Good news for indecisive drinkers: 54 taps and the opportunity to order by the ounce await at Tapster, the new self-service sports bar that opened last Saturday on the corner of 16th and Sansom.
Once a credit card and ID are presented, visitors to the spacious, brightly lit spot are handed a “Tapster” card, which activates any of the taps lining the side wall.
Drink options, with information displayed on small screens above each of the spigots, are extensive.
There are batch cocktails and wines, hard kombuchas and seltzers, several nonalcoholic options, and a long lineup of beers, from the usual big names to regional craft breweries like Zero Gravity, Fiddlehead, and Conshohocken Brewing Co.
Pricing is all by the ounce. The least expensive is Rolling Rock at 18 cents/oz. (so a pint comes out to just $2.88). Other options range from 44¢/oz. for Wacker Brewing’s Bohemian Pilsner to 61¢ for Iron Hill’s Philly Phavorite IPA to 83¢ for Butterfly Spread from Vault Brewing. Wines run $1-$1.30 per ounce; cocktails about $0.50 more.
It’s all structured in a way to encourage patrons “to just sample stuff and see what they like,” owner Roman Maliszewski, 45, told Billy Penn.
The stripped-down, laid back approach extends throughout the space, formerly a Philadelphia Runner store. The hundred or so seats are split between barstools, benches, and backless wooden swings, suspended from the ceiling around a few tables throughout. Around the corner towards the back, a photobooth awaits.
Above the taps, a series of TVs line the wall, all tuned in to different sports during Billy Penn’s visit.
When a young couple came in and requested a Premier League match be put on and Maliszewski discovered he hadn’t signed up for the necessary package (an oversight soon to be rectified, he promised) they instead grabbed Battleship off the shelf of board and card games, hit the taps, and settled onto a pair of swings.
There is an in-house food menu, limited to popcorn and empanadas, and QR codes at each table for a broader range of options, prepared and delivered by Happy Rooster bar across the street. It includes sports bar essentials like burgers ($17), tater tots ($10), and wings (6 for $12 to 24 for $25). Customers are also free to bring in their own food from elsewhere, Maliszewski said.
A string of bars across the country
The Rittenhouse Square bar makes four locations for the brand, and a continuation of a second career for Maliszewski.
After a decade-plus in advertising left him eager for a change, Maliszewski quit the industry in 2014 and spent some time traveling through Europe and South America. Returning home to Chicago and pondering his next career move, he came across a bar where each booth was fitted with its own two taps, Bud Lite and tequila.
Maliszewski contacted the company behind the bar’s technology, PourMyBeer, and immediately hit it off with the owner, who ended up offering him a job. He stayed with the company until the opening of his first Tapster in 2017, in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, followed by a Lincoln Park location in 2018.
The expansion continued when a college buddy and his wife, Dave and Devon Atchison, reached out to convince Maliszewski to bring Tapster to Seattle, where they lived. The trio ended up partnering on the Seattle venue, as well as on the new Philly location.
For Maliszewski, choosing Philly for Tapster’s first East Coast location makes sense for obvious reasons — “You guys are obsessed with sports, and you like to drink” — as well as personal ones. Growing up he frequently visited his maternal grandmother in Germantown, and the city is a middle point now between his parents, split between Princeton and Baltimore.
With Fishtown an initial consideration, Maliszewski and his partners ultimately chose Center City for its diversity of office workers and neighborhood residents. He described a desire to create a space accessible and inclusive to all.
“It’s not a place you need to get a reservation to sit down,” he explained. “It’s kind of super low-maintenance and that makes it nice for people.”
Staff will be on hand to help
The venue’s size also allows for more taps and, importantly, more nonalcoholic options, like juices, sodas, and cold-brew coffees.
“I think it’s good to have something for people who don’t drink,” Maliszewski said. “A lot of younger people are saying I don’t want to drink these days. And ironically, I’m not a huge drinker myself.”
Instead, his beverage of choice is kombucha from Phoenixville-based Baba’s Brew, which he keeps stocked at the Center City location.
While listing the conveniences of a self-service setup, including not having to wait for service on a busy game night, Maliszewski emphasized that Tapster will still be staffed.
Besides a back-of-house worker cleaning glassware, an employee will always be at the wall to offer assistance and avoid messes — “A lot of people don’t know how to pour beer, as much as they want to say they do” — and to make sure things don’t get out of hand (drinkers are automatically cut off after two beers, with cards reset through an on-site staffer).
While still waiting on signage for the venue, Maliszewski is already working on a schedule of regular events. “Trivia is always fun, and then maybe a bingo night,” he said.
Don’t expect any karaoke, though. “I was toying with [the idea] but it’s kind of brutal, so I think we’ll skip that.”
1601 Sansom St. | 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday