Doc’s Union Pub, the Pennsport bar with connections to the leadership of powerful electricians union IBEW Local 98, has been sold.
New owners of the building at at Second and Mifflin are business partners Bill McKeever and Anthony Giordano, who are overseeing a super-quick renovation that will transform the space into a completely new restaurant called Mifflin Tavern — potentially open by New Year’s Day.
Smart striped awnings surround the corner entrance, while inside, white quartz counters look striking against black walls. Hardwood floors are being laid this week. A 10-tap beer system will be installed, and the kitchen has been expanded and outfitted with new equipment to cook a full menu of apps, sandwiches, burgers and pierogi. A second-floor dining room leads to a deck that will be outfitted with heat lamps.
Though the bones of the place remain the same, it’s quite an upgrade for the bi-level space at 1843 S. Second St., which is in the middle of the stretch that’s home to most Mummers clubhouses.
As Doc’s, the spot was notorious both for for serving underage drinkers — it was shut down briefly in 2013 because of too many violations — and for its connection to IBEW president (and ostensible namesake) John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty. Over the summer, when the FBI raided Dougherty’s home and union headquarters, they also paid a visit to this bar.
Doc’s Union Pub was at the center of what a 2014 National Review investigation called a “self-pay scheme.” Between 2005 and 2013, 14 Pennsylvania candidates and committees endorsed by Local 98 spent a total of more than $400,000 at the diminutive bar. And according to FEC filings, the union’s PAC gave at least $85,000 to the bar in seven separate disbursements between 2012 and 2013.
Whether the Feds’ recent investigations had anything to do with the ownership transfer is unclear; the building has been in Realtor listings on and off for years.
And McKeever, 51, a publican who for 20 years has owned the Keswick Tavern in Glenside, said he had never met Dougherty until last month, when they shook hands to complete this transaction. He also said the liquor license, which is pending transfer, was completely clean and free of any liens.
The deal all came together relatively quickly, per McKeever. “I’ve been looking for another bar, but I’m not really a city person. I know nothing about this area,” he said, noting that he was excited to experience New Year’s Day on Two Street — where the party continues after the Mummers Parade . “I hear it’s quite something.”
Co-owner Giordano, 35, who also runs the US Hotel Bar and Grill in Manayunk, has more familiarity. “One of my bartenders lives there, so I got to know the neighborhood,” he explained.
Food and drink options in Pennsport have evolved recently, but most of the new openings — Federal Donuts, The Industry, The Dutch — have been further north.
Surrounded mostly by shot-and-beer dives, Mifflin Tavern will try to cater to that audience (at least three domestics on draft) but also appeal to a more modern crowd. On the drink side, that means more than 80 beers in bottles plus at least two local crafts on tap. On the food side it means that chef Harry Burns, previously at the Moshulu, might list banh mi and fish tacos among his sandwiches, and offer apps like vegetable pakora alongside standards like hot wings. Prices will suit the deep South Philly location — think $6 to $12 for just about anything on the menu.
“I don’t know if this area wants food like that,” said McKeever, “but I’m going to mimic what worked at the Keswick and we’ll see.”
Calls to Dougherty at IBEW headquarters for comment on the sale were not returned.