In a city where it can feel like every spare parking lot, vacant parcel, rooftop, or backyard is being transformed into a beer garden, maybe it was inevitable that bars and brewpubs would start eyeing their loading bays, garages, and canning facilities with a newfound sense of possibility.
Consider the two-month-old offshoot of Dock Street Brewery, the brewpub in a repurposed firehouse at the corner of 50th and Baltimore: Dock Street Cannery + Lounge. It is exactly what it sounds like — if what it sounds like is a raw, concrete space with fermentation tanks, a canning line, pallets of packaged beer, and, amid all that, a new stylish bar serving up craft cocktails made with local spirits and Dock Street beer.
On a recent Friday night, I went around to the back of Dock Street to the cannery and found the roll-up garage door open to the summer evening.
I can see how the raw space might, not too long ago, have been best suited to reenacting, say, the darkest moments in Reservoir Dogs. Now, though, there’s low-slung lounge furniture, a metal-topped bar, a salvage-chic wall of wooden lath and vertical succulent gardens. It’s a West Philadelphia crowd — beards and tattoos; a couple with a toddler wandering around; a man drinking alone, writing in his journal, his dog yawning at his feet.
“We didn’t set out to make a really glitzy environment where we were going to have umbrellas in our drinks and leather sofas,” said owner Rosemarie Certo. One thing just led to another.
That’s kind of how it goes for Certo, who started home brewing in the 1980s and, with a partner, ended up opening Dock Street Brewery in 1985.
“It was like going on literally uncharted waters,” she said. “We were the first Philadelphia craft brewery to open. There was Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, and Dock Street. We couldn’t find a distributor. We couldn’t find anyone to buy it after we found a distributor, because no one could understand why anyone would buy a $20 case of American beer when they could get a case of Heineken for $20. That was the mentality back then.”
A lot has changed since that time — most recently, Pennsylvania liquor laws, which now allow brewpubs to serve Pennsylvania wines and spirits.
That cleared the way for the Cannery’s cocktail-bar concept. You can get a gin-and-tonic with Palmer’s Liberty Gin, made in Manayunk; a glass of Barbera made by Stone and Key Cellars in Montgomeryville; or a cocktail made with Vicio Mezcal, a company Certo started four years ago that is slowly growing its distribution in Pennsylvania State Stores.
There are a half-dozen Dock Street beers on draft and a list of beer-topped cocktails, some of which work better than others. (There are also a couple of beer-free cocktails, like an old fashioned.) For food, it’s more snacks than meals. There’s a cheese plate, oil-marinated mushrooms served on crostini, and pretzels made from spent beer grain. They do what they can, as there’s no kitchen here; it is, after all, just a garage.
Dock Street Cannery + Lounge
705 S. 50th St., 215-726-2338, dockstreetbeer.com
When to go: Choose a warm night when the garage door is up and the cannery becomes a part of West Philly street life. In any case, it’s open 4-11 p.m. Thursdays, and 4 p.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Bring: Committed locavores. Beer geeks. Center City friends who ordinarily wouldn’t make the trip to West Philadelphia. A backpack so you can take a six-pack home with you.
What to order: Try the Brewhaze, made with gin, grapefruit, elderflower, and Dock Street’s $50,000 IPA ($11). Or, ignore the beer-cocktail premise of this place and get the Dock Street old fashioned, made with Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey, smoked orange, and bitters ($11).
Bathroom situation: Pick your way around the gleaming fermentation tanks, the pallet of pilsner malt, and whatever else is stored in the back half of the space, and you’ll find a modern, single-stall unisex restroom.
Sounds like: A relatively serene 83 decibels (compared to the much noisier Dock Street Brewery next door) of street noise, soft music, and cocktails being shaken to order.