This is the kind of thought the men at the Grey Lodge might idly ponder when they’re otherwise occupied with matters below the belt. For them, a simple visit to the john at this Frankford Avenue tavern is a brief interlude with the wit and wisdom of the literary drinker.
Filled with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain –
Quaintest thoughts – queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
Who cares how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.
It says so up on the wall, above the urinal.
This is more than coarse bathroom graffiti, though. It’s a work of art. Edgar Allen Poe’s wistful lyrics – and about 20 other similarly tipsy quotes – are part of a stunning display of floor-to-ceiling ceramic tiles that decorate the Grey Lodge men’s room.
“It gives you something to think about while you’re in here,” bar owner Mike “Scoats” Scotese said recently while conducting a lavatory tour. “I guess drinking just opens up one’s mind to all sorts of deep thoughts.”
Right – like this incisive one near the sink, from Tom Waits: I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.
The tiles are the handiwork of local artist Peggy Brecht, who installed them with Scoats last summer, amid a mosaic of cobalt ceramic pieces and bottle caps.
The artwork may come as a surprise to anyone who’d assume the Grey Lodge is just another Frankford watering hole. That’s what the joint at 6235 Frankford Ave. – formerly known as Mugsy’s and the Av Tav – looks like. But since Scoats bought it six years ago, he’s subtly transformed it into a unique neighborhood fixture that attracts both oldtime reg’lars and younger beer freaks.
“We pretty much need all the business we can get,” said Scoats, 34, explaining the atmosphere. “The bar already had an older clientele, and I didn’t want to turn them away.” But with a beer list that is now one of the most eclectic in the city (and certainly the best in the Northeast), the Grey Lodge also attracts beer wanderers from outside the neighborhood.
Somehow, the Grey Lodge keeps both happy; Seagrams sippers warmly rub elbows with the $10-a-bottle Chimay crowd.
“It gives us a more unique vibe,” Scoats said, “and hopefully you get people to co-exist.”
Or, in Ben Franklin’s words above the stall, Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Flying Fish of Cherry Hill, N.J., released its 2000 version of Farmhouse Summer Ale the other night at the Grey Lodge. Joe Sixpack sucked down a coupla pints from the first cask of the seasonal ale with brewery boss Gene Morrow.
Head brewer Rich Atkins says the ale might be one of the region’s lowest-alcohol brews – something less than 4 percent. Smooth and refreshing, it’s proof that beermakers can pack a lot of taste into a relatively light beer.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on British-style session ales,” Atkins told me. “I’m finding a lot of enjoyment in a classic style of beer that you can drink all night.”
Morrow and Atkins, by the way, are still smiling from their success in March at the Real Ale Festival in Chicago. Their BlackFish Ale – a porter mixed with a pale ale – won a gold medal in the Brown Ale/Mild category.
At the other end of the dizziness spectrum, the ales from Heavyweight Brewing in Ocean Township, N.J., are starting to show up in the area. Open about six months, the brewery is finally sending its brain-walloping Baltis O.V.S. (8.2 percent alcohol) and Lunacy Belgian-Style Golden Ale (7.7 percent) to Philly.
Brewer Tom Baker said he’s making only “big” beers. “You’re not going to see any lagers or pale ales from us,” he said.
That’s a rarity in the beer biz, where even fringe breweries feel a need to create lighter-tasting ales to satisfy mainstream drinkers.
Look for a very limited distribution of Heavyweight’s Baltic-style porter, Percuno’s Hammer, available in champagne bottles and on tap. Inspired by local beer scribe Lew Bryson, who helped develop the recipe, Adams says the porter tastes like an imperial stout, “but not as heavy.”
Philly Fest 2000 is tomorrow at the Big “O” Center at Poor Henry’s (829 N. American St., Northern Liberties). The festival features suds from more than two dozen local craft brewers, a buffet and collectibles. Tix: $25; info: 215-413-0700.
Dock Street’s Terminal Brew Pub (1150 Filbert St., Center City) is slated to open next Friday. The Reading Terminal site, completed last summer by Red Bell Brewing, has been tied up in a court battle.