South Street Music Venue Tritone To Close

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…

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  • GrowlerKing

    yeah, this just ruined my Monday. Baltic Dance Party was a favorite, and who didn’t like the Citywide Special? knowing what these pricks charge for goods over on 11th Street prepare for the only $3 item on the menu will be water…RIP Rick D/Tritone/fun

  • Paul

    It was just called The Special. Rick hated when people called it the “Citywide”.

    TriTone was a huge part of my life for many years. I’m kind of heartbroken right now.

  • barryg

    Are the Fetfatzeses still doing something with the 6th & Bainbridge space they were linked with?

  • EmmKay

    I always felt like Rick D’s policy for booking and life was to give anyone a chance and Tritone continued that. It’s definitely a sad day to see them close.

  • Charles

    Closing the Tritone is unacceptable and, should new owners undertake such a misguided effort, they should be boycotted. Gastropubs are becoming as common as fast food joints. Speaking as a yuppie, I don’t have to search for high end beer (I just have to walk two blocks) but I do have to search for emergent music.

  • Sara Sherr and I moved our shows to Tritone when the situation at Doc Watson’s managed to get worse. Rick D was incredibly supportive of us, and we put on many fun shows during our time there.

    Tritone may have seen a decline in later years, but it was still the best place any DIY promoter could have: Cheap to book, cheap booze, and the space was one entire room. The sound was great if you knew how to turn down your amps and play to the room.

    RIP Tritone.

  • Robert

    What @Charles says: Gastropubs are becoming as common as fast food joints. This new g’pub will be competing with the likes of the gastropub that’s slated to open in the space formerly occupied by Adsum. RIP Adsum and Tritone; we’ll miss ya.

  • barryg

    15th & South does not compete with 5th & Bainbridge, especially a place as small as Tritone which will draw from the neighborhood. I’d welcome a bar with Gastropub vibe around there, there isn’t much is walking distance and there is new housing popping up all around there. If anything this will compete with Good Dog, which really needs to step up their beer list and food anyway.

    If it’s anything like Hawthorne’s, it will be mediocre and expensive, but probably good enough for the immediate neighborhood.

  • Dan

    Agreed, Hawthornes food & service is mediocre at best and the six packs hurt just as much as the foodery. The place is about as sterile and suburban as you will see from an independent proprietor. I haven’t been to Tritone in at least a year, but am highly doubtful that this will be an improvement. While there are no gastropubs in the immediate area, I am betting that this won’t match-up with Side Car, Resurrection or even Grace.

  • Sean Magee

    Truly a sad day, Tritone was the first bar to serve me a drink when I moved to Philly and I always wanted the to be the last. Good luck to the staff. RIP Rick and one of my favorite watering holes. At least I have a shitload of great memories. You will be missed

  • Sean Magee

    Truly a sad day, Tritone was the first bar to serve me a drink when I moved to Philly and I always wanted it to be the last. Good luck to the staff. RIP Rick and one of my favorite watering holes. At least I have a shitload of great memories. You will be missed

  • Scott Rodgers

    So sorry to hear this. I’ve played Tritone many times, and I don’t think I ever had a bad show there. I always enjoyed seeing shows there as well.

  • Joe

    I can’t wait to hate the place after a name change and renovations. The Tri Tone is going! Now what am I supposed to do!!!

  • La La La Lynda

    It’s a sad, sad day! I have some great memories of Tritone. I could always stop in for for a stiff drink and some laughs, plus the peeps were cool and the music was loud and raw. I’m so bummed! This place rocked! Plus I had my last and best bar brawl at Tritone…bet that will never happen at Hawthornes II….phooey!

  • Nicole

    Yeah this just ruined my day too. I saw tons of shows there, had plenty of drinks and good times. Met one of my best pals there during a Soulamite! show years ago. Spent many late nights dancing and carrying on. First date with now husband ended up there. RIP Tritone, nothing will ever take your place. I’m really bummed.

