Party’s over: Medusa Lounge, a Rittenhouse dance bar, faces eviction [updated]

It seems to be the end of the line for Medusa Lounge (Jim Saksa for NewsWorks)

It seems to be the end of the line for Medusa Lounge (Jim Saksa for NewsWorks)

Reports of Medusa Lounge’s demise may have been premature. Portia Morales, manager of Medusa Lounge, called NewsWorks Saturday night to say that the dispute with landlord Marc Ginsburg had been resolved as of Monday, but due to a miscommunication the eviction notice was still posted on Thursday.

UPDATE: Reports of Medusa Lounge’s demise may have been premature. Portia Morales, manager of Medusa Lounge, called NewsWorks Saturday night to say that the dispute with landlord Marc Ginsburg had been resolved as of Monday, but due to a miscommunication the eviction notice was still posted on Thursday. The bar was closed Thursday night. However, according to Morales, the bar is not closing. Morales told NewsWorks that there was confusion about the bar’s status due to a Yelp listing stating that Medusa Lounge was closed, and a lapse in the bar’s website domain name registration. Belief that the bar had closed was further compounded by an event held on August 6th at Medusa Lounge called “Work the Box, One last time… then it’s Dead! R.I.P. The Club” On social media, the bar’s latest postings were dated June 21st.

Neither Ginsburg nor his attorney have confirmed that they have accepted rent and dropped the eviction. The bar was hit with seven code violations from Licenses & Inspections in April, and according to the L&I website, some of the violations remain open and in non-compliance.

A reporter did confirm that the bar was open for business on Saturday night.  

The dance has ended for Medusa Lounge. The dive bar on the corner of Chestnut and 21st Street, best known for hosting some of Philadelphia’s best up-and-coming DJs, appears to be closed and facing eviction.

Just blocks from Rittenhouse Square, and around the corner from the office towers lining Market Street, Medusa’s, as it was commonly (if incorrectly) known,  felt more like a West Philly basement party than a Center City drinking establishment. It helped that the bar was in an actual basement — a sub-level bar accessible by an entrance stairway on 21st Street.

In a neighborhood where new bars spend hundreds of thousands on interior design, Medusa’s walls were covered in graffiti, and not the meticulously crafted, artist painted kind that gives places like Graffiti bar their faux edge. Medusa’s decor was literally crowdsourced, a product of years of individual drawings and musings sketched onto its walls.

In the end, Perseus wielded a lawsuit, rather than a sword.

The bar’s landlord filed for eviction last week, alleging it hasn’t fully paid rent since May. No one picked up the phone number for Medusa Lounge and the bar was closed on Thursday night. In this Greek tragedy, Medusa’s fatal flaw may have been its hours: the bar was open only three nights a week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and only between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Even clubs that rely heavily on the after-hours crowd between 2 and 3 a.m. to stay afloat tend to open earlier and on more nights.

With the passing of Medusa’s, Center City may have lost its last truly unusual bar. It joins a sad graveyard of lost Center City haunts like Tritone, Sugar Mom’s, Mako’s, Robert’s Twilight, and Tangier. While a handful of dives remain — and some would argue that Medusa’s, opened in 2005, was never old enough to be considered a dive bar — none of the survivors can say that things get so truly weird as they could be at Medusa’s.

On past visits, I saw white haired men in bespoke suits accompanied by leggy, six-foot blondes half their age, crusty gutter punks, tripped-out ravers, and guys in tall tees and flat brim caps, all there for the same thing: the mesmerizing beats booming in an intimate space.  

On another visit with my then girlfriend, a tattooed art-dealer originally from outside Minneapolis with a penchant for cursing that somehow made her Minnesota Nice that much sweeter, I went to the bar to order two beers while she went to use the bathroom. Before the bartender had a chance to open a pair of PBR cans, my girlfriend returned.

“There are two men fornicating in the bathroom,” she said, only using a different F-word instead of “fornicating”. Incredulous, I checked for myself, and immediately learned a vivid lesson on believing your girlfriend. This was not your run-of-the-mill bathroom hook-up, where a couple with sufficiently drowned inhibitions can’t wait to get home and takes advantage of a stall instead. No. The lockable door was wide open, held in place by a hand and a head. It was a show. We told the bartender what was happening, and she reacted as if we had said the bathroom smelled like pee. “So go use the other one,” she said.

For those in Philadelphia’s house and electronica scene, Medusa’s was a special place. “It was an awesome, eclectic dive bar that really brought out music fans because of the atmosphere being different than than bars catering to that office and condo crowd,” said Nate Day, who back in 2005-2007 would DJ there. “My favorite thing was the low ceiling. Whenever the crowd got into what we were doing, the whole crowd would bang their hands on the walls and ceiling.”

The music was what drove most to Medusa’s. “It was a good spot for people to start out DJing,” said David Adams, better known as Lil’Dave, who DJ’d there in 2011 and 2012. “It was always a fun place to play because people would come there to dance and drink cheap drinks, have a good time. There was not a lot of inhibitions there: People just got onto the dance floor.”

Medusa’s will be hard to replace, said Adams. Not only was it a good starting place for new DJ’s, it was musically open with a staff open to experimentation, something rarer at the more commercially-minded venues in town. Its Center City location also made it the place where many explored new musical landscapes. “It was one of the gateway night clubs if you wanted to get into more of the underground scene,” said Adams, noting how college kids from University City would fill the dance floor. Now, the aurally curious will need to travel a bit farther to discover new sounds.

Other DJs described Medusa’s as “fueled by music” and one of the few places where they could hear house, drum and bass, trance and other sub-genres of electronica in Philly. Yet, even though the turntables may have played EDM and trip hop, the ethos was all punk rock.

The attorney for landlord did not respond to a request for comment. Attempts to contact Medusa Lounge’s manager Portia Morales were also unsuccessful.

On my last visit to Medusa’s, just a few weeks ago, I did not know it was about to close, but I would not have been surprised. Instead of a DJ, there was an ipod, playing generic hip hop. The bar, rarely packed before midnight, was nearly empty at 1 a.m. After a single drink, the bartender almost implored us to stay for another.

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