Before words like saison, pale ale and witbier were used by Philadelphians in everyday conversation; before there was Untappd and BeerAdvocate and homebrew clubs in every neighborhood; before craft beer was a “thing” in Philadelphia, there was Dave Wilby and the Dawson Street Pub.
The neighborhood bar located at the corner of Dawson Street and Cresson Street in Manayunk has served as a local watering hole since the days of prohibition, says Wilby, who purchased the bar in 1988. Wilby was studying Hotel and Restaurant Management at Penn State when his father, going into early retirement from the Philadelphia Navy Yard, offered him the opportunity to go into business. At the time the bar was a biker hangout called Uncle Charlie’s.
“I thought I’d just take a semester off from school to get the bar off the ground,” Wilby recalls. “But I never went back.”
When Wilby took over Dawson Street he says the craft beer scene in Philadelphia was almost nonexistent. There was the Grape St. Pub in Manayunk and there was Khyber Pass Pub in Old City. For Wilby, his interest in beer was unique.
It began as a high schooler reading British Literature. “I read about porters and ales and styles of beer that were being made all over the world. I realized that Budweiser wasn’t the only beer out there.”
The bar was lacking a working draft system and it took three years for him to put one in place. But by 1991 Dawson Street had imported beers flowing on tap.
In April 1995 Tom Kehoe was in the midst of starting up the now-famous Yards Brewing Company when he met Wilby.
“We met during a craft beer festival,” Kehoe recalls. The festival was the then-Manayunk-based brewing company’s premiere to the craft beer world.
Wilby was so enthusiastic about Yards’ beer that he went out and purchased his own beer engine for the Dawson Street Pub. He waited weeks while Yards finalized their licensures. And on May 18, 1995 the Dawson Street Pub became the first bar in Philadelphia to pour a pint of Yards’ beer.
Twenty years later, the Yards Brewing Company has grown to be one of the most noted breweries in Philadelphia and beyond, with an estimated production of 32,000 barrels in 2014. The Dawson Street Pub too, has grown in renown, offering 12 taps and three engines of craft beer.
In celebration of the event that took place 20 years, this month the Yards Brewing Company is taking it back to where it all began — the Dawson Street Pub — with two events to celebrate and commemorate their first pour.
On May 14 local media personalities Glen Macnow and Joe Sixpack will drop by Dawson Street for a taping of their weekly Bar Talk podcast. The weekly podcast which launched earlier this year is a fun, one-hour conversation about timely beer and sports-focused topics. Host Glen Macnow, is a popular personality on Sports Radio 94-WIP.
Co-host and Roxborough resident, Don Russell, is an award-winning Philadelphia Daily News writer whose weekly Joe Sixpack column is the longest-running beer-focused newspaper column in America.
Russell says the audience will be encouraged to participate in the conversation and promises “good beer and good beer talk.” The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. and of course Yards beer will be on hand.
On May 21 Dawson Street will be hosting a 20th anniversary party at the pub. The party begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. Kehoe and the Yards family will be in attendance. To commemorate the milestone pours of a brand new Yards beer will be offered up.
“We’re not big on patting ourselves on the back,” Kehoe said, “but Dawson Street is a Yards place and we’re looking forward to celebrate.”