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Aesthetically speaking, Krupa’s Tavern is as unassuming as any of the hundreds of corner taprooms spread across the city.
She sits on the ground-floor of a three-story brick property at the intersection of 27th and Brown streets, in a portion of old-school Fairmount which resists the Art Museum District rebranding efforts of realtors.
In the front room, 16 stools line a wooden bar with four active taps, not too far from three tables near the window, a computerized jukebox and video-game console. Half a dozen tables fill a secondary room — just past the one-person max occupancy men’s and women’s rooms.
On the walls hang pictures of regulars both alive and sorely missed, like that of “Our Rocky” Dominic Faiola, whose catch phrase “kick ’em in the ass” still echoes off the walls nearly seven years after his tragic death.
Also on display are weathered photocopies of stories that have named this the “Best Bar in Philly” and toasted an employee (now retired) as “Best Bartender of the Millennium.” Over the years, the two TVs were the source of some Philadelphia sports fans’ joy, and a lot more of their pain.
All of which is to say Krupa’s Tavern has charm, character and the spirit of an establishment molded by three generations of female ownership.
A locals’ place with a perpetually shifting group of twenty-something frequenters who discover it, there have been two rules throughout the bar’s lifespan: No cursing, and low-enough prices that no drinks are given out for free. Regulars can attest this remains true in 2021.
“It is a neighborhood welcoming committee, and the type of place that stays the center of your social universe. It is a home away from home,” said Michelle Price, a Gen Xer who, along with husband Kevin, chose Fairmount as the place to raise a family. (As part of the extended Krupa’s family since that fateful 2000 day when I erroneously wrote the mirrors were “dirty and smoky” in a Philadelphia Weekly review, I can attest Michelle is right.)
As of this month, that home-away-from-home has a 100th birthday to celebrate.
At least that’s what locals will have you believe. Their evidence? A 1921 Inquirer blurb stating that “Daniel Cochran sold the premises (on) the northwest corner of Twenty-seventh and Brown streets, lot 79 by 18 feet, to Anthony Krupa for a price indicated by revenue stamps as $10,000.”
Those words, relegated to microfiche, ring true today. Current owner Elaine Hepp’s grandfather Anthony did buy that building from Mr. Cochran in 1921, according to all involved.
Cochran was the relative of another local, Natalie Damora, who’s lived within a block of Krupa’s for the past 15 years, and spent many an evening there playing Jeopardy, watching the Phillies and chatting with Elaine, Joan, and all the regulars. When Damora moved to the neighborhood, her mom mentioned her great-uncle had owned a neighborhood establishment, but lacked documentation until her cousin — the family genealogist — produced that Inquirer clip.
Prior to the sale, they learned, it was a storefront run by Cochran, who was one of 10 siblings born in County Cork, Ireland.
“During Prohibition, he purchased another bar, at 19th and Girard,” Damora said. “My cousin Tom has records that state that it was used as a speakeasy around the time Al Capone was incarcerated at the nearby Eastern State Penitentiary.”
The rigors of time — nobody alive then remains so today — and the fact that Prohibition wouldn’t end until a dozen years after the sale render it difficult to determine when, exactly, the space made the official transition from corner store to a bar.
What Elaine and her sister Joan know is this: the building itself has now officially belonged to their family for a century.
Their grandfather Anthony died in 1928, passing ownership to his wife Apolonia. Elaine’s mother Helen took over in full when Apolonia died on the last day of 1962. When the bar formally became a woman-owned enterprise is unclear, since women weren’t legally permitted to be in that line of work until the late ’60s. (Pennsylvania’s so-called “Barmaid Bill” was overturned in 1967.)
It wasn’t until then that the separate women’s entrance was shuttered, and the walls separating the front from the back “ladies room” came tumbling down. “We were kids when that happened,” said Elaine.
She fondly recalled the days when round-the-clock workers at nearby factories and manufacturers provided reason for Krupa’s to open at 7 a.m. and keep serving until the next morning at 2. “Employees would stop by for a drink after their shift,” Elaine explained, as she and Joan rattled off names of businesses long gone: S.S. Fretz, Rhodes Price Paper Company, ITE, Smith Kline.
The latest chapter in the hundred-year history involves the scars of a pandemic which prompted the sisters to close from March 15, 2020 to June 15, 2021. Scars of that 15 month closure linger. Four bus lines pass through the intersection, making it impossible for Krupa’s to embrace the outdoor-seating concept. Finances were hit hard.
A few minutes after unlocking the front doors at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday last week, a handful of regulars rolled into their regular spots. Their eyes were on the Astros/White Sox game when Elaine was asked what the future may hold for her century-ish-old bar.
“I have no clue,” she instantly said. “Who knows with the way the world is. If I have to close down again for another 15 months, who knows what’ll happen? If you don’t own the bricks, you’re done.”
Luckily for family tradition, and for the locals who love the place, those bricks are not yet done.