For years, I’ve worn two hats.
I’m a journalist, but throughout my career, I’ve moonlit as a bartender.
For the last decade, my bartending gig has been at the Troc — and nothing before it compares. The Chinatown mainstay is legendary. What a privilege it’s been for me to be behind the bar for shows like Weezer, Black Flag, Iggy Azalea, Scott Weiland, Reggie Watts, Toots and the Maytals, George Clinton, Desus & Mero, Juanes, Andrew Dice Clay, many peek-a-boo revues, and countless more.
Sadly, this beloved Chinatown establishment will be shuttered, at least for now.
Concertgoers of a certain age know all too well of the Troc’s sights, scents, and sounds.
On its façade, the bright, red neon letters glow over the center doors that lead into the venue’s vestibule. Window displays flanking the perimeter doors showcase the current owners’ penchant for Barbie dolls — craftily arranged in wild dancing poses and body-surfing positions.
Inside, most regulars probably remember its deep red carpet and beautiful, domed ceiling, dramatic, Victorian-style wraparound balcony, and then the immediate smell of spilled beer. (That comes with the territory, though.)
Of course, there are some standout moments. One time, the Misfits’ Jerry Only came over to say “hi” and I snagged a photo with him — still sporting his signature devil lock.
Then there was HennyPalooza. For $50 a ticket, guests could imbibe for six straight hours on unlimited amounts of Hennessy to the sounds of a rotating set of DJs. I had no idea what the party was when I agreed to work that night. A young lady threw a shot of Jameson in my face after I sent a bouncer after her for refusing to pay her tab (anything that wasn’t Hennessy wasn’t included in the price of admission. Sorry, honey.)
Slingin’ drinks at the Troc has put me shoulder-to-shoulder with some people I still call close friends. A few even traveled up to Newport, R.I., for my wedding. The Troc is known for having a small, tight-knit group who often end the night all gathered at the same bar, counting money and staying later than needed — not because we had to, but because we wanted to.
Raphael Tiberino, son of Philly’s beloved African American artist Ellen Powell Tiberino, has worked on and off at the Troc since he was 25 years old.
Aside from his work as a painter, Tiberino is also a savvy mixologist.
“I want people to remember the legacy [of the Troc]. Walking through that place was like walking through a time capsule,” he said.
“And what I always loved about the place was that it always felt like you were part of a family.”
Robert McDevitt has been bartending at the Troc for the past 14 years. He’s seen many acts come and go since he first started tending bar in 2004.
“[Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Ltd.], PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, John Waters, The Psychedelic Furs, James, Clutch – to name a few,” he said.
“Oh wait! And Puddles. Puddles Pity Party," McDevitt said, referencing Mike Geier, the performer who dresses as a clown and does surreal, lounge versions of modern songs. "I was hating my life wondering why I had accepted a bartending gig for a clown show. Puddles entered the venue through the front doors, grabbed this guy’s hand and dragged him on stage and blindfolded him. … Then, when I heard Puddles sing, I was blown away! The best part is the guy Puddles dragged on stage came to my bar directly after and explained he had no idea what the event was. His friend had an extra ticket and made him come along.”
Joe Pulito worked as house/production manager from 2010 to 2014 and admits he has seen more than he’s willing to admit as to what’s gone down inside the building. Pulito now lives with his wife and young son in Bradley Beach, N.J.
“I would love the Troc to be remembered as one of the last ‘real’ venues out there,” he said.
“A lot of new spots are very cookie-cutter and sterile, and the Troc was the complete opposite of that. Every day was an adventure with a new set of challenges that kept things insane, yet interesting. It helped shape me as an individual and as a part of this wild industry. It will be truly missed.”
For local DJ and event producer Robert Drake, this is also sad news. Drake — who is celebrating his 31st year as a host and producer at WXPN-FM -- goes way back with the Troc, to the 1990s, when he was one of many filling the dance floor on a Saturday night.
Over the decades, Drake said he developed a close bond with the venue as it consistently welcomed the left-of-center, artistic freaks to haunt its halls. The Troc gave a home to Drake’s Philly Zombie Prom, which invited the city’s most fiendishly undead to a dance party that grew in spades over the years.
“The Zombie Prom was a production that I, along with my partner, David Ghoul, put together, and it was so popular that the Travel Channel came to Philly one year to spotlight the event for a national Halloween special,” he said.
Drake remembered celebrating his 50th birthday at the Troc, which was made special with a live performance by Bush Tetras and capped with a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with a live shadowcast from TNP, Philly’s own Rocky Horror performance troupe.
He and local jewelry aficionado Henri David (owner of Halloween on Pine Street) even married two Zombie Prom attendees once on stage.
But it’s seeing the infamous and fabled ghost of the Troc that will truly stay with Drake forever.
“I always felt the Troc was haunted, considering its long history,” he said.
“One night, I was alone on stage after an event. The only folks left were the staff cleaning up, and, as I looked out and up to the balcony, I saw a silhouette of a person sitting in the upper balcony – an area one cannot easily access. It was clear as day – they were just watching. I focused my stare as it vanished before my eyes.”
It’s because of the venue’s storied past — and now its potential supernatural residents — that Drake hopes the Troc lives on.