The Barbary has been around.
When a college friend moved into an apartment at Front and Girard at the end of 2007, we were excited to check out the new spot that stood – almost alone – around the corner on Frankford and Delaware. We flocked there nightly, always knowing there was something fun to get into.
Now in 2015, the Barbary still provides an oasis for nightlifers – but not without some recent problems.
In mid-2014, the city began demanding licenses and special permits from the dance club. “The whole ordeal has taken over a year,” John Redden, owner of the Barbary, told me in the kitchen of his Fishtown home. The upstairs space, best closed down in March due the venue's need for a "Special Assembly Occupancy" permit – this clears that 50 or more people are allowed in entertainment-related establishments at any given time. Part of the deal was to close the second floor.
The space upstairs, known as Barbarella, is a smaller bar area used for more intimate parties for regular-sized crowds who want to sit, socialize, and people watch – unlike its downstairs counterpart where a disco ball and high volume dance music is always rotating.
“It was a lot of work and it is something that I have been working on for a long time," John said. "In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if we [were] ever going to be able to reopen the upstairs. I never gave up and believed that I would be able to pull it off but I wasn’t sure.”
Monday night was Barbarella’s soft re-opening. After Redden posted on Facebook that the permits were successfully obtained, an outpouring of love took place. The post read:
After a year of dealing with lawyers, L&I, advisors, and naysayers, its done. Virtually everyone told me that getting The Barbary 100% legit and legal would be impossible. No one believed it could be done. No one except for us. We never gave up, we never lost hope. We refused to let anyone else dictate how The Barbary story will unfold. Below is a photo of me in tears holding the final paperwork needed to be 100% legit. It's official. WE DID IT!!!
Hundreds responded and shared the news, saying how proud they were of their favorite nightclub and its owner making it through a year of drama.
But has anything changed upstairs? Not really, says Redden.
“There are going to be a bunch of other changes in the future that are coming up soon. The bar will look different but it is very similar to what it was. I wasn’t going to do this crazy remodel job for a space that I wasn’t sure I would actually be able to use."
The space will reopen again this Friday night and then an official grand opening will be scheduled in the not-so-far off distant future. “Tonight [Monday] is more of a soft open – a celebration."
Kristen Guessford, who has worked at the Barbary as a DJ and bartender for three years, told me, “The staff had put in a lot of time and energy to make Barbarella look really cool before the reopening. Last night was awesome. Bar patrons were happy and the energy was high in the whole building.”
With constant change abundant in Fishtown, Redden says he is ready for it, including Live Nation’s new music venue, The Fillmore, which is going up right across the street from his club. “What I have learned [about] having the Barbary for the past seven and a half years is to just go with the flow. I don’t want to get thrilled about it. I don’t want to get upset about it.”
Redden believes the most important thing is to uphold the Barbary’s integrity through it all. “The most important thing for me is to maintain that same vibe and that shared idea between myself and everyone who works there for the type of place we want it to be. There are always adjustments as times change to keep it like that. We want to keep it an alternative, fun dance club.”
The Barbary has long been the only nightlife establishment along the east end of Frankford Ave. between N. Delaware and Girard.
“And just always remember what got us here and our ideals in the beginning. Whenever I think about changing the Barbary I think of me and my friends sitting down and talking about a venue. Thinking about what kind of place we want this to be. No matter what, I always want to uphold that ideal.”