A $60 MILLION mega-drinking/partying complex named after a wallet-soaking cable TV company and developed by a monster real estate developer in the heart of South Philly’s isolated sports complex — man, I really wanted to hate Xfinity Live!
A fresh glass of St. Boisterous bock, poured at a rocking Victory Beer Hall, softened me. A burger from Broad Street Bullies Pub served atop a paper napkin reproduction of the Evening Bulletin’s May 10, 1974, front page won me over.
“City of Winners Erupts in Joy,” the headline declared, bringing back memories of both the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup and the sadly departed newspaper that Nearly Everybody Read. A dab of ketchup smudged the photo of Bernie Parent, and I choked back a tear over this bit of Philadelphia nostalgia.
It may be loud, chaotic and — on game day — a butts-to-elbows mob scene, but if you ignore that stupid exclamation mark, Xfinity Live! hits the right notes in so many ways.
Most importantly, the new facility is a step toward easing what has always been the complex’s biggest negative: its physical separation from the rest of the city. No, Xfinity Live! doesn’t quite match the authentic excitement of Wrigleyville after a Cubs game. But at least the vast acreage of Pattison Avenue asphalt now offers more to do than just tailgate or wait in traffic.
Others can speak about the merits of its food, entertainment and food-court-meets-high-tech design. I’m here for the beer.
Bullies boasts 48 taps, and I had a tough time finally narrowing my choice down to a full-bodied pint of black-as-ink Big Eddy Imperial Stout. Meanwhile, there’s an impressive 100-bottle list that includes most locals, a sprinkling of Belgians, plus cult favorites from California’s Russian River and Lost Abbey breweries. I scoped out a bottle of Troegs Nugget Nectar for just 6 bucks.
PBR Bar and Grill (which stands for Professional Bull Riders) serves iced $10 forties of Miller High Life, and the rarely seen Coors Batch 19 is on tap. There’s a mechanical bull in the middle of the bar, but, oddly, no sight of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Don’t ask me about the Spectrum Grille. With its menu of $50 steaks, I kinda think this will attract a wine-and-martini crowd.
It’s at Victory Beer Hall where the beer scene really takes off.
With long tables, heavy wooden beams, live bands, sing-along music and big, clunky glass liters, the place has the feel of a German beer hall with a South Philly accent. The 48 taps offer 24 different brands, mostly from Victory with a few other local micros mixed in.
If you look closely, you’ll spy two taps whose presence is both a hint at how close the developer came to misfiring on this project and a symbol of how far locally made beer has come in this town.
The two taps are from Leinenkugel and Blue Moon, national brands whose parent company, MillerCoors, is the project’s primary beer sponsor.
That sponsorship should’ve earned the big guys some naming rights on this project. And the developer, the Cordish Companies, had considered calling it Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden, just as it did when it launched its Power Plant Live complex last year in Baltimore.
But Leinenkugel in Philly?
With locally made beers now the rule at most area bars, a pub named after suds from Chippewa Falls, Wis., would have been as out of touch in this Tastykake town as a Twinkies Café. A local brand became an imperative as the project grew to include other familiar Philadelphia names: Dietz & Watson, Nick’s Roast Beef, Chickie’s & Pete’s.
Bill Covaleski, president of Victory Brewing, said he reached out to the developer shortly after he learned in 2008 that the Spectrum would be demolished to make way for the project. Those initial talks “trailed off,” Covaleski said, but he guesses “we made a good impression …”
Deals like this, though, take a lot more than a good impression. They take plenty of beer — more beer than most small brewers are able or willing to supply to a single location.
And they take a good deal of cash — the kind of dough that independent craft breweries rarely spend on advertising.
Victory, which has grown to become the Philadelphia region’s largest brewer, took the plunge and won the naming rights. (Because MillerCoors is still the big dog, those two lonely taps of Leinenkugel and Blue Moon remain as its proverbial bone.)
Covaleski declined to reveal how much his company paid to put its name on the door. “Certainly we hope that our beer sales there are substantial enough to erase a large portion of our advertising cost,” Covaleski said in an email response to my questions about the deal. He acknowledged this is new territory for his small company.
“We think that craft beer has a bright future and to get there, well, we have to attempt to muscle into what has been the domain of macrobrewers,” Covaleski said. “We chose to take a leadership role, and the risk, in this belief. Five years from now we might be out a ton of money without sales to justify this deal and watch as another name is raised above the door. ‘Victory’ requires taking some risks that you believe in.”
As Covaleski noted, “Maybe craft beer’s time has simply come.”
I love that optimism, and it’s the reason I can’t hate Xfinity Live!