Welcome to the Standard Tap

by Jack Curtin

        Don't get me wrong, but the two things that really blew me away during my first visit to the Standard Tap, the swell new tavern in Philadelphia's getting-hipper-by-the-minute Northern Liberties section, were the funky telephone compartment near the main bar and the battered old icebox behind that bar.

        Normally I'd start off raving about how strikingly attractive Standard Tap is and how the place is carving out its own unique niche by serving draft beers exclusively and only Philadelphia-area brews to boot. I'll get to all that, promise, but first I gotta tell you about those two items, each of which reflects the attitude and style of owners William Reed and Paul Kimport as clearly as do the intriguing beer selection and eclectic menu.

        The Standard Tap is located at 2nd & Poplar streets on the site of (or right next door to the site of, that isn't entirely clear) the historic Colonial-era Bull's Head Inn. It's been there a long time, in other words, and Reed, long-time brewmaster at the Samuel Adams Brewhouse, and Kimport, formerly a server at Striped Bass, had to strip the place down to a shell after they purchased it three years ago, restoring the original plaster walls, handcrafting wood furniture throughout and, most impressively, designing a 15-foot long solid cherry bar. Only one thing remained untouched when they were through: the phone booth.

        "We really liked it and decided to keep it just the way we found it," Reed explained, pointing out that the partners didn't even bother to paint the existing door to the closet-sized compartment. There's something very 1930s about it all, I thought to myself, awash in the charm of a time I'd seen only in the movies, when Reed's next words brought me back into the 21st Century. "Of course, we call it our cell phone booth these days, since most of our customers seem to carry one."

        Having been reminded that nostalgia ain't what it used to be, I gratefully accepted a pint of Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale and considered the magnificent bar. Along its length were ten draft spigots and a pair of hand pumps, the latter two pouring Yards ESA and Victory HopDevil steadily since Standard Tap opened its doors in early January. Among the other selections in addition to Shelter Pale: Stoudt's American Pale Ale, Pils and Fat Dog Stout; Victory Golden Monkey Tripel; Yards Entire Porter; Flying Fish ESB and, atop the icebox centered behind the bar, a gravity-tapped cask of Victory's Old Horizontal Barleywine.

        Impressive stuff indeed, but it was that 1950s icebox that left me with mouth agape. The sign taped above the tap handle in the door announced that the keg inside was Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale. Now there's a beer you don't see featured at a beer bar every day! Nostalgia redux: I was transported back to the days when popping a bottle of Lord Chesterfield and basking in its distinctively skunky aroma was proof that there was more to beer than mindlessly quaffing cans of Piel's Real Draft.

        "It's one of the classic old beers that had some real character," Reed explained, "and I just thought it should be available here. We keep it 34 degrees and serve it icy cold just the way you remember it."

        The decision to go all-draft and stick to local beers, Reed said, "came about because there seemed to be a need for a place like this and it fit perfectly into this neighborhood. With few exceptions, I've always found most beers are best fresh and on draft and local beers should logically be the freshest beers. Besides, I think our local breweries are still under-appreciated in Philadelphia and our featuring great local beers helps counter-act that."

        Reed also rejects one-tap-per-brewery common wisdom. "If a brewery makes several good beers, I have no problem with putting several of them on tap at the same time. Nobody is complaining that there are three Stoudt's beers on right now. They all very different and they are all very good. Why not serve them at the same time? Or three great beers from Yards, or Victory, or anyplace else?"

        Kimport's menu to accompany all those fine brews ranges from specials like venison stew to standard but unusual offerings such as smelts, adding to Standard Tap's appeal as both a neighborhood tappie and a destination bar. And should you want to call a friend to join you, there's a phone booth right over there.

Copyright (c) 2000 Jack Curtin

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