Brewhouse, Jazzhaus, Ortlieb’s Lives On

November 21, 2013 |  by  |  Vantage  |  , ,

 

Photo: Peter Woodall

Still plenty of demolition left to do | Photo: Peter Woodall

With the demolition of the Ortlieb’s Brewery now all but complete, only the bottling plant, presently under renovation to become the offices of Kieran Timberlake Architects, and Ortlieb’s Brewhouse remain to remind us of the Northern Liberties’ rich beer history. In 2012, the Brewhouse was reopened as Ortlieb’s Lounge by Avram Hornik’s Four Corners Management, owners of several Philadelphia music venues.

Ortlieb’s Brewhouse originally served as the “company store” for the Henry F. Ortlieb Brewing Company, which grew to be Philadelphia’s second largest after World War II, with advertising slogans like “The Wet Beeer” and “The Happiest Beer” that were inane even by the standards of the beer industry. With the tavern serving only “The Big O,” legend has it that a pipe filtered beer directly to the bar from the brewery complex. Workers could spend their earnings on the beer they made and also on bowling and pool.

Fallcampaign_slogan

Ortlieb’s was acquired by the neighboring Christian Schmidts Brewing in 1981 and brewery operations moved to Schmidts’ complex on North Second Street. The move upset Ortlieb’s lager loyalists enough that Schmidts created radio commercials featuring Joseph W. Ortlieb, reassuring customers he was still involved in the brewing process. Without the stream of brewery workers, Ortlieb’s Brewhouse passed through a series of owners through much of the 1980s before it was acquired by musician Pete Souders.

The famous bison | Photo: Peter Woodall

The bison survived the transition from Jazzhaus to Lounge | Photo: Peter Woodall

You might say Souders’ history with Ortlieb’s began long before he was aware the bar existed. On a spring weekend in 1969, Souders and a college classmate went to New York in pursuit of his idol, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Failing to find Hawkins, they resigned to a jazz club in the East Village to see pianist Horace Parlan. Souders was taken in not just by the music, but the club’s architecture and atmosphere as well. The next morning, he learned Coleman Hawkins had passed away.

Ortlieb'sbar_6

Victor North on saxophone, George Burton on piano when it was Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, circa 2007

Souders spent much of the next two decades working in computer systems for a large private company, playing gigs in his free time. By the mid-1980s he’d had enough of the corporate world and decided to enroll at The Philadelphia College of Performing Arts (now part of University of the Arts) as a jazz performance major. A few semesters in he realized this wasn’t quite the right fit either.

Encouraged by his partner Margaret Cooney Souders decided to pursue a long held desire to run his own jazz club. It seemed fortuitous that a friend mentioned that Gertrude Graves was interested in selling her South Street jazz club, Gert’s Lounge. The sale was stymied when the landlord of the property told Souders he did not want another jazz club as a tenant. Undaunted, he went the traditional route of contacting a realtor who first showed him the Fairmount Firehouse (now Jack’s Firehouse), but the asking price, just shy of $1,000,000, kept him looking. Eventually the realtor took him to the small wood and brick bar shadowed by a shuttered brewery in Northern Liberties. Recalling the evening long ago in the East Village, Souders says he was “taken by the similarities with Ortlieb’s and that jazz venue in New York.” With that, Ortlieb’s Brewhouse became Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, opening in September 1987.

Ortlieb'sbar_2

Sign from the pre-jazz Ortlieb’s days | Photo: Peter Woodall

The bar became a mainstay of the Philadelphia jazz scene, with musicians such as Bootsie Barns, Shirley Scott, Duane Eubanks, Farrid Barron, Cecil Payne and other notables taking residency. Tuesday nights featured an open jam where lesser known musicians might get to play with a legend. Throughout the 1990s, Ortlieb’s thrived as one of the few venues in the region offering jazz seven nights a week, a distinction that continued through the next decade.

The 2000s brought a much more intense sequence of demolition and new construction in Northern Liberties. No longer an outpost, Ortlieb’s had to compete with a slew of new bars and restaurants. Saunders sold the bar in 2007. Northern Liberties was a markedly different place than it had been when he bought it.

Then, in 2010, Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus closed, seemingly for good.

The original tap handle given the Russian icon treatment | Photo: Peter Woodall

The original tap handle given the Russian icon treatment | Photo: Peter Woodall

Enter Four Corners Management, owners of an eclectic mix of Philadelphia watering holes and venues including Union Transfer, Drinker’s, and the recently revived Boot & Saddle. Kyle Costill, a veteran of the Philly music scene and cofounder (with David Kain) of Bands in The Back Yard (BITBY) was appointed manager. Under Costill, the bar’s reputation as a live music venue was nurtured and expanded, and now features indie rock, punk, hip hop and DJ nights in addition to the Tuesday Jazz Jam, run by the bar’s former owner, Pete Souders. On a recent Sunday night, R&B singer Miguel popped in after his show at the Wells Fargo Center was cancelled.

Inside Ortlieb’s Lounge, the old brewery’s history is evident in the promotional mirrors, signs, and serving plates Costill found on Ebay. The pipe bringing Ortlieb’s beer from the brewery may be long gone, but the bar’s original tap is encased in glass behind the bar. The draft list of local beers reflects Philadelphia’s more recent brewing history, with craft offerings from Yard’s and PBC. Another homage, the bar’s signature cocktail, is called “The Big ‘O.”

About the author

Bart Everts is a librarian at Peirce College. He has a B.A. in HIstory from Rutgers University and earned a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Simmons College. A native of Collingswood, he lives in the Spruce Hill section of West Philadelphia.



1 Comment


  1. Really interesting history lesson.

Recent Posts
Of Birds And Drinking Water

Of Birds And Drinking Water

October 21, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Inside the East Park Reservoir, Temple students adopting blocks, UCD to start early on 40th Street plaza, and Jewish life gets a boost at Penn > more

Preservation Alliance Launches

Preservation Alliance Launches “Places To Save” List

October 20, 2014  |  Buzz

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia reboots their annual "Endangered Properties" list with new "Places to Save" announcements > more

Bless Our Beer Gardens, Past and Present

Bless Our Beer Gardens, Past and Present

October 20, 2014  |  Behind the Facade

Drinking al fresco reached new heights this summer as brilliantly designed beer gardens popped up all over the city. This isn't anything new though, says Nic Esposito. Philadelphia has been publicly drunk since 1671 > more

Old City Orange Façade To Be Preserved

Old City Orange Façade To Be Preserved

October 20, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Historical Commission okays Old City development, the emblematic stairway at the Barnes, Blatstein serious yet anxious about The Provence, 10 homes for NoLibs, and a salvaged cornice delights in Fishtown > more

The Tombstone Wall Of Society Hill

The Tombstone Wall Of Society Hill

October 17, 2014  |  Vantage

With October at hand and Halloween on the way, we thought a series on historic cemeteries was most appropriate. Our first story presents the strange tale of thirty tombstones that sit embedded in the back wall of the Presbyterian Historical Society > more

Existential Tug-Of-War Along West Cecil B. Moore Avenue

Existential Tug-Of-War Along West Cecil B. Moore Avenue

October 17, 2014  |  Morning Blend

The identity crisis of TempleTown, Family Court opens, artist space coming to Grays Ferry, mixed-use for Ridge, inside the Bok storage facility, and PhillyU collects $60M > more