I never thought the day would come.
As the beer industry changes, and the number of SKUs and bars increase, and stress sometimes weaves its way in replacing the two-beer lunch of yesteryear, I think we can all agree one thing stays the same.
And it’s not a thing at all. It’s the people. The best people. There are still several in the scene with the “I remember back when” stories. Will Reed is one of them.
I never thought the day would come.
Through the years, I had lost count of the pints consumed at Standard Tap and Johnny Brenda’s.
There were too many nights oscillating between the two bars; some nights there was no need to make the decision because we had decided on both. I never thought they (more info below on “they”) would open another bar because every time I walked into the Tap or JB’s there was something new to admire. They were always evolving and people were always arriving.
I texted Reed earlier in the day asking him to think of a few songs to share. I thought it was ironic that as I sipped on my 2SPils at Johnny Brenda’s with one ear on his words and the other on the soundtrack of the evening, that I didn’t know one song–well not until the DJ du jour played “Starry Eyes” by The Records followed by a Stones cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”
Though the others were unfamiliar, I loved every single one. We’ll get back to music in a bit.
Reed was born one of seven children in Berks County outside of Reading, PA.
I can speak from experience: when you come of age surrounded by that many siblings, you’re somehow destined to work in hospitality. He started working in restaurants at 14, moved to Philadelphia at 18, and commenced his college career at Drexel in the College of Engineering.
He traded in his major for Computer Science. While living that Dragon life – he worked at the University City Mexican restaurant, Zocalo, where he met his business partner, the affable and erudite Paul Kimport.
After shifts, Kimport and Reed embraced the new microbrews that were available or should I say microbrew (singular). The only beer they consumed regularly was Stoudts. When Reed was not sipping on Adamstown’s finest, he was brewing constantly.
It was a challenge to get a job brewing back then. Nobody was leaving Dock Street. Post-grad Reed walked into the Sam Adams Brewpub on Sansom Street and persuaded them to let him brew despite not having any professional experience.
They tried his homebrew and he got the gig. Not too long after, Kimport and Reed bought some cylindrical conical tanks from a metal scrapper and started to assemble their own bootstrap brewery. Then they changed their mind. They settled on a spot on the corner of Second and Poplar streets and decided that said spot, The Standard Tap, would focus on local independent beer that other people brewed.
At the time, the street was rather industrial and lined with garages. Think not one, but two meat-processing plants–no cute card shops or Crossfit gyms. There was not a carpark for two blocks.
They were on the cusp of the year 2000.
Liberties which is now Bourbon and Branch was open, as was 700 Club. North 3rd would join a little down the road, both in time and location. After hitting their stride, the pair started to talk about the possibility of their sophomore effort being in Fishtown, just 0.7 miles away.
Employees of the Tap were moving there as real estate values–and rent–started to rise in Northern Liberties. Reed shares that people have pitched locations through the years from Wilmington to far west California.
But he always asked himself, “What’s viable? Where would I want to ride my bike to?” That helps explain that while all of his bars are within proximity of one another, they somehow don’t cannibalize each other.
On a Thursday, they walked into the first bar they saw on the corner of Frankford and Girard. An institution that pours out mostly whiskey and pops open mostly Buds, Johnny Brenda’s did most of their business during the day.
They subscribed to the beverage program that day and whilst enjoying their bevies, they find out it’s actually for sale. They depart with a handshake deal. Monday comes and it’s done. Kimport and Reed are now parents of two.
The duo put roughly two months into renovating Johnny Brenda’s. They built a kitchen to continue their philosophy of sourcing from local farmers and offering the neighborhood the finest fare a tavern could serve. The people came.
A few years later, they added a music venue on the second floor. Through the years, so many bands have brought their grit and glory to the Johnny Brenda’s stage. I’ve seen so many shows there. I remember when Ian Felice of the Felice Brothers was so drunk he could barely stand.
I asked Reed to recall a few of his own favorites. ‘
He mentioned The Walkmen wrapping up a national tour where the beers were flowing and they had it as dialed in as you can after touring together for months. This spring, New Zealand troubadour Marlon Williams took the stage and amazed the crowd channeling his inner Roy Orbison. Last week Kurt Vile jumped on stage unexpectedly with some of his friends that were playing. In his own time, Will’s been listening to a lot of San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips.
None of Reed’s follies are particularly unique. He wants what we all want: good food and beverage, live music, more time for travel, and the oasis of a friend’s suburban pool in the midst of a summer swelter (William: Hey Brian O’Reilly can I come over and swim? Brian: the family is in Vermont…but sure, let yourself in).
Now 15 years after they jumpstarted what’s now one of the most vibrant avenues in the city, Reed and Kimport are welcoming people into their third bar. The International is open for business.
Kensington’s newest bar isn’t large but does span two floors at Front and Cecil B. Moore.
It took over the space of Shenanigans under the El. They decided to switch things up here, as the name might imply. For the first time since 2000, Reed will carry bottles and will serve beer from away.
]They will rotate everything, embracing large format bottles and spontaneously fermented beers. But if you want a pony of Mahou, a popular Spanish lager, they got you.
You will hear the sweet sound of vinyl spun by nightly DJs, but you won’t find silverware. All food is sandwiches and skewers. There’s a bevy of delicious cocktails, Amaros, and vermouths served out of the Cruvinet system. There are some familiar faces behind the bar like Paul Sukeena, who had been walking back and forth in the Monk’s Café dining room for years now.
The International did steal Reed’s calendar for a bit. This was the first year he could not swing the Philly Loves Beer official international collaboration trip.
Now that they’re open, he’s looking forward to traveling again. He smiles as he thinks about the next time he crosses the Atlantic and meets an inspirational brewer; he can tell them he’ll pour his or her beer now.
With endless options out there, it can be a tough task to decide where you want to spend your hours and dollars. I think we should ask ourselves, “What feels good? Who do we want to give our dollars to?”
I want to support a place where thoughtful consideration has been put into everything poured–including the coffee that they roast two pounds at a time–where every song blaring from the speakers makes your beer all the more enjoyable. The International is open every day but Monday. I will see you there.
Favorite International Food: Bò Tái Chanh (or any version of a beef carpaccio dish)
Best Philly Beer Week Moment: When the Standard Tap crew transformed into “Sugar Plum Fairies” for the HOG Relay and performed Flight of the Concords’ “Sugalumps”
Next trip: Alaska is booked! Hopefully Costa Rica is soon
Balancing the beers: BROGA (Yoga) on Mondays with Jake Panasevich
Most recent beverage: Dogfish Head Festina Peche, and a Coffee Cocktail with JB’s Coffee, Sailor Jerry rum and condensed milk garnished with mint
Suzy Woods, a.k.a. The Beer Lass, is Allagash’s Mid-Atlantic Sales Manager and a long-time beer blogger in the Philly area beer scene.