  • Lee

    A very sad day, indeed. I’ve seen many a band there and will miss that unique, low key, music venue. I might have to drink a Special this evening in order to pay my respects … and pour a lil’ PBR on the ground in honor of Tritone. Hopefully the new gang cleans up the bathrooms, at least. RIP.

  • Hi all, I book some shows at Tritone, including Sugar Town.
    Thanks for the nice post, Victor, and to the kind words from all the commenters. It is my understanding that the bar will remain open through January, the length of time it takes for the sale to go through. All shows are still on as planned.

  • Sam Steinig

    This really stinks. Tritone was always such an easy place to book, play, and see shows. I can’t remember having a bad show there… ever.

  • Jay Schwartz

    Deep thanks to Dave Rogers and the late and great Rick D. for letting me put on many film screenings, live bands and d.j. nights that probably no other club would have agreed to.

    I had a great time there as recently as a few weeks ago when I got to see legendary 70s power pop band The Sorrows, with the surprise bonus of “Cousin Oliver” from the Brady Bunch (actor/musician Robbie Rist) being in the band! After the show all of the band members were into meeting and chatting with anyone who cared to, which was standard practice at this intimate venue.

    They should call the site’s replacement “Sorrow,” because that’s what I’ll feel whenever I walk by.

  • nikki

    i’ve had such good booking/drinking/attending experiences at tritone and i will miss the place a lot. there are so many great events that happen there and i’m worried about where those things are going to happen now.

  • All of this boo-hooing, maybe you should have all come by when you had the chance and stopped this from happening?

    Oh wait, you were busy hanging out in Fishtown.

  • The Way She Goes…

    Yeah, now you’ll have to walk all the way across the street to get a $3 pabst and a shot. what a crime.

  • Sooz

    I am totally bummed. Used to go there often. My stopping had nothing to do with Fishtown, simply age. Gets hard to hang late when you hit 50+. Sad to see Tritone close.

  • The Way She Goes…

    Not that i’m a fan of Hawthorne’s or anything – but I don’t see the point in hating on them because they are picking up where another business is leaving off… it’s not like Hawthorne’s is driving them out of business.

  • Trins

    I can’t imagine my life without the vinegar’d out wine and fried pickles. Some of my favorite, albeit slightly drunken, memories originate from this bar. This is sadness, pure sadness.

  • Scott the Tritone soundguy

    you tell ’em Chrissy! haha.. and Sam, I remember PLENTY of bad shows you played there, j/k. and Maria has totally the right idea (take notes Sam) and Jay, I had no idea that Robbie was cousin Oliver, ha! that’s awesome… great guy, great gig.. one of so many, many great shows that happened at that place..

    I mean, venue’s come and go but this one’s not actually gone just yet.. we’ve got 3 months to send it off in style! There are alot of reasons I’ll really miss the place, besides the staff who are like family to me, and the awesome booking policy that could bring acts that were crazy good, crazy awful, or just plain crazy (or all three at once) to perform there on any given night I ended up working.. the thing I’ll miss most will probably be that the place is still so infused with Rick D’s spirit that sometimes you can catch his image in the reflection in the bottom of your pint glass and hear his voice inside your head, busting your balls on a world class level.. that’s gonna be the hardest thing about it closing I think.. I miss Rick and working there kept him in some way as still a part of my life..

    sure the place is a bit battered and bruised but that’s from all the crazy awesome fun that’s happened there over the years… as a performer, the Tritone was whatever you made it to be.. the fact that generally, anyone with an idea could get a gig there, to try anything at all.. didn’t have to be just live music! and they never take a cut of the door, it goes totally to the performers… and so many awesome bands got their start here in philly when no other venues in town would book them..

    so we’ve got three months! let’s show that place just how much we are gonna miss it.. (and don’t forget to tip the soundguy, he’s nice and gives out free earplugs if it gets loud)

  • Nicole

    see. thats the spirit im going to miss :(

  • WPO will live on, but loss of Tritone is a big loss to the neighborhood. Last of the non-yuppie places (at least when I frequent there between 4.30 and 8p). Cheap drinks, decent food, no line, no ‘tude. Damn. Damn.

