The time warp swallowed me somewhere between the brownstone mansions of South Broad and the Singing Fountain on Passyunk. I can't pinpoint the exact spot. It was in the land of corrugated-plastic window awnings and perpetually open front doors. The afternoon sun was still high enough to shine on the short stoops of South Juniper Street. By the time I walked into Stogie Joe's, the spell was cast.
Eight white men on the far side of midlife pressed their bellies against a bar covered in white Formica. One wore a pinstripe suit. Another bared a heavy knee brace beneath shorts. A third drank Coors Light from a 7-ounce bottle. An unframed mirror, fringed with white Christmas-tree lights, reflected three old firefighter helmets perched on a ledge beneath a grid of acoustical ceiling tiles. Two preteen boys with crucifixes poking over Phillies T-shirts tucked into a square pizza across a table from a fortysomething dad whose white T-shirt said "Bada Bing!" above a stripperís silhouette.
The local news went live from the flowers for Harry Kalas at Citizens Bank Park. In the rest of Philadelphia, 38 years had passed since the Voice of the Phillies called his first at-bat. Not one seemed to have gone by in here.
Stogie Joe's is a new name for the old Passyunk Tavern. Other than changing the name, and expanding the menu and the seating area (into the space next door, within the next few weeks) co-owner Kristian Leuzzi has made good on his word. "It's a neighborhood bar," he said back in 2008, "and we want to keep it that way."
Given how much this part of South Philly has changed in the last couple years, that statement could have meant just about anything. While I slurped down a dozen top neck and little neck clams brought out on a scuffed-up pizza tin with a cup of cocktail sauce, the scene two blocks to the north might as well have been another world. Up there, hipsters swarmed Cantina Los Caballitos while, down the block, the sushi chefs at Izumi sliced hamachi. Down here, stacked copies of the South Philadelphia Public Record headlined a story about a proposed memorial statue for boxer Joey Giardello, whose last bout was 42 years ago.
The metrosexual gentry may yet discover Stogie Joe's, but for now the place is a throwback to an era when taprooms had twice the comfort, half the fuss and none of the attitude cultivated by today's self-styled "dive bars." The menu lists nothing more complicated than linguine and crab gravy. Nothing better, probably, than my deeply satisfying roast pork and sautéed spinach sandwich. Draft beer starts at mass-market lager and ends with Yards. If you want music, feed the jukebox.
They donít make bars like they used to. Except when they do.
Stogie Joe's Tavern | 1801-1803 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-463-3030.
Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.-10 p.m.
Appetizers, $5-$13; sandwiches, $6-$9; pizza, stromboli, pasta, $7.50-$14; barbecue, $9.50-$19