William Street Common is known for its beer garden and 17th-century aesthetic, and it's also home to the next big turn up.
The University City bar and restaurant (3900 Chestnut St.) opened in 2015 and gained attention for its no-tipping policy (and a one-bell review from Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan), but for the last six months, it has been the home of Live! at William Street Common, a music venue that has hosted everything from DJ Astro 8000's popular Pink Party to monthly art shows to workshops and weekly open-mics.
On Saturday, William Street Common is hosting a concert called Benifest with rappers Ish Williams, Kev Rodgers, and Anyee Wright headlining. The proceeds are to go to the Tim Langan Brain Aneurysm Foundation.Live! at William Street Common is the new venue on the block. Though there are other showcases in West Philly, like WXPN’s World Café Live or the Rotunda, neither of these caters to the millennial audience like Live! at William Street Common.
William Street Common is owned by Four Corners Management’s Avram Hornik, who isn’t new to operating music spots. He previously had stakes in Union Transfer and South Philly’s Boot & Saddle before selling his interests in 2015. He still has interests in Morgan’s Piers and the Dolphin Tavern, both of which host DJs.
William Street Common’s live entertainment is part of a yearlong partnership with creative incubator and music-marketing agency REC Philly. Live!, unlike the restaurant, does accept tips at the bar. The space is separate and stays open until 11 p.m., even when there are parties going on.
(Full disclosure: This reporter participated in a video series with REC Philly for Philly.com.)
Live! at William Street Common is filling a void in West Philly that opened when the Blockley closed in 2013. “With this partnership,” Hornik said via email, general manager Chris Dickson "and I thought it would be a great way to help grow the music scene in West Philadelphia.”
REC Philly bounced among outlets such as Center City’s Goldilocks Gallery and CODA, as well as West Philly’s Indigo Bleu, before finding semipermanent residence at William Street Common. “When you walk into the building, you can feel its history,” said REC Philly cofounder Will Toms. “On the outside, it looks like a bank; on the inside it looks like wild stuff was happening in there back in the day.”
And it's still happening.
REC Philly took on some of the operational duties of the space and made small investments in new equipment, making it more live-event friendly. “It just came down to programming," Toms said. "It was really important to do some of the fun stuff."
The William Street Common space is intimate enough that you feel like you can reach out from the second row and touch the artist performing, but large enough for you to feel small at its center. Debora Charmelus, 23, recently danced at a performance by R&B singer Xavier Omär.
Charmelus, who lives in West Philadelphia, said that William Street Common “caters to the scene that I’m into … post-college/young professionals who are looking for good music and Philadelphia nightlife beyond Center City.”
What makes it even better, Charmelus said, is that William Street Common is a large space. And the barrier for entry for bookers is lower. Larger event spaces tend to be more difficult to book. For venues like the TLA or the Foundry at the Fillmore, which has same capacity as WSC at 300, promoters have to go through companies Live Nation and possibly face higher rental fees.
William Street Common is packing its space. When curator Devin Cobbs came to Philadelphia last month to host 4 Lovers Only, the 1990s-themed R&B party that Toms described as “church for kids of the early ’90s and late '80s,” the party was at capacity. Toms said it was the site's best event to date.
“I was standing on the stairs looking over the crowd, and the DJ dropped a Lauryn Hill record. Everyone was screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs,” he said. “It was amazing.”
— William T. Toms (@TheWillToms) April 8, 2017
Toms said William Street Common’s location between Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania’s campuses was an opportunity to showcase Philly talent to a college crowd of Philly newbies. “It gives them a really good window into the rest of the city,” he said.
For the start-up company, whose mission is to be a full-service agency for local creatives, Live! has given them a home to showcase that talent.
Live! at William Street Common "is pretty much the heartbeat of the mission. It embodies it,” said REC Philly cofounder Dave Silver.” It's the opportunity, and it’s the community.”
Benifest, 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday, Live! at William Street Common, 3900 Chestnut St. $12 ($15 at the door), 215-397-4693, www.williamstreetcommon.com.