At least say this about Le Bok Fin: It’s rarely not interesting. The think–piece–producing South Philly beer garden on the roof of the former Bok Technical High School closed down for the season Sunday, but not without one last plot twist.
Shortly after the bar opened at 4 p.m., a few people who said they were community organizers and teachers stood outside the entrance and handed out a flier to customers categorizing the “current incarnation” of the building as creating racial tension and an atmosphere of exclusive access.
“In my opinion, they’re doing a disservice to alumni,” said the leader of the group handing out fliers, who declined to give her name.
Yet among those walking in on Sunday were Bok alumni. They ranged from members of classes that graduated in the ’60s to those who graduated a few years ago. Many wore Bok t-shirts or jackets. Some carried yearbooks with them. The several Billy Penn talked to enjoyed the rooftop beer garden and dozens more appeared to be having a good time.
“They needed to do something (with the vacant building),” said Mannie Green, class of 1965. “This is OK. This is nice.”
Green pointed at the flier the people outside the building had handed out: “This paper here is about five to 10 years too late.”
Green, several of his classmates and their spouses came to Le Bok Fin for drinks before a Sunday dinner out. They had been on the roof before. During their time at the school, as they remembered, a select number of students would get the opportunity to eat lunch al fresco for certain lunch periods.
“An extra treat,” Green said.
As they peered at the skyline, some of the Bok alumni talked about Philly’s tallest buildings and how people who graduated from their school helped build them.
The last time Green had been to the school before Sunday was a few years ago to collect old yearbooks. He remembered hearing then from administrators that the school “was too much to keep open.” He and others were dismayed by the closing but didn’t see the problem with the building being repurposed.
“I was just glad to see something’s being done,” said Paul King, another class of 1965 alum.
Green asked Lindsey Scannapieco, managing partner at Scout Ltd., if the beer garden would be around next year. She said it wouldn’t be.
Scannapieco later told Billy Penn Scout would continue to use the space, likely including the roof, but not in the same capacity. Its long-term plans are to use the building as a “makerspace” for artisans and businesspeople.
Scannapieco said she understood people’s concerns about school closures but not the outrage against Le Bok Fin.
“This isn’t the place to do it,” she said.
She said Sunday was the first time people had actually stood outside of the building and rallied about Le Bok Fin.
The leader of the group handing out fliers told Billy Penn they weren’t against Le Bok Fin as much as Philadelphia’s general school closures and the effects on communities. Their flier, however, directly tied Le Bok Fin to what was described as a history of racial tension. And as two women walked into Le Bok Fin without accepting a flier, one of the group members said to them, “Enjoy your drinks while sitting in a closed school.”
Told about the people handing out fliers outside and the actions of Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, King categorized it as sincere but misguided.
“I think they have it all mixed up,” King said. “I mean, what’s wrong with what we’re doing? We’re not throwing anybody off the roof.”