  • Keith Richard Peirce

    Tritone will always be the consecrated ground where Whorehouse and I took great beatings for the late Pope John Paul II. We got into drunken fist-to-cuffs with a comedy troupe lampooning the death of His Holiness in 2005. Coupla squares we were. I’ll always love you guys. Especially my old friend Rick.

    – Keith
    Northern Arms

  • Little Bird

    It needs to be said, so I’ll say it — as a longtime patron, and having booked a few shows there.. I blame this on Dave Rogers. The Tritone went to absolute SHIT after Rick D died. Dave let it fall apart; he’s had a few real drunks and junkies behind the bar (not ALL the bartenders were bad – but some were/are AWFUL), a few moronic door guys, he’s double-booked shows, he did nothing at all promote the bar… everything was a halfassed mess the last 5 years. Say what you will, paint a rose-colored picture if you must…but Dave’s shitty management ruined a really good thing. And it’s a fucking shame!

  • Frankie

    Wow, Little Bird. Amazing to blame Dave Rogers for this. He’s held that place together for the sake of the music, the employees, and the patrons. Double-booked shows? Ha! Maybe if everyone who said they would play would show up, or follow the rules (yes, you really DO need to be 21 to play there), so Tritone wouldn’t suddenly have no show on a weekend night … .

    Oh, but I’m sure your right about shitty management. A better manager would have raised the prices on the food and drinks to a reasonable rate, or higher. But the shitty management always kept everything pretty much at cost, so far as I can tell, so this city would have a place for everyone to come and enjoy good music and company. What a jerk for having such cheap food, drink, and music!!

    And, by the way, keeping a business running when your partner, and friend, passes suddenly, is no easy task. Yet it didn’t fall apart – Dave managed to keep it together, at personal cost that you, Little Bird, must know nothing about.

  • long overdue.

    Little Bird has it right. What was a great venue, food, drink and music-wise, was driven into a shithole with beyond bad bartenders and servers. Don’t EVEN get me started on the cleanliness issues! Yeah, yeah, dive bar–but food poisoning ain’t no joke, man.

    When your bartender is so trashed he can’t even remember how many drinks he’s got sitting on the bar of his own, that shit’s a problem.

    There are so many things I could say here, but I’m a goddamn professional. RIP, Rick D. Your memory is better served so many other ways.

  • really?

    Ex tritone employees shouldn’t air their shit here, anonymously. That’s pretty tacky. At least sign your name.

  • kat

    Tritone gave me many amazing things–my best friend, some of the best nights out, I even met the husband there. for all that i am sad it’s going …-ex-‘tone employee & customer who signs their name. really? you seem a little paranoid …chill.

  • mark spangler

    thanks for another crap article. you suck at writing. who cares who you saw there? you taste in food is a bad as your musical leanings. why turn a story about a phila. establishment about you? turd. no wonder you cant get a job as a real writer.
    eat a turd schmoo.
    mark spangler.

  • Max Black

    People should stop being so nostalgic about the place and wake up. The place had become stagnant over the last few years. Smelled like mold last time I was in there for the Sorrow’s show. The mens room always had a piss smell going on. Matter of fact the last time I ate their the smell of the piss int he men’s room was noticable at the far end of the bar where I was sitting. Poor beer selection, no taps. There are a lot of nicer places, to see live music. And I am not an ex employee.

  • Gordon Rice

    This sucks. It was a wonderful place to play (and I should know–I played there well over 200 times in between the million other places I’ve played) and a wonderful place to eat, drink and hang. I left town nearly a year ago because I honestly felt that Philly was done. This proves me right, but that doesn’t make me happy. Best of luck to all my old and dear friends who’ll now have to find gainful employment, and I’ll drop by before it’s gone.

