Dock Street Brewing Co., one of the city’s oldest beer makers, is leaving West Philadelphia after 15 years.
On May 31, the brewery’s time in the historic firehouse at the corner of 50th and Baltimore Avenue will come to an end, Dock Street cofounder Rosemarie Certo announced this week.
In June, an as-yet unannounced brewing venture will take over the location and equipment, Certo said. Dock Street South, the Point Breeze brewpub that opened in 2019, will remain in operation, with a continued emphasis on brewing (and distilling) at the 10,500-square-foot production facility.
Renata Certo-Ware, Certo’s daughter and Dock Street head of marketing and events, described the West Philly firehouse as a true neighborhood business, reflected and shared by the community it served.
“There could be an entire television show just about the characters that became our regulars and staffers,” Certo-Ware told Billy Penn. “So many incredibly talented artists and musicians have spent hours on either side of the bar. So being there for a shift or a meal, you always felt like you were steeping in creativity.”
Dock Street began life in 1985 as Philadelphia’s first microbrewery — and one of the first post-Prohibition independent breweries in the U.S. Decades before the craft beer movement swept through the country, Certo and then-partner Jeffrey Ware opened the brand’s first-brick and-mortar pub and restaurant in 1990 at 2 Logan Sq., just off the Ben Franklin Parkway. By 1996, Dock Street was producing over 25,000 barrels of beer annually, and distributing across 24 states as the 26th largest microbrewery in the country.
The company was sold in 2000, and the original location closed, but in 2002 Certo reacquired the brand. She set her sights on the old firehouse on Baltimore Avenue, and five years later, finally got the zoning approval to set up shop.
Over the next decade, beer production ramped back up, and Dock Street won national recognition for longtime flagships like the Bohemian Pilsner and Rye IPA. Its Man Full of Trouble Porter took home two bronze medals from the Great American Beer Festival.
Meanwhile, the West Philly brewpub became known for its wood-fired pizza and fun local events. There were annual block parties, and music festivals, and release parties for specialty brews, which ran the gamut. There was a “Walking Dead”-inspired beer brewed with goat brain, and a Wu-Tang Clan homage called Dock Street Beer Ain’t Nothing To Funk With (D.S.B.A.N.T.F.W.), which saw the famed group’s Inspectah Deck attend the release party.
“That kind of culture doesn’t exist as much as it used to,” said Sasha Certo-Ware, Certo’s son and a former Dock Street brewer. “I remember lines wrapping around the block, people wanting to try a certain beer.” He recalled a drive to innovate: “Trying to figure out what something new we can do, what hasn’t been done before — and how we can really reach the most amount of people, and create something special for them.”
Certo, who was a pioneer in the male-dominated craft brewing industry when she started over 30 years ago, said she’s moving on to a new professional project, though she did not release details.
“I’m proud of who we are to the neighborhood and what we’ve collectively accomplished,” Certo wrote in an open letter on the brewery’s website. “I’ve watched members of our staff develop personally and professionally, whether they chose to make a career at Dock Street, or to supplement their own life’s passion. I’m truly grateful for the impact this beautiful neighborhood has had on me.”
Renata Certo-Ware described the bittersweet emotions that come with the end of an era, calling the departure “heartbreaking.”
“Those parts of us all that painted the walls and stretched countless doughs and pulled countless pours for our favorite bar patrons — those parts will stay in West Philly, so it’ll feel like part of us is physically missing,” she said.
“The consolation,” Certo-Ware added, “is that the neighborhood is filled with incredible, talented people so it’ll continue to evolve into its own beautiful little world that we can always visit, and that we’ll always feel like we helped shape for a decade and a half.”