After more than two years of planning and renovation, Second District Brewing opens its doors in the Newbold/Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia this week.
The brewpub, located across two floors of adjoining buildings at the corner of Bancroft and McKean (between 16th and 17th), is a joint project from John Longacre of South Philadelphia Tap Room/American Sardine Bar and Curt Decker of Nodding Head.
A tasting of early beers — including a 9.5% ABV vanilla barleywine that’s way too easy to drink — and a look at the menu by Sardine Bar’s Doreen DeMarco (foot-long Lancaster corn dog, anyone?) bodes well for the pub’s success.
Ben Potts is head brewer, building on an impressive resume that includes time at Tired Hands in Ardmore and several years at Dogfish Head in Delaware.
“Ben was my first choice,” said Decker, who had been impressed with Potts’ talents for years. “He’s on his way to becoming a beer world rockstar. I was thrilled to get him.”
House beers on tap — which will be the only beer served at the long, poured-concrete bar, along with PA wines on tap and drinks with locally-made spirits — are brewed on the very same seven-barrel brewhouse that for nearly 15 years was used at Nodding Head’s Sansom Street location in Center City.
But “this is definitely not Nodding Head reborn,” Decker said.
The Nodding Head brand has been spun off. Several of its most popular labels (including Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, recently named one of the most important American craft beers ever brewed by Food & Wine) are currently being contract brewed and distributed by Philadelphia Brewing Company. The goal is to increase distribution, even potentially to other states.
At Second District, on the other hand, the focus is intensely local.
That starts with the brewpub’s name, which comes from the City Council District that encompasses the area, and it follows with the beers, which will not be offered anywhere else.
For example, there’s an IPA called Camellia Sinensis brewed with a blend of tea sourced from Philly shop Premium Steap. (Non-tea drinkers, fear not: The tea flavor isn’t overpowering, but instead lends a smooth, earthy body to the hop-forward nose that ends with a very clean finish.)
A nitrogen-carbonated Vietnamese coffee stout called Huy is not only made with coffee from Ultimo, which has a roastery in the same building, but is named after a Vietnamese metalworker and handyman on whom Longacre has relied for years (he built the “Second District” sign affixed to the first floor wall).
Then there’s hoppy pilsner Bancroft Beer, named for the bar’s address, and an IPA called Saw and Tool, named for the location’s previous tenant, J&B Eastern Saw & Tool Sharpening.
“The former owner of J&B stopped in the other day and he couldn’t believe how much we changed the place,” Decker said.
Behind the bar in the main dining room is a wall of repurposed wood slats (it was previously flooring in a different part of the building) covered by an assortment of mirrors. Three rollup garage doors along one wall will make the narrow room airy during warmer weather. Combined with stools at the counter, high-top tables scattered around the narrow room will provide seating for around 50.
There are also plans to put tables in the adjacent room, which holds barrels aging beer and has a cut-through in the ceiling that lets you look up into the actual brewery.
The open kitchen is behind the bar, at the far end by the window, “like Oscar’s,” said DeMarco. There’s an impressive amount of equipment tucked into the small space, and from there DeMarco will execute a menu of “Snax” (IPA-buttered kettle corn, housemade Slim Jims, scrapple wontons) and “Sandwiches” (sliders, housemade beer brats, smoked vegan chorizo, jalapeno popper grilled cheese).
Launch could come as early as this Wednesday, Feb. 15, but Longacre is sure that come Friday, Feb. 17, everything will be up and running.
Asked what got him interested in opening a brewpub, Longacre noted that he’s always turned to beer as a cornerstone of his adaptive reuse development philosophy.
“ReNewbold would never have happened without [South Philadelpha Tap Room],” he said, referring to the neighborhood’s first LEED-certified townhome development, which came online in 2015.
“Second District is just the start of what we’re planning to do on this block. There’s much more coming.”