Crews dig below Sansom Street to find the problem at Bar

Update 5:20 p.m.: Bar has reopened

Just as business was bouncing back after the water main break, Midtown Village dive Bar was forced to shut down for three weeks. The issue? Yet another problem with underground piping.

The tavern at 1309 Sansom St. was just starting to rebound when the new issues surfaced, managing partner Patrick Iselin said. That stretch of Sansom was blocked off to cars and pedestrians for nearly a year while the city worked to fix a giant water main break that caused havoc in July 2018. It didn’t reopen until July 2019.

“Conservatively, the businesses were down at least 15%” because of the loss of foot traffic, said Iselin, whose title is CEO of the Vintage Syndicate.

Along with wine destination Vintage and other spots, the restaurant group’s holdings include whiskey/jazz destination Time, just a few doors down from Bar.

While Time’s underground piping was replaced by the city during the water main repair work because it was “close to ground zero,” Iselin said, Bar’s was not. Though the basement did flood, Bar’s “lateral” (the pipe that transports water used inside the building to the city sewer system) was left alone, he said.

Until last night — when the lateral was replaced at Bar’s expense. The total cost was more than $15,000, per Iselin.

The replacement happened after Bar spent several months battling a recurring plumbing blockage. The problem was determined to be somewhere beneath the street. While managers waded through the process of getting all the proper permits to dig — excavation requires a street closure, plus police to watch over the process — Bar ended up having to close indefinitely on Nov. 6.

“Without working toilets, we can’t open,” Iselin explained.

That was a bummer for the tavern’s many regulars, who include lots of folks in the restaurant industry. Bar is the kind of no frills place that underpromises and overdelivers, with an extensive beer selection and well-traveled staff making drinks.

Finally, in the wee hours as Monday crept into Tuesday, crews hired by the Vintage Syndicate dug into the street to try to find the issue. They couldn’t even find the original lateral, which had just been replaced 11 years ago, per Bar co-owner Jason Evenchik. So they gave up an installed a new one.

Iselin is thrilled to finally be reopening, but is not excited about the cost to fix what he believes is a city-caused issue.

“I one hundred percent think that the water main debacle of 2018 and all the subsequent digging and heavy machinery and a year’s worth of roadwork was responsible for breaking our poor little sewer lateral,” he said.

Either way, the dive’s fans can raise a glass: repairs have been made. Bar is now reopen — just in time for the biggest drinking night of the year.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation, including the membership program. She is a former food and...