Joe Sixpack: The good news about Philly & beer
WITH ITS Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Art Museum, Italian Market, Constitution Center, Fairmount Park, Antique Row, Society Hill, Convention Center, stadiums, universities, restaurants, music scene, cheesesteaks and Center City shopping (not to mention Rocky), it's almost preposterous that anyone would visit Philadelphia for its beer.
And, yet, there it is as part of the region's tourism marketing effort, a pitch to woo beer lovers to the City of Brotherly Love.
"Dear Craft Brew Crew," the With Love Philadelphia XOXO campaign's billboards and magazine ads say, "Beer Me."
"We're playing up Philadelphia's strengths," explained Caroline Bean, who handles national media relations for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., "and one of them is plainly our craft beer scene."
Let's just take a moment here to note a few recent headlines in the Daily News:
"Cherry Hill man admits guilt in vomit case";
"Bar slaying draws blast from chief in Upper Darby";
"Northeast Phila. man arrested in drunken joyride."
We live in a city where underage drinking, stadium brawls, DUIs, nuisance bars and Old City fistfights regularly bring bad publicity. If you read only the bad news, you might think that inviting people to Philadelphia to drink the beer is like Louisiana asking y'all to come down to see the oil.
But beer it is, and not just in Philly.
Dozens of other cities around the world lure visitors with the promise of unique and fresh and ales and lagers that are either produced in a hometown brewery or served in some quaint tavern. Think of London, Portland, Ore., or Brussels, and beer is one of the first things that comes to mind. Even Asheville, N.C., a city better known for its folk arts scene, now brags about its beer.
For whatever reason (I'm guessing it's because there isn't a professional journalist alive who doesn't love a cold one), the PR works.
In the last six months alone, the New York Times travel section has run major stories promoting beer-related trips to Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany; Chicago; and, of all places, Vietnam.
Last week, the Washington Post wrote about Philly's beer scene. (Disclaimer: The story was partly generated by publicity around Philly Beer Week, where I'm the executive director.)
For the tourism agency, beer is a huge draw for visitors because - like the city itself - it is "down to earth."
"It's definitely something we can capitalize on," said Bean, "because our love for beer is the real thing. We don't have to fake it."
GPTMC has devoted an entire section of its Web site, visitphilly.com, to the beer scene. Its tourism bloggers at uwishunu.com regularly write about local bars, including Monk's Cafe and McGillin's Old Ale House. Last month, it sent a news release to newspapers across the country boasting, among other things, that Maxim, the slutty T&A mag, had named Philadelphia its "favorite beer burg."
Last week, the agency took an even bigger step by partnering with Victory Brewing to create the new With Love Philadelphia XOXO Victory Summer Love Ale.
The agency and the brewery announced its release at an invitation-only New York press event featuring Victory brewmaster Bill Covaleski. They'll continue the campaign by distributing thousands of branded beer coasters throughout the region.
The golden ale's label is a nod to Philadelphia's reputation for landmark historic events. With the William Penn statue happily hoisting a pint, it proclaims, "Philadelphians long have been hearty beer drinkers. In fact, when Billy Penn got here a few years back, his boat docked right next to a mighty fine pub. 300 years later, Philadelphians still love their sudsy-hoppy-happiness."
Many in the city will dwell on beer's darker moments.
But as we ride the swell into the third annual Philly Beer Week (which gets under way at 7:30 tonight with the Opening Tap event at the Independence Visitors Center, 6th and Market streets), many more of us are more apt to raise a glass in honor of the jobs, the nightlife, the foamy fun produced by a great glass of beer.
Fifty years ago, it was the straight-laced Penn - towering over the city - who gave us our reputation as a dowdy place, a Quaker town where they rolled up the sidewalks after dark. Today, it's Penn who declares that we're America's best beer-drinking city.
Here's to irony.