The local music scene got a bit of bad news over the weekend when word began trickling out that Tritone, the small music venue/neighborhood bar at 1508 South Street, was set to close. The club debuted in 2001, when current owner Dave Rogers (a veteran of Fergie’s), and his late partner, music promoter and bartender Rick Dombrowolski (who understandably went by “Rick D.”), joined forces. While a bartender at neighboring Bob & Barbara’s, Dombrowolski, who died of a heart attack in 2007, invented what has become known throughout the city as the “Citywide Special,” a can of Pabst and a shot of Jim Beam for $3.
The bar is the last of its kind. While it can be difficult for a new band to get a foot in the door at Philadelphia’s other music venues, Tritone has always had a much more open-stage policy. This resulted in a vast array of live music. From death metal to punk to singer-songwriter to hip-hop, Tritone presented it all, seven nights a week.
In my former life as a sometimes concert producer, I had the pleasure of putting together a few shows there, including an on-the-cusp Gogol Bordello, Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid, and Tune Yards mastermind Merrill Garbus, back when she was known as Fat Kid Opera. Other great performances I have seen there: Man Man, West Philadelphia Orchestra, She Haw, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Undergirl, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Beretta 76, just to name a few. It was also the place where I had my first deep fried pickle, not to mention my first (and last) hit of acid.
The place usually smelled like stale beer, the sound was almost always way too loud, the door guy could be a real prick, and 10 p.m. shows would start at 11 p.m or later. But when it worked, it worked, and you walked away drunk at 2 a.m. with the feeling that you had one up on all those folks who were in bed by midnight and missed the show.
No one at the bar will talk about the impending closure, but I have it on good authority that Chris and Heather Fetfatzes, who own South Philadelphia’s Hawthornes Cafe (Chris’ family owns Bella Vista Beer Distributors), have entered into an agreement of sale with Rogers, pending approval of the liquor license transfer. Expect to see one of those orange liquor license transfer signs in the window on Tuesday. The Fetfatzeses, who would not comment, are expected to dump a sizable amount of money into the dilapidated space, install draft lines, considerably raise the bar on the food program and discontinue the live music.
No word on the fate of the $3 special.
UPDATE 10/24 1 p.m.: Chris Fetfatzes, who previously declined to comment for this story, just called. He says that there are a few different concepts he is working on for the space, none of which involve a focus on live music. But, he adds, that doesn’t mean he will phase out music completely. Still, I wouldn’t expect this or this or this and certainly not any of this, which is kind of the point.
UPDATE #2 10/24 2 p.m.: (Current) Tritone owner Dave Rogers says that since I posted this article, he’s already received a dozen calls and emails from bands wondering if their gigs are canceled. The answer is no. Rogers says he expects to be open for at least 3 more months and that any shows currently on the calendar are staying there. Now if people would just comment on-the-record before an article is posted…