The Dawson Street Pub would be an otherwise anonymous neighborhood taproom on a secluded corner in the back streets of Manayunk if it weren’t for its phenomenal beer selection. More than 100 bottles of imports and micros supplement a heady selection of tap handles and three – count ’em, three – beer engines that draw from a steady rotation of cask-conditioned ales.
For many newcomers, though, the striking thing about this bar isn’t its substantial beer list – it’s the list of what’s not on tap.
Namely: Budweiser and Coors Light.
A sign behind the cash register tells customers not to bother asking for it. Other signs blot out the familiar Anheuser-Busch trademark with the international cross-out symbol.
Recently, Joe Sixpack pulled up a stool and jawed a few hours with Dawson Street owner Dave Wilby. Over glasses of Dogfish Head Big Winter Ale, I quizzed the ponytailed publican about his Bud ban.
No Bud – isn’t that unAmerican?
Some people think so. And it’s true, we do sell a lot of imported beer. But we sell a whole lot of locally produced beer, too. And that employs a lot of area people and helps the local economy. I’d rather not put money into the pocket of a big corporation.
When did you stop selling it?
I bought the bar in 1988, when it was called Uncle Chalies. It was a biker bar with two taps. That’s not the kind of bar I wanted to run. The beer revolution was just starting – we were the first bar to put Pete’s Wicked Ale on tap, for instance – and when I expanded to four taps, I took off the Bud. About four years ago, we stopped selling Bud in bottles. When I did that, the bikers left for good.
What did the bikers have to say about that?
A lot of them said, “What, are you some kind of commie?” Another guy, I’ll never forget, he says, “Did the Bud truck run over your dog?”
What do you tell people now when they ask for Bud?
I used to tell them I don’t serve it because it sucks. It’s crap. Now, I tell them it doesn’t fit into the kind of bar I’m trying to run.
You offer a dozen taps, three beer engines and a ton of micros and imports in bottles. Why do people still want their Bud?
Most people ask out of habit. It’s like asking for a Band-Aid. It’s so generic. They think beer is Bud.
What do you suggest as an alternative?
Usually, I offer Rolling Rock because it’s brewed in Pennsylvania and it’s marginally better. Or maybe Yueng-ling, which is also a better quality beer. If they’re willing to try something better, I’ll suggest Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Pilsner Urquell.
Do some people simply insist on their Bud and walk out?
Very few. Maybe if it’s a big crowd and they all want Bud and they want to make a big deal about it, like it’s the principle of the thing.
So you don’t sell Bud because you believe that’s the right thing to do. But what about the taste of Bud? What’s your problem with that?
It’s been so long since I’ve had one, so it’s hard to remember. . .It almost has no taste, unless it’s warm, and then it tastes skunked. Any beer that doesn’t taste better at 45 degrees than at 32 degrees just isn’t worth drinking. Basically, the only time Bud is drinkable is when you pull it out of a cooler full of ice and you’ve been mowing the lawn all afternoon.
What about Anheuser-Busch – has anyone from the import distributor ever tried to persuade you to bring Bud back?
The Bud salespeople hardly ever came in when I was selling their beer. They’re so comfortable in their share of the market, they don’t make sales calls to places like this. Their attitude is: You can’t have a bar and not sell Bud.
You also don’t sell Coors – what’s up with that?
I don’t sell light beer because I don’t consider it a real beer style. I do sell Amstel Light, though. I figure if somebody really wants a light beer, I’ll punish them by making them pay $3.50 for a bottle. I just don’t understand the phenomenon. It’s the same culture that thinks McDonald’s is a real restaurant.
So it’s been four years since a Bud has passed anyone’s lips in this bar – is this the kind of bar you wanted when you bought it?
Absolutely. This was my goal from the beginning. Comfortable, good beer, good music.
What’s the most-played tune on the juke?
When it was a biker bar, we heard a lot of “Born to Be Wild” and “Free Bird.” Now, it’s a diverse mix. I dunno – hey, Omar, what’s hot on the jukebox these days?
Replied Omar the bartender: “We get a lot from the Sublime.”
Joe Sixpack (written this week with a bottle of Penn Pilsner) appears every other Friday.