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Aug. 24, 2007 | Pub as urban tonic? Cedar Park thinks so

BEER IS GOOD for a buzz, great with food, and is a powerful cure for what ails ya. And here's something else: It's a catalyst for neighborhood improvement.

That's the hope at 50th and Baltimore, where the just-opened Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant is being welcomed warmly by neighbors in the city's Cedar Park section.

To them, this is no mere corner dive. It's a bright light on an otherwise dark corner that will raise community spirits, attract outsiders, and maybe prompt others to open businesses along this once-active commercial strip.

"It's going to bring a whole new spirit to the neighborhood," Dorothy Berlind, a member of the community association who's lived there for 30 years, crowed after attending a packed opening-day party last weekend.

Beer as an agent for positive social change - can you believe it?

Well, yes, if you've been paying attention. Northern Liberties took off after the 700 and Standard Tap beer bars opened; the same thing is happening in Fishtown in the vicinity of Johnny Brenda's, and in the newly minted Newbold section that surrounds the South Philadelphia Tap Room.

This is Community Infrastructure 101: People need a comfortable gathering place to meet and welcome outsiders. A brewpub is ideal in an urban setting because it attracts singles and young families who are in the market for affordable rowhouses. They come for fresh beer and hunker down for life.

Can it work in Cedar Park?

From the start, a beer joint was a tough sell in this neighborhood. A couple of years earlier, in a widely publicized protest not far away at 55th and Larchmont, a community association forced a take-out deli to shut down over drunkenness and drug use connected to its sales of 40s. Meanwhile, members of a church across from Dock Street tried to block its request for a zoning variance.

"Initially, some people worried, 'Oh, my God, here comes beer. All we need is more drunks in West Philly, more drunks laying on the sidewalk,' " Berlind said. "But there's beer . . . and then there's beer. This place was going to be different."

Neighbors signed petitions in favor of the project and opposition dwindled. The University City District, which promotes community development, got behind the deal and helped Dock Street cut through the red tape.

Lori Klein Brennan, a spokeswoman for the District, called the brewpub "critical to our work along Baltimore Avenue . . . We hope this is a catalyst for change that will spur future renovation projects."

Said Berlind: "Eventually people came to understand that this is a place you will be proud to have in your neighborhood."

Dock Street fits right in.

Forget the polished brass and marble of Dock Street's now-closed original location next to the Four Seasons in Logan Square. That wouldn't work here.

Located in an old firehouse that most recently housed a farmer's market, the new brewpub has a rough-edged feel to it. Yes, it has undergone extensive outfitting, but the paint on the cement floor is faded, and the original subway-style tiles are dulled with age. An old couch looks as if someone slept in it last night.

Owner Rosemarie Certo was so adamant about the funky feel, she even refused to show off the copper-clad brewing kettle in the front window. "This is not a theme restaurant. It's a working brewery, and we needed to use the space in the rear," Certo said.

Brewer Julius Hummer has been on the job only a couple of weeks, but already he feels the Philly vibe.

"Out in California [where he formerly brewed], you don't have neighborhood pubs like this," Hummer said. "They're places built on piers that attract surf rats and transients drinking Kolsch. You have these glitzy restaurants where the owners are drinking Dom . . .

"This place isn't fake."

Certo echoed that appraisal. "We chose this neighborhood because it is such a diverse, grass-roots environment," she said. "This environment reflects our philosophy at Dock Street. It's a counterculture environment, and that's what craft beer is all about . . .

"This place is real."

So, how's the beer?

The first batches were made by Scott Morrison, formerly of McKenzie Brewhouse in Glen Mills. I sampled a rye IPA, stock lager and wit, and all were excellent. Hummer told me he expects his first mash to be a California-style red ale.

The menu is basic pub fare - wood-oven pizzas, salads and panini. And, yes, they'll be serving those famous trio fries that were so popular at the original Dock Street.

How to get there? The easiest way is the 34 trolley from Center City; jump off at 50th Street. By car, exit the Schuylkill Expressway at University City, follow University Avenue to Baltimore Avenue, left. From Delco, follow Cobbs Creek Parkway to Baltimore Avenue.


© Copyright 2006 Joe Sixpack