Sunday, May 10, 2009

East Passyunk BID Wants New Board Members; Calling All Candidates Who Recognize Restaurants And Bars As Neighborhood Catalysts/Anchors

Before Cantina Los Caballitos opened on East Passyunk, the Avenue had much less foot traffic than it does today.

[ Photo via Rachel's Guide ]

And candidates who will subsequently advocate on behalf of locating good restaurants and bars within said business improvement district and the surrounding neighborhood.

People NOT wanted: ignorant, fear-mongoring NIMBYs who are entirely convinced that every restaurant and/or corner bar is a.) too noisy or b.) a den of sin.

To whom are we referring? It happens all too frequently in Philadelphia. (It happened last year in Fitler Square.) It happened to Sidecar. A few years ago it happened in the East Passyunk neighborhood — people protested the opening of 1601 Cafe, alleging it would be a nuisance bar.

In reality, 1601 couldn't be further from a nuisance bar and that was blatantly obvious even before it opened to anyone paying attention. But these "neighbors" protested it with all their heart — amazingly even getting the Passyunk Square Civic Association to disapprove (read about it here).

And now comes word that another bar just off East Passyunk is facing similar trials on account of neighbors' protests. Watkins Drinkery is trying to open in the old Bella Rosa II location at 10th and Watkins. However, they've run into opposition because of the type of bar that Bella Rosa II was before it closed.

Meanwhile, the new owner, John Klein, wanted to turn it into a small gastropub, "like if the Royal [Tavern] and the Pope had a very small baby," the very antithesis of a nuisance bar.

So again, this appears to simply be the case of a few very out-spoken and very misinformed neighborhood residents who resent change, no matter what it is.

It's one thing to work with a restaurant and bar to address concerns and make sure a business doesn't replicate mistakes from the past, but to flat out oppose a new business from entering a neighborhood is ignorant and reactionary.

Pre-Cantina "vibrancy" on East Passyunk; Photo by B. Maule via Philly Skyline

Imagine if Cantina had not been allowed to open because what had been there previously. (See before and after shots above.)

Cantina brought about the neighborhood revival to East Passyunk that everyone is fawning over and that Craig Laban aptly described in March:
Not that long ago, conventional wisdom would have envisioned the future of a revived East Passyunk Avenue entwined in a cocoon of spaghetti and red gravy. Even when Lynn Rinaldi first made a stylish comeback to her old neighborhood just four years ago with Paradiso, she simply added an elegant new sheen to a tried-and-true notion: that South Philly's heart and soul would always beat Italian.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Izumi, Rinaldi's latest - and most unexpectedly Japanese - venture with fiance-chef Corey Baver. This corner of deep South Philly has blossomed at last into a neighborhood with its own organically evolving character.

It's not that the pasta purveyors of Passyunk are in any peril of being pushed aside. But they've since been joined by a sudden influx of Mexicans and their taquerias, by the bike-messenger hipsters and their craft-beer gastropubs, by Wi-Fi coffee shops and a steady infusion of young, upwardly mobile home buyers.

"Gentrification," Baver says with Rinaldi lingering in the background. "Lynn hates that word."
A little more than a month later, Laban again took it upon himself to further educate people in Philadelphia about what happens when an old bar changes hands to someone new, i.e. good things. He wrote:
Put the craft on draft, and they will come.

In Philadelphia these days, great beer really does seem to have such transformative powers, where a changing of the brews at an old-time tappie can open the door to a new world of customers and a new source of energy for neighborhood life.

Take, for example, the case of the Lucky 13 Pub, which after just seven months has become the latest "old-man bar" to change hands, upgrade its beers, and become a full-fledged player in South Philly's rising gastropub revolution.

Out with the Molson and Miller Lite of the former Vincenzo's, where the karaoke and purple awnings drew a vintage neighborhood crowd. In with Golden Monkey and Dirty Bastard Scotch ale of Lucky 13, where a juke box rocking the Ramones to "psychobilly" and a kitchen with surprisingly tasty attitude ("punk-rock grandma cooking," anyone?) have drawn a tattooed surge of hipster youth to establish yet another new beachhead in old South Philly.

It's a repeating phenomenon that has spawned quite the pub circuit below the Washington Avenue equator, from the pioneering South Philly Tap Room to P.O.P.E. (Pub on Passyunk East) to the new Tap Room on 19th (at Ritner), where the serious crab fries (with actual crab) would make Chickie's cry "uncle."
So yea, the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District is putting out a call for new Board Members "in a continuing effort to bring more energy and fresh ideas to the EPABID board... and to help our growing commercial corridor realize its full potential."

And good for them for doing so. The EPABID has already done a very good job. Thus, it is commendable that they are trying to infuse their leadership with new energy to keep it up.

So while this may not be an opportunity to directly assist the plight of Watkins Drinkery, it is definitely an opportunity for progressively minded locals to positively affect the future of a dynamic, burgeoning Philadelphia neighborhood.

And to set an example for other Philadelphia neighborhoods on just how open and forward-thinking neighborhood organizations can be.

Seriously. Go for it.

Meanwhile, Philly Mag's Restaurant Club is encouraging people to email the East Passyunk Crossing Neighborhood Association at to express your support for the proposed Watkins Drinkery. So do that too.

Here's the full notice re new board members from the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District:
In a continuing effort to bring more energy and fresh ideas to the EPABID board, we are asking all interested parties to consider taking your volunteerism to the next level.

If you are interested in serving as a member of the Board of Directors, EPABID requests that you submit a statement of intent along with your qualifications and any relevant experience to or to the BID office, located at 1904 EPA, no later than June 30, 2009. In electing Directors, the Board shall consider each candidate’s willingness to accept responsibility for governance, including availability to participate actively in Board activities, areas of interest and expertise, and experience in finance, business, event planning and community organization.

Please note that the Board meets at 9am on the second Tuesday of each month. If your schedule would prohibit you from attending meetings on a regular basis, we hope that you will consider joining a Committee. Descriptions and meeting schedules for each Committee are listed on

Additionally, the BID Board held a special meeting yesterday to elect new leadership. Jim Gallo will be serving as Board Chair, Tony Maugeri was voted in as Treasurer and Vince DiBacco will remain as Secretary.

EPABID hopes that new members and leadership will help shape the future of the BID and the Avenue as we discuss possible changes to our organizational structure and work to help our growing commercial corridor realize its full potential.

Gastros Update: Help the Watkins Drinkery Make South Philly Home [ Philly Mag ]
New South Philly Spot: Watkins Drinkery [ Foobooz ]
1601 Backstory: We received several letters about the proposed bistro at 10th and Tasker streets. The following are representative of the group. [ South Philly Review ]
Options grow as Walnut Street dining fades [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Build a good bar, and they will come [ Joe Sixpack - Philadelphia Daily News ]
Lucky 13 Pub - Part of the gastropub revolution, South Philly newcomer offers cheeky twists on familiar flavors, craft beers and a quirky clientele [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Izumi - A Japanese restaurant on East Passyunk? The sushi menu is a great addition to the area, but the fusion fare is less successful [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]


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