Eastern State Penitentiary is opening a ‘fair chance’ beer garden with Triple Bottom Brewing

The former prison is partnering with the social justice-focused brewery on a new amenity for its spring edition night tours.

Fairmount Avenue outside Eastern State Penitentiary

Fairmount Avenue outside Eastern State Penitentiary

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Eastern State Penitentiary is bringing back its super popular night tours this spring, with something new: a beer garden run by Triple Bottom Brewing.

Guests who visit the Fairmount Avenue landmark after hours will be able to end their tour through the modern ruin with a pint and a snack at well-spaced tables set up in the courtyard that holds the former prison’s baseball diamond. Opening date is set for May 7.

One of a half dozen drink options at the Fair Chance Beer Garden will be Purpose Pale Ale, a hazy IPA brewed specially for the collaboration.

The two organizations share a mission to help people reentering society, and it’s likely several returning citizens will staff the beer garden itself, said Triple Bottom cofounder Tess Hart.

“I first met the Eastern State team probably five years ago, as I was learning from organizations in Philly that support people returning home from incarceration,” Hart told Billy Penn. “Since then, we’ve supported a few of their events and stayed in touch about our shared missions.”

The Spring Arts brewery, which opened at 9th and Spring Garden in late 2019, employs a mix of people from different walks of life, including some who’ve experienced incarceration or homelessness, and some who’ve spent their careers in the restaurant or brewing industry. Same is true for Eastern State, said vice president Sean Kelley.

“People on our team have been telling me for years that we should be working with Triple Bottom,” Kelley said. “Coming into this year, we thought, ‘Well if we’re going to be open at night…’ and everything aligned.”

Evening tours were first introduced last October, as the museum was forced to find a pandemic-safe replacement for its annual Terror Behind the Walls Halloween attraction.

The haunted house was a big moneymaker, Kelley admitted, but the nonprofit institution has been able to squeak by. It laid off 29 full-time employees in June, according to the Inquirer, in addition to not being able to employ the 300 or so workers who usually staffed the Terror event.

But the night tours align better with the mission of social justice storytelling. Another bonus, Kelley said: more Philadelphians are likely to visit.

That’s been one of COVID’s silver linings, per Kelley. “Our daytime audience was 80% tourists before the pandemic,” he said. “It’s really nice to see so many more local audiences right now.

New artwork projected on the exterior of the penitentiary’s castle-like walls will greet visitors to the night tours. Created in collaboration with Mural Arts, the video by artist Andrea Walls weaves social justice stories into a visual display, and viewers will be able to use an app to hear a soundtrack.

The projections will be free, and visible to passersby on Fairmount Avenue. People who buy tickets to the night tours — which come with a self-guided audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi — will also see three new interior art installations, joining nine already interspersed among the concrete cells.

Night Tours: Summer Twilight will run through Sept. 4. Admission to the Fair Chance Beer Garden is included in the $19 ticket price. Advance reservations are recommended, because tours have been selling out, Kelley said.

With opening day more than a month away, Triple Bottom’s Hart hasn’t yet figured out the food menu for the beer garden, but she expects it’ll be mostly pretzels and light fare.

She’s more than a little bit thrilled to be working with the historic institution, particularly because there’s a family connection. “My great great great great grandfather Edward Townsend was a warden at Eastern State Penitentiary,” Hart said, “so it’s fun to find a new way to work together many generations later.”

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