  • PBR Beam

    As Paul said, Rick D would refer to anyone ordering a “City Wide” as a hipster d-bag. It’s a effin Special. That’s it.

  • Brian Zee

    You don’t always know what you have until its gone. My bad has played many shows there, some great, some bad, some in between. Always had a great time, though. Thanks for everyting, Tritone. I hope some other venue in the city picks up the slack with respect to being open to giving new and different bands a chance.

  • palma

    It’s no surprise that this venue is going the way of the Dodo. Although it was a great DIY outlet for local music, most of it wasn’t very good. Its saving grace was Punk Rock Karaoke. Every other show was like open-mic night 7 days a week. If it had been booked by a proper house theres no doubt in my mind that it would’ve been more than 2nd rate. To little too late I guess.

  • Nancy

    Rick’s last name is spelled wrong.

  • Krazy Joe

    “Tritone will always be the consecrated ground where Whorehouse and I took great beatings for the late Pope John Paul II. We got into drunken fist-to-cuffs with a comedy troupe lampooning the death of His Holiness in 2005. Coupla squares we were. ”

    It was 2007. My friends Dave and Brendan were doing a ‘Pope Roast’ shortly after John Paul II’s death. It was a FRAKKIN’ COMEDY BIT. It was *A JOKE*. A funny one, too. You spit on Dave and all of us were ready to beat you senseless. I’ve never been in a fight before and even I was ready to pound you. I remember that a police officer threw you out shortly after.

    Somehow I doubt that the pope would have approved of you trying to spit on someone. Not exactly the kind of guy he was.

  • her jazz-zzz

    have you read anything by theoretical girl?

    what a chip on her shoulder…

    and gawd the most pompous i knew it before you did and you are not smarter than me ever blog i have ever seen. its cringe-worthy. not a smile on that thing..

    yeeshhh. some people know it all on the internets.

  • tim

    Very sad news. I certainly didn’t go there as I often wanted to in the past few years, but always thought Rick D. and Dave were great and had a great time every time. Chrissy, I am not and fishtown but appreciate your sentiment. Tritone will be missed, and all that will miss it should show up before it ends, if you bitch about it than don’t stop by

  • Jennifer Dowling

    I’m sad to hear this. I moved out of Philly in ’95, but whenever I was back, Tritone was a place I liked to hit. I remember taking my now-husband there for the first time when he was a grad student, showing him how Philly got things done.

  • Barbtallica

    The end of an era…many a drunken night/great show s and of course drunken Saturday afternoons spent there! I knew Rick D. & Dave from waaaay back in the day! Much respect to both of them for creating a great place where much music and many great memories were made! They had a dream and they lived it! How many other of you armchair quarterbacks can say the same?! R I P Rick..CHEERs to your next venture Dave! And Tritone…You ROCKED!

  • Bigcam59

    Damn.I’ll be there on the last night, havin’ a beer and a shot before wobbling to the Path train and the neutered civility that has become modern suburbia. You will be missed. I hope the new owners fail miserably.

  • What ever its shortcomings, Tritone is the only place in Philadelphia where you could hear avant garde jazz, punk, metal, Balkan dance music, singer/songwriter, indie rock, and genre defying music all under one roof. Thanks Dave, for keeping going as long as you did!

    …and all the yuppie micro breweries can rot in hell!

  • sux

    First they killed the Khyber, then they came for the Tritone. Someone grow a set of ballz to keep these music venues alive

  • Criselda Monreal

    I’m gonna put a link to your page on my digg.

  • Jenna

    I’m glad I re-read this. I was under the impression that Tritone would close on New Year’s Eve/Day. I guess they’ll be closing in February?

  • Matt

    When do they close? Will the last Bobby Zankel show at Tritone be in February or after? For crying out loud, where will he play after that?!?