A decade after founding Philadelphia Brewing Company, Nancy and Bill Barton are commemorating the 10th anniversary of their Kensington brewery with the launch of a new bar.
A party this week will mark the official opening of The Peacock Room, a 30-seat tavern serving PBC beers and Commonwealth ciders on tap and in bottles, plus a list of specialty cocktails made with local spirits. A selection of snacks like bacon popcorn and spiced nuts are available daily (it’s open Tuesday through Sunday), and rotating food trucks will round out the dining options.
The new establishment, which takes the place of the retail shop at the brewery’s front entrance and also has outdoor seating, is emblematic of the shifting tone of the neighborhood.
“When we first moved in, every window and door was boarded up or covered by steel, with double gates and double locks,” Nancy said.
The Bartons discovered the building where PBC makes its home entirely by mistake.
Driving back from a beer sampling at a distributor in 2000, they made a quick turn to avoid what looked like a dangerous area and happened on the giant red brick warehouse at the corner of Martha and Hagert, a stone’s throw from Frankford Avenue.
Back then, Frankford Avenue as it shoots northeast out of Fishtown was not a hip thoroughfare. There was almost no retail — no quirky pizza museum, no zany ice cream shop, no tiki bars or cafes — and no trees lining the mostly barren streets.
But the couple was taken with the structure. As then-partners in Yards Brewing, they were on the hunt for a new facility since the brewery’s Roxborough lease was up. They investigated, found out their discovery was the long-dormant former home of the Weisbrod & Hess Oriental Brewing Company, and signed on to buy it.
“It was owned by this old guy, Ed,” Bill remembered. “He said sure, he’d sell it. He was using it to store all this crap, and he wanted it on one floor, not spread over three. Plus, no one wanted to be in Kensington.”
The company moved in and began producing beer. In 2007, a separation deal saw the Yards name stay with founder Tom Kehoe, while the Bartons kept the location and equipment. They relaunched under the moniker Philadelphia Brewing Co.
When PBC beers hit the market the next year, the brewery was one of just a handful in Philly — and one of just 1,500 nationwide. Now there are more than 5,300 brewing concerns across the United States, including more than 300 in Pennsylvania and at least a dozen up and running the in the city proper, with many more on the way.
The Bartons did not foresee the coming boom. “You figure there’s always going to be new breweries opening,” Bill explained, “but not at the rate they are now.”
But Philadelphia Brewing Co. has been able to adapt.
Having so many different beers on shelves or beverage menus at any given time has lowered the popularity of PBC’s seasonal and one-offs, Bill said, but at the same time, sales of the year-round core products are steady and even growing. Asked to guess, the Bartons attributed the upswing to consumer fatigue.
“Some of these beers are really thick and chunky and weird,” Nancy said. “It’s like what we made at the very beginning when we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Bill described his vision of what might be happening after a drinker makes their way through one of those offerings: “It’s like, ‘Can I get you another?’ ‘Nah, I’ll just have a Kenzinger,’” he said, role-playing. “And then they drink four.”
Launching Commonwealth Cider in 2012 was also a boon for the company (heyo, gluten-free trend), and it now makes up a solid portion of overall production, to the tune of around 50 percent of PBC beer by volume.
The Philly brewpub explosion is affecting sales in a different way. Some of the retail establishments that carry PBC are simply doing less beer business, Bill said. “There’s more competition out there, so our good customers — the bars and restaurants — are losing their customers to the brewpub down the street.”
Not wanting to cannibalize clientele is one reason the Bartons avoided turning their tasting room into a full-fledged, public-facing bar for so long, they explained.
“The Lost Bar, Martha, The Monkey Club — they’re all big customers,” Nancy said. “We didn’t want to impact them.”
However, she noted, throughout the years, when they turned people who came for tours away and said, “Go drink across the street, it’s a great place,” people would get back in their cars and leave — especially people from out of town, which makes up the majority of PBC visitors. “They want to sit at a brewery and drink the beer at the place where it’s brewed.”
So now, helped along by changes in the PA liquor code that allow malt beverage manufacturers to sell by the pint and offer local wine and spirits alongside their own products, the Bartons have taken that leap.
Joe Doyle, a LaSalle communications professor and former bartender, has been hired to run the front-of-house retail operation. He’s currently staffing up, so the hours may change, but for now, The Peacock Room is open 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The launch party takes place 4 to 10 p.m this coming Thursday, Sept. 28.