Keen: Art gallery meets neighborhood bar in Southwest Center City

Three and a half years after it was conceived, Keen has opened at 1708 Lombard St., the long-ago site of Philly restaurant classic Astral Plane and, later, a series of flops: the (misspelled) Astral Plane Millenium, Fish, and Brick American Eatery.

The bistro’s owners are Chris and Caitlin Rorer, who met at the Restaurant School after he had left his IT job in New York City. (This created a mild scandal since she was already enrolled and serving as a T.A.). Two years later, they were married.

The original Astral Plane, a work in progress over its two-decade life, exuded hippie charm from dead-celeb photos, old-time kitsch, and a parachute-covered ceiling that initially had kept crumbling plaster from falling on your head.

The Rorers — who did extensive renovations to the rowhouse building, which they bought in February 2016 — were more deliberate in their design.

But no less whimsical.

They’re billing Keen — a play on Caitlin’s maiden name of Keeney — as neighborhood tavern and art space.

You’ll see it as you walk through the door. The front bar is done up a style that Caitlin Rorer dubs “sexy rainstorm.” Glass artist Jockimo executed an electric blue glass bar top that is topped with a white chandelier installation from Michael McHale Designs that evokes falling rain.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Dining room at Keen, 1708 Lombard St.

The adjoining dining room is more a traditional American country style, and its Pio Diaz chandelier produces what appears to be a shadow forest of trees.

A few tables sit behind a gauzy curtain.

Following a long tradition of naughtiness in restaurant men’s rooms (the Follies Bergere photos at Parc, the nude female samurai at Raw), the Rorers added an antique condom dispenser, which offers comp Keen-branded prophylactics, to the second-floor W.C.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Condom dispenser in men’s room at Keen, 1708 Lombard St.

The custom staircase upstairs is lined with railings and details made of reclaimed Chinese sumac.

Upstairs, there’s a brighter 12-seat second bar, a communal table, and off to the side — behind sliding barn doors — a lounge that could serve as the neighborhood’s living room.

There’s also a dumbwaiter, used to haul dishes between the floors, whose “works” are visible behind clear plastic.

As for the dishes:

Chef Antonella Biundo, a Restaurant School classmate of the Rorers, is going comfort food all the way. Her abbreviated opening menu includes apps, sandwiches, and just a few mains priced in the $20s (chai-poached chicken, beef short rib, pork chop, fish). Caitlin Rorer’s brother Liam Keeney is sous chef.

Camera icon MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Pig Candy at Keen, 1708 Lombard St.

Don’t miss the Pig Candy ($10), a glass with slices of thick-cut, brined and candied bacon with spicy maple syrup, served with an optional 1-ounce pour of Old Grandad Bourbon for $5.

Bar manager Tom Danks, who met the couple while he was bartending at the old Artful Dodger in Society Hill, counts Morton’s on his resume. He also helped to open The Gaslight in Old City.

They’re going for “fast craft” — that is, drinks made with five ingredients or fewer.

Six rotating tap lines have Pennsylvania beer and two draft wines including an organic Italian rosé for $7 all day.

Hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 2 a.m. Sunday.

Photos of Keen here