Meetinghouse Fills the Hole Memphis Taproom Left in Our Hearts
After a surprise opening on Thursday, Meetinghouse breathes new life into the Kensington space that has served as a neighborhood bar since 1935.
When Memphis Taproom closed, it felt like the end of an era. It’s sad news when any long-standing neighborhood institution closes. Sure, it is the natural order of things. Nothing lasts forever. But in a city where the neighborhood bar scene is slowly evaporating, having a chill, come-as-you-are hangout to casually gather with friends is getting more difficult to come by. Neighborhood bars are where memories are made, where we celebrate life’s big and small moments, and toast to our milestones. Losing a neighborhood bar is like losing an extension of your home — that approachable, welcoming common area that everyone agrees is a solid place to have good beer with good company.
Enter Meetinghouse, the new bar and beer brand that has taken over the corner of East Cumberland and Memphis streets where for 15 years, Memphis Taproom served locals great pub food and an impressive array of craft beers. Even before Memphis Taproom, this corner has served as a local watering hole. According to a neighbor who recently shared photos with the new owners, her great-uncle opened a bar at this location in 1935, thus creating a space that became a pillar to generations of Kensington residents.
Meetinghouse’s four co-owners are excited to carry on this legacy and, judging by their collective industry experiences and personal connections to the bar itself, they’re up to the task. Keith Shore was the art director for Mikkeller Brewing Company and used to host pop-ups at Memphis Taproom where he’d sell prints of his artwork. The brewer, Colin McFadden, who lives in the neighborhood and is friends the previous owners was a former head brewer for Tired Hands. Marty West, who gracefully works his way around the room, greeting guests and bringing food out from the kitchen, was the former director of operations at Tired Hands. And running a simple yet flavorful menu is chef Drew DiTomo, formerly the chef de cuisine of Amis.
“[Memphis Taproom] was a bar that we always loved,” said Shore. “Our intentions were to open up a brewery, and then we heard about this, and we were like, you know what, this seems right. It just felt like the right thing to do.”
As the name “Meetinghouse” implies, the focus of the bar is to meet up with people, which locals eagerly did on Thursday evening after a surprise announcement on Instagram. According to Shore, they were swamped the first night. The same goes for Friday evening when my husband and I popped in. We thought we’d beat the rush by getting there around 4 p.m., right when they opened their doors. But we weren’t even the first ones there, and within 30 minutes it was packed with an eclectic crowd standing around the bar. There were parents with children, older couples, hip twentysomethings, construction workers who just ended their shift, and me, a very pregnant woman (don’t worry – I wasn’t drinking) sitting with her husband in the same stools we sat in eight years ago on the date where we both decided that this little relationship of ours was going somewhere.
The menu is all about simplicity but is still well executed. There are a few heftier plates, like the grilled pork steak and the broiled fish with a white wine sauce. But we went with the classic turkey club, made with a generous helping of turkey meat, smokey bacon, lettuce and mayo; and the “bikini,” their vegan pressed sandwich with garlicky greens and cauliflower.
The beer menu echos that simplistic theme. “They’re all just meant to be straightforward, relatively uncomplicated, familiar and repeatable,” said McFadden, describing the three beers under the new Meetinghouse label. There’s “Morning Swim is a Pale Beer,” “Living Thing is a Dark Beer,” and “Mount Pleasant is a Hoppy Beer,” brewed offsite at Tonewood Brewing in Barrington, New Jersey. “A friend of mine used the term ‘social beers,’ like beers that you just drink while you’re hanging out with people, and the experience isn’t necessarily about the beer being the focus,” said McFadden.
From the stained glass above the door to the tiles affixed the walls, Shore’s artwork is incorporated into the architecture of the bar. The blue and white clock-face characters carrying candles add character to the space, yet it all fits within the simple vibe that Meetinghouse is going for. And just like his old art pop-ups from back in the day, there’s a counter in the back where you can buy merchandise with Shore’s artwork, including the blue tiles you’ll find throughout the bar. It’s also where you can grab beer cans to go.
“This bar holds a really special place for us,” says Shore. “It’s a neighborhood bar that has been here for almost 100 years, and that’s very special.” Judging by the fact that it’s a full house at 5 p.m. with people still piling in, it’s a very special place to the neighborhood as well.