Updated 5:40 p.m.
Popular bar The 700, a neighborhood pioneer instrumental in Northern Liberties’ transformation from industrial hinterland to thriving retail corridor, is for sale after more than two decades in business.
The decision to sell the beloved corner tavern didn’t come easy, owner Tracy Stanton told Billy Penn. His longtime business partner Kurt Wunder is battling cancer, he said, and the two former music scene kids — who met as sound engineer and bartender at the old Khyber Pass venue — decided to close the chapter.
“I was 26 when we opened [The 700] and I would like to try something new,” said Stanton, now 47. “This has been my entire adult life. It’s a pretty perfect time for both of us.”
The newly posted listing for the bi-level property at 700 N. 2nd St. sits at $1,350,000 — a relative steal for a package that includes a bustling bar business, the building and land, and a coveted liquor license.
The neighborhood institution has dominated the corner of 2nd and Fairmount since the late ’90s, when the now fully bloomed commercial stretch was largely abandoned. Stanton and Wunder purchased the property for $35,000 in 1997, according to property records. Stanton recalled a derelict building with a “giant hole” in the roof that collected rainwater on the floor. “It was the right price for the time,” he said.
Along with nearby Standard Tap and N. 3rd, The 700 became one of the earliest refuges for working artists and musicians who were getting priced out of the then-booming Old City.
“No one wanted to live here,” Stanton said. “When I moved [to NoLibs] in 1992, there were one-third as many people as the U.S. census said. It was just poor people and artists and empty lots. Now, it’s just poor people and artists and millionaires.”
Standard Tap co-owner William Reed remembered the solidarity between the two watering holes. The 700 opened while Standard Tap was still renovating its corner property a block away, at a time when Reed thought the Center City crowd would never venture to this outlying neighborhood.
“We’d look around and think, ‘Are we just totally nuts. Is anyone going to come up here to this weird little corner and come to this place when we’re done?’ So when 700 opened we could see them from our windows, and it made us feel a little more connected to humanity and civilization,” Reed said in 2015.
Both bars would go on to hydrate NoLibs’ residents into the new century in which the neighborhood would experience breakneck gentrification. Per Pew Charitable Trusts, the post-industrial quarter attracted more new residents than any other developing neighborhood in the city between 2000 and 2014. In that same time span, the average household income nearly doubled — and home sales jumped six-fold from $42,500 to $323,000. By 2013, the Philadelphia-based Reinvestment Fund found that the neighborhood became statistically unaffordable to the residents who lived there just ten years prior.
Even as the area gentrified, the clientele at 700 remained pretty much the same, Stanton said: “The millionaires drive into their garages and don’t put many demands on the neighborhood.”
Though the bar is almost unanimously known as “The 700 Club,” that’s not its official name — there’s no “club” on the end. “We chickened out at the last minute and called it The 700,” Stanton said, in deference to the syndicated Christian talk show. He and Wunder, who bought out a third partner Chris Sey a few years after launch, recently hosted their 20th annual “700 Awards,” a boozy Oscar-like party where little statuettes are doled out to regulars to celebrate their “habitual drinking,” Stanton joked.
Those regulars are naturally worried about the fate of their beloved spot.
Fishtown native Joey Sweeney — a musician and founder of the Philebrity blog — started DJ’ing at the bar in the mid-2000s, where Stanton encouraged him to play “the wildest jazz and other music” he could find. He staged poetry readings and booked house bands. He even got married there.
“Through it all, Kurt and Tracy were like the super supportive big brothers I never had,” Sweeney said. “The 700 was and is like no other bar in Philadelphia. If you are reading this and happen to be wealthy, you should buy it right now and then hire me to make sure you don’t fuck it up.”
Fueled by nostalgia (and alcohol), there are various groups of customers who’ve been chattering about pooling money and buying the spot to preserve it as is, with its traditional pub on the ground floor and lounge upstairs. Stanton suggested that perhaps one of the DJs who made their names at The 700 — Diplo, Cosmo Baker, Lowbudget — would want to scoop it up.
“My wishes? That it stays a reflection of me and my partner Kurt’s dream forever — that nothing ever changes and I can walk into it as a living memorial to my 20s and 30s and early 40s,” Stanton said, laughing.
“But that’s not gonna happen,” he added. “Honestly, a little ingenuity and some fresh blood in the neighborhood would never hurt.”