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