Fast & Loose In Philly: A Trip Down Memory Lane
I recently took a short trip down Memory Lane. How I got the idea is kind of a long story — part bet, part reunion, part midlife crisis — but in the end, the plot was hatched: With the help of three friends, a minivan and one designated driver, I set out to revisit my college days at Temple University in Philadelphia. I don’t mean Main Campus and Psych 101. I mean the cheese steak, the bars and the bands.
With less than 24 hours door to door, we had our work cut out for us, but we summoned that old college try. Safely back home in Annapolis, I am happy to report that while the names have changed a bit, the food, the fun and the music of Philadelphia remain much as they were in 1985. Come along with me for the ride.
First stop. Pat’s King of Steaks, or just “Pat’s.” A cold winter wind was whipping around the corner of 9th and Passyunk, and the line was probably 50 deep, but weather and crowds never deter the faithful from seeking the city’s iconic food: the Philly Cheese Steak. This combination of rib-eye steak and soya-bean oil on a fresh-baked Italian roll is an experience not to be missed. (My favorite version: the “wiz wit-out.”) No matter where you travel, some hoagie shop will profess to make an “original” Philly cheese steak. Don’t believe it. They are liars! Pat’s is the cheese steak, and has been dishing it up for 77 years. Pat’s King of Steaks, 9th & Passyunk, Philadelphia, 215-468-1546; open 24 hours a day, 361 days a year.
Second stop. The Grape Street Pub, in Manayunk. Why the Grape Street? Flashback to the 80s. Ah, yes, the old River Deck — now I remember: a great little spot for live music overlooking the Schuylkill River, decent admission price, reasonably priced drinks and a great wait staff. But the real reason we went was for the band, Beru Revue. Beru was one of the most popular Philadelphia bands of the 80s, along with The Hooters, The Daves, Dynagroove and Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers. Sadly, after a falling out with their management, the band members went their separate ways. But the music was not forgotten, and after a hiatus of more than 15 years, the band bowed to pressure from a small but loyal group of fans and put on a reunion gig.
Beru’s music is unique — a bit heavy, perhaps a little folksy, definitely original, with lots of costumes, props and over-the-top energy. Most decidedly, politically incorrect. The current band (sadly two members, Johnny Sacks and Jerry Healy, have passed away) is made up of Bob McCafferty (aka Bob Beru), Greg Davis (guitar player extraordinaire), Tommy Pinto (drums), Buzz Barkley (keyboards), Jerry Getz (bass) and Mark Julian Teague (guitar). They’re still just as wonderful as I remember from the 80s. But don’t take my word for it, sample the music and check out some snaps from their recent show on the official Beru Revue Web site. Rumor has it that the band might play three or four shows per year. The Grape Street Pub, 4100 Main St., Manayunk, 215-483-7084.
Third stop. Well, apparently some things have changed since 1985, because we were given the heave-ho from the Grape Street at 11 p.m. to make way for another live act taking the stage. Since the night was still young (just like us!), we decided to check out the nightclub scene. Back in my day, the college radio station, WXPN, played newcomers like Melissa Etheridge, Cowboy Junkies and Paul Westerbrook on a local program called “Live at the World Cafe.” Today, that little station has its own nightclub called World Cafe Live (apparently it was a stretch coming up with the name). Like its namesake radio show, the place has a coffeehouse vibe to it; it features top-rate concerts on the first floor and local and regional acts on the more casual and intimate second floor. Just a couple of years old, this newcomer is a welcome addition to the scene. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia, 215-222-1400.
Fourth stop. The Khyber has always been the place to stop for live, new, fresh, indie music. The small club, which dates back to the 19th century, has hosted many local and national acts such as Broken Social Scene, Rye Coalition, Scissor Sisters, Iggy Pop, Pete Yorn and The Hellacopters. Back in the 80s, most of the local Philly bands could be seen jammin’ on their small stage as well. The Khyber, 56 S. Second St., Philadelphia, 215-238-5888.
Fifth stop. By this time, age was taking its toll, and we figured we weren’t going to make it to last call. So instead of club hopping on South Street, we decided to cruise the nightspots in our minivan and leave the wild times to the youngsters. As expected, we found that many of the old clubs were gone, but the Theater of Living Arts (TLA) remains and so does Zipperhead, though it is now called Crash Bang Boom. Also new is a store called Condom Kingdom, which has tiny spermatozoa painted on the sidewalk. All in all, I’d say the nightlife is just as vibrant as ever.
Sixth stop. OK, so we were tired. But after a night of revisiting the old stomping grounds, we were also hungry, so we made a run back to Pat’s. Remember, it’s open 24 hours a day; see “First stop.”
Seventh stop. Time for some aspirin and some shuteye, so we headed back to the hotel, a Fairfield Inn by Marriott, located down by the airport. This was perfect for us as it was on the way home, and at $100 a night, the price was right (it happens that there was a giant crafts show in Philadelphia that weekend, and downtown rooms were going for $400, which we thought was better spent on beer). The Fairfield Inn was undergoing a renovation, but the rooms were very comfortable, the continental breakfast was welcome, and the pool looked very nice. But I’m still not sure about the elevator button that displayed a horizontal arrow. Go figure. Fairfield Inn, 8800 Bartram Ave., Philadelphia, 215-365-2254.
Eighth stop. Well, apparently that continental breakfast was not enough. See “First stop.”
No matter how old you are, no matter where you grew up or went to school, a trip down Memory Lane is always a fun time. Reconnect with the past, embrace the present, and experience firsthand how the more things change, the more they really do stay the same. As for me, my mind is still buzzing with memories of 1985, and they bring a smile to my face. The CD I made of Beru is still playing in my car, and I can practically smell the intoxicating aroma of a Pat’s steak.
Life is good! Till next time … altogether now: Whoop! Whoop!