Updated: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 1:47 PM
In the last two decades, Avram Hornik has been a major creator on the city’s entertainment scene. After his entry to the hospitality business with Quarry Street Cafe in Old City, he followed with Customs House Cafe. Then came bars — Lucy’s Hat Shop, Butter/Proto Lounge, SoMa Lounge, Bar Noir, Drinker’s Tavern, Drinker’s Pub, Loie, and Noche (some of which pushed the patience of neighbors unaccustomed to such businesses). He followed by reviving South Philadelphia’s Dolphin Tavern and Boot & Saddle and opened an indoor beer garden (William Street Common). Also in the mix were three huge projects: Union Transfer, a music venue; Morgan’s Pier, a warm-weather beer garden on the Delaware; and Parks on Tap, a traveling summertime beer garden with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
Hornik’s company FCM Hospitality still operates William Street, the Dolphin, Morgan’s Pier, and Parks on Tap and has a full slate of projects teed up for 2018.
Hornik, now 44, a husband, and a father of three, says his tastes have matured as he still feels the need to create. Besides Tria Wine Garden at 31 S. 18th St., up for next spring with the operators of Tria, he is planning a retro nightclub in Center City, a Mexican gastropub in Center City, an outdoor Mediterranean restaurant in West Poplar, and Craft Hall, an ambitious restaurant that will allow patrons to watch the beer, bread, and barbecue being made.
When did you realize that nightlife was the right field for you?
I think I’m mostly interested in public space and how people interact together in public. I tend to kind of keep up with my age. I’m now 44, but I opened my first place when I was 20 years old. I had a coffeehouse thing going for a while because that’s what people did in their 20s. In my late 20s, I opened Lucy’s Hat Shop, which originally was, kind of, a wine bar. David Ansill was our chef and it became more of a restaurant. Then I kind of went into what I call the “drinking as a form of entertainment” business, and then I kind of went on to the live-music business as I got a little bit older.
Are there too many restaurants in Philadelphia right now?
No. I think that Philadelphia is a special town in that, if you’re good at what you do, if you make a great tortilla or great sushi, or you make hot chocolate … If it’s really, really good, Philadelphians find that and come support it. Competition is the only thing to make things better. The more restaurants that open, the better the restaurants are going to be because Philadelphians will come to places that are well-designed, in a good location, with interesting products and quality customer experience. So, there’s nothing but opportunity here. There’s a lot of outside money coming into Philadelphia, so a lot of investors are buying real estate. A lot of the buildings are being changed into higher-end condos and apartments. There’s a lot more residents moving into the city. And so the money essentially is following that. There’s not going to be any lots left. They’re going to start tearing down perfectly good buildings to build a bigger building there. I think now’s the time where you have to take advantage of the conditions because they’ll be cost-prohibitive. You would have to compete with nationals coming in.
You’re working with the Tria guys on Tria Wine Garden. Let’s run down your other projects.
The first one [January] will be a retro nightclub space in the old Turf Club [at 1635 Market]. When they created Penn Center, they dug things down to the concourse, so this is actually on the three levels down. But it has like a 30-foot ceiling. It’ll be like an ’80s and ’90s kind of retro-theme nightclub, with a ball pit and a slide. You slide down to enter it. Low cover charge. Reasonably priced drinks. Great sound system. Fun music. It’s like a celebration of being young. It’s what I kind of think we need these days.
We have the [former] Roosevelt’s space at 23rd and Walnut Streets. We got approval to take out the windows along the 23rd Street side, and the Walnut Street side will have big windows that open up and a whole series of windows that go all along the back. With the sidewalk cafe, it’ll hold about 180 seats. Right now, it’s scheduled for Feb. 15, and it will be a Mexican gastropub.
We’re redoing Llama Tooth [soon to close at 1033 Spring Garden St]. It will be an outdoor Mediterranean grill, which will be seasonal and more restauranty than bar. Grilled fish, grilled meats, vegetables. Simple. I’m looking for an executive chef/partner to essentially run it. What I look for is an operator who treats it like their own and runs it on a day-to-day basis. [He sold his interest in most of his other venues.]
The Yards space is an opportunity. I got a good deal from the landlord, and I’m going to utilize a lot of the Yards infrastructure that’s already there. Craft Hall’s idea is take that experience of going on a brewery tour but extend it to include other types of food prep. So you essentially see the bakery and see the oven and see the bread being made. You see the barbecue pits and the smokers. There also will be 400 seats inside, probably 100 seats outside, where you can eat the food and drink the drink. Our plan is to open in April for just the wholesale end of it, so we’ll have the bakery and brewery. It’ll start as our commissary kitchen for Parks on Tap, too. The restaurant will open in September .
Your biggest success?
Depends on how you measure success. I would say my three children. Family is first.
I think the thing that most disappointed me was when I tried to do that no-tipping thing at William Street Common. It was a really interesting concept, which was poorly executed. I was disappointed that I couldn’t prove that it would work. While it could work, it literally opened up an interesting idea. I would like to try it again, but it has to be the right concept.
Read full story: New ideas from nightlife guru Avram Hornik