I’M SITTING with Michael Ryan Lawrence at the bar of the Point No Point Republican Club on Orthodox Street in Bridesburg. “They put these cushions on the stools for some of the older members,” he explains.
We settle in with a couple of pints. He tells me his story.
He’s a former Daily News delivery boy, the son of a firefighter, who grew up around the corner on Garden Street. He attended All Saints School, then North Catholic, then went to Penn State to major in journalism before joining the Marine Corps.
“I was like Joker in Full Metal Jacket,” Lawrence said. Behind him, a black-and-white photograph of the Corps’ greatest hero, Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, hangs on a wall.
He tells me he served for five years, did a stint in Okinawa, then came back to the old neighborhood, to family and friends.
Now he’s 35, living a block away on Allen Street, tending bar here part time and . . . CRASH! The sound of pins exploding on the club’s pair of bowling lanes jolted me from my cushion, and I’m reminded that there’s more to Lawrence’s story than Bridesburg.
Namely, Thursday’s premiere of his documentary Beeradelphia, the story of “The City of Brewery Love.” The 90-minute film debuts with a beer reception at World Cafe Live, and Lawrence couldn’t be happier.
“If I just had a screening at the Devon, that would have been OK,” he said, referring to the old “Dirty Devon,” a former porn theater in nearby Mayfair that reopened as a performing arts space.
“Heck, even if everyone hates the movie, we’re still going to get to drink beer for three hours” at the opening event, he said.
Ah, spoken like a true Bridesburg boy – one who took a detour to Hollywood after the USMC to work as an extra in a bunch of TV shows. Bitten by the movie bug, he enrolled in the Los Angeles Film School, then came back east to develop his first feature-length movie.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said, as the club filled up with members of its bowling league. “I remember sitting at home one night, swirling a glass of Founders Backwoods Bastard, which I really like, and thinking, ‘Man, my friends drink the same beer every day of their lives. They don’t know what they’re missing.’
“And it was an epiphany. I had thought my first movie would be about the Haitian earthquake or some other social issue. And all of a sudden I realized, ‘Holy shit, I want to make a movie about beer!’ ”
He got to work, shooting interviews with bar owners, brewers and others (including me), focusing on the city’s long brewing history and its raucous Philly Beer Week. If someone was celebrating beer, Lawrence was there to shoot it.
It took two years to complete the project; Lawrence’s bartending jobs paid the bills. He tapped friends and local pros to help with design and music. He tracked down licensing rights, including an OK from the NHL to show Mayor Nutter wearing a Flyers jersey during his ceremonial tapping of the first keg at Opening Tap in 2010.
The project might’ve taken even longer, except Lawrence snagged an angel – an old friend from the neighborhood, Kelly Wood Jobes – who stepped in with financial help as producer at Lawrence’s fledgling company, Philly Philms.
“I grew up with her right here in one-nine-one-three-seven,” he said.
And then he caught a bit of luck: A contact from his film school days invited him to screen Beeradelphia last May at the Monaco Charity Film Festival. That’s right, the champagne sippers of Monte Carlo got a taste of Philly suds.
It’s a long way from Richmond Street to the Riviera, and Lawrence laughs as he tells me how the Frenchies marveled over his film’s passion for Philly’s beer scene. “They’re all drinking wine,” he said, “and I’m going on about beer . . . ”
He’s back on his turf now, and the Phils are losing another one on the flat-screen TV. Someone just picked up a 5-10 split, and Raymond the bartender – a former mail carrier who’s been here forever – pulled on his Tampa cigar.
We’re nursing glasses of pumpkin ale from Brooklyn Brewing, decidedly out of place in this old-school joint where Miller Lite rules the taps. Lawrence said that, little by little, they’re giving craft beer a try.
We drink up and he tells me, “Sometimes I feel like the Beer Ambassador of Bridesburg.”