why so few bars in the Northeast participate.

“I guess it’s a different kind of situation in the Northeast,” he said. “They’re focused on the mainstream and lagged behind in craft beer. I honestly think they’re missing out.”

Russell makes a point to mention that Philly Beer Week is a regional event with bars participating in the Tristate area, as well as “America’s Best Beer-Drinking City,” according to the event’s website. New Jersey alone had six venues hosting events for the week-long celebration.

“It’s actually not just focused on Center City,” Russell explained. “What surprised me most were a few bars in South Jersey that got together an outstanding festival.”

However, Gavin Wolfe, a co-owner of Three Monkeys, is trying to bring the bar into the craft beer scene. After hosting his first Beer Week festivities in 2010 as “Philly Beach Week”, Wolfe is making the effort to catch up with the rest of the city by touting his establishment’s courtyard bar and restaurant.

“We’re one of the few places in the Northeast that carries craft beer,” Wolfe said. “So, we said, ‘why not?’”

Realizing that Three Monkeys was a new participant in the week’s events, Wolfe came into Beer Week with a different strategy: go tropical. Three Monkeys sold a different brew each night from the globe’s island cultures to accompany the bar’s outdoor area.

“We’re not as into it as other places, so we’re trying to market what separates us,” Wolfe continued. “I think you’re going to see a trend of this in the future.”

Wolfe realizes that his bar and the Grey Lodge are the only two locations celebrating Beer Week, but he’s hopeful for the future of the beer scene in the Northeast.

“Hopefully they’ll start appealing to different crowds soon,” he said. “You’re going to need different people with different places and different ideas, but people are continuing with what works and fighting for the same crowd.”

Founded by Wolfe and two other colleagues, Ed McDonald and Mike McDonald, Three Monkeys opened toward the end of the summer 2005. Soon enough, the bar took a chance on the craft beer arena with its very own brew, Horny Monkey Ale, which is still brewed and sold today.

Nina Krych, a waitress at Three Monkeys, also sees the bar becoming a staple in the Northeast craft beer scene.

“This is unlike any other bar in the Northeast,” she said. “I think we’re good competition.”

Russell agrees, but progress isn’t going to come from today’s generation of bar owners. It’s up to the neighborhoods’ beer savvy youth to bring the change.

“Younger people are constantly driving the craft beer movement,” he said.

Tom Stewart, a frequent visitor to Three Monkeys, recommends that other bars in the Northeast emulate his favorite bar’s courtyard, theorizing that this would open up their businesses to a larger crowd.

“If more bars [in the Northeast] had an outside deck, people wouldn’t go into Center City as much,” Stewart said. “It’s something about being outside, drinking and having some food that gives that ambiance that people like. It’s these mom-and-pop corner bars that people need to get away from to be more viable to a younger crowd.”

Grey Lodge customers participate in one of the bar's 11 Beer Week events.
(Grey Lodge customers participate in one of the bar's 11 Beer Week events.)

The dearth of craft beer in the Northeast begs the question: why?

Wolfe said he thinks bars in the Northeast are still largely focused on sports to draw younger crowds as opposed to the more eclectic crowd that gathers nearer to Center City.

“Most people drinking here are from here,” Wolfe said. “Everyone knows everyone.”

Stewart affirms in saying that the working class family structure in the Northeast is extremely rigid, but it’s a double-edged sword.

“Your aunt and your uncle went to the bar and they drank Bud or whatever and they never took interest in [craft beer]. It was working class individuals that just never opened it up.”

“That’s not a bad thing that bars have regulars. They keep your bar alive, but they don’t appeal to the outside crowd.”

Most bars in the Northeast either focus on the younger crowd or the older, but Stewart said they miss the beer loving demographic in the middle.

“They just don’t open their doors that way,” he said. “Parents are there during the day, same kids go in at night.”

Erin Jones, another waitress at Three Monkeys, thinks bars like the one she works for should be focusing on the crowd they already have rather than attracting those from other areas of the city.

“I like that the Northeast does this because we don’t have to travel that far,” Jones said. “I think that people who live here in the Northeast and don’t usually venture around stick to their neighborhood. They try these beers and say, ‘I’ve never seen this beer,’ and we just introduced something to those regulars that they can just come here and have.”

Russell agrees that the Northeast’s rise to craft beer fandom is inevitable.

“The bars in the Northeast have to know that the fastest growing sector is craft beer as opposed to main stream beer,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see some more bars embrace craft beer. It’s part of my job.”

Russell welcomes more bars in the Northeast to enjoy Philly Beer Week. It’s up to them to answer the call in time for the festivities in 2011.

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