Friday the Firkenteenth, Grey Lodge Pub

by Jack Curtin

        There was a guy from Oregon at the bar. Amidst all the sweaty, happy folks jammed into the Grey Lodge Pub last week for the one and only Friday the Firkinteenth of 1999 was a traveler from the other side of the country. He’d learned of the event while trolling in the internet, he said, and since he was going to be in Philadelphia on business and was a fan of good beers and good beer people, he thought he’d drop by.

        Think about that. The Grey Lodge Pub is nestled unobtrusively in the middle of the 6200 block of Frankford Avenue in the Wissinoming section of the city. The pub is a stone’s throw or so away from the Tacony Palymra Bridge, which accounts for a goodly number of regulars who desperately seek respite from the Southern New Jersey wastelands, but this is not a place that draws its clientele from center city and all ‘round the town. I suspect there are people in downtown Philadelphia who would have no idea how to find the Grey Lodge. Hell, I’ll bet there are Main Liners reading these words who couldn’t find Frankford Avenue.

        Chalk it up to the power of the internet as a marketing tool and the skills of owner Mike Scotese, known to one and all as Scoats, who bought the place five years ago and has used his background as a computer guy to give the Grey Lodge a strong net presence at Or maybe it’s the charm of the establishment itself, which was (and remains, in the afternoon and perhaps a few more evenings a week than Scoats might like) a neighborhood shot-and-beer bar but has taken on a second identity as, if not the only, then certainly the best known good beer bar in the Northeast.

        Charm? Rich Pawlak, a public relations type who runs the Golden Age of Beer in Philadelphia Tour each year at Book & Cook, added the Grey Lodge to his itinerary a couple of years ago and reports that attendees love the place. "We visit breweries, we go to some fancier bars, we end the night with a four-course dinner at Poor Henry’s," said Pawlak the other night, "but there’s something about this place that really strikes a chord with people. It’s very much an old-fashioned tappie and also a really contemporary beer bar."

        There is a strong Jersey presence, as noted. In fact, at one corner table, a large party was celebrating a birthday, with a candle plunked in the center of one of the Grey Lodge’s signature Tomato Pies (a pizza with the cheese beneath the sauce, an idea whose time has apparently come). Gene Muller of Cherry Hill’s Flying Fish Brewing Company, whose beers are regularly featured at the Grey Lodge, watched all this and noted that small brewers, most of them struggling with limited advertising budgets, have a particular affection for bars which make an effort to spread the good beer message. Everybody benefits, he stressed. "I know people who first came here because they were fans of our beers. Now they come back because they’re fans of the bar."

        Friday the Firkenteen is a promotion that Scoats came up with last year, which featured three Friday the Thirteenths on the calendar, something which occurs once every 11 years. The idea was to tap several firkins (a small, 40-liter cask) atop the bar to celebrate the occasion. The first two 1998 Firkenteenths were such a success that the Grey Lodge now has Firkin Friday every week, although with only a single firkin.

        Last Friday’s event featured five cask-conditioned brews: Dogfish Head Black & Tan (Chicory Stout and Shelter Pale Ale), Flying Fish Blackfish (their regular black and tan, popular and often hard to find), the first ever cask-conditioned version of Poor Henry’s Awesome Ale, Victory Steamed Lager (an "experimental beer" combining worts of Prima Pils, Festbier and HopDevil, lager fermented at 70 degrees, according to brewer Bill Covaleski) and Yards Saison (its first cask-conditioned release).

        Friday the Firkinteenth IV was grand, albeit steamy evening: good beer, several brewers on hand to talk shop, the wonder of the men’s room with its hand-crafted wall tiles featuring beer wisdom (the ladies room will be similarly refurbished by next summer), the usual raucous mix of beer writers and beer geeks, a passel of Grey Lodge regulars and even a few lost souls wandering in off the streets.

        Plus a guy from Oregon.

Copyright (c) 1999 Jack Curtin

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