The Death of a Neighborhood Bar
In this week's news roundup, we bid adieu to Lunar Inn, welcome (finally) 48 Record Bar, get giddy about churros and much, much more.
Welcome to the Thanksgiving Week version of the weekly Foobooz food news roundup. I’ve got a mixed bag of good news and bad news to share with you this week, but since everyone is busy getting ready for the biggest food holiday of the year (which we can help with if you’re looking for Thanksgiving takeout to lighten the load or some expert holiday pies to serve for dessert), I’ll try to keep things brief. So first…
The Death of a Neighborhood Bar
Come the end of December, the Lunar Inn in Port Richmond will be turning out the lights for the last time.
The closure was announced (as so many of these things are these days) on Instagram. Owners Ryan Ellis and Emily Kovach said all the usual things — thanks to the regulars and the neighbors and the staff — and announced that the last day of service will be December 31st. Granted, the New Year’s Eve party will be more than a little bittersweet but, really, what isn’t these days?
“We’d hoped to make it much further in our journey,” Ellis and Kovach said, “and it really hurts to think about all of this magic going away. We’ve poured our whole selves into Lunar and we just love it so much. Saying goodbye will be difficult, but it’s our only viable option at this point. Hopefully the next six weeks will give us all time to find some closure. Please come on through for hugs and french fries and wine before our farewell party on NYE.”
The Lunar Inn lasted four years and change. It made it through lockdowns, through COVID, through a rough summer and a recent break-in and all along, Kovach and Ellis have been very upfront about what it takes to make it as a neighborhood bar these days. It takes really hard work, lots of luck, long days and longer nights, charm and grace in spades. And the Lunar Inn had all that. But it also takes support — butts in seats and bodies through the door — and so many places right now are finding that … lacking.
Is it the dip in post-pandemic neighborhood traffic in the city? A lingering caution about gathering indoors? The glut of new bar and restaurant openings weighed against a finite number of customers and dining dollars in any given neighborhood? All of those things, probably. But mostly it’s that in so many places, the customer count is just thin.
It’s like that quote from JRR Tolkien: It can sometimes feel as if Philly’s dining scene is “butter scraped over too much bread.” And there’s only one thing that fixes that: Us. All of us, supporting the places we love. Especially those close to home.
Anyway, losing the Lunar Inn sucks. It was a neighborhood bar that really cared about its neighborhood; that offered to Port Richmond smart cocktails, natural wine, a great burger and the kind of third place that everyone deserves. And yeah, the closing announcement hurts, but you’ve still got six weeks to get in there and remember the good times.
Okay, now for a little bit of good news …
A Record Bar to Geek Out Over
Got a couple of things to brighten the day after that Lunar Inn news. The most intriguing? The release I just got about the imminent opening of 48 Record Bar in the space above Sassafras at 48 South 2nd Street. You may remember we reported on this back in April when their opening was (supposedly) imminent — but now it’s actually about to open.
Now I haven’t been to London or Tokyo, but according to Sassafras co-owner (and 48 Record Bar founder) Donal McCoy, there’s this kind of high-end, intimate, vinyl-and-cocktails scene happening there — places where audiophiles can kick back with a drink and listen to curated music on ultra-high-fidelity vinyl sound systems. That’s what 48 aims. to be, and if you’re into that kind of thing, is probably the best news you’ve heard all year. Also good news for my brother-in-law and father-in-law who can argue about bonkers expensive audio equipment for DAYS without even taking a breath. Seriously, they once spent three hours talking solely about one particular brand of speakers and this was during a Thanksgiving dinner a few years back. I’m honestly considering not even telling them about this place.
But I digress …
48 Record Bar has a lot of plans. They’re looking at listening parties, album and cocktail pairings (which sounds awesome), record release parties, a “Hi-Fi Tea on Sunday” series (which also sounds cool), live performances, live podcast tapings and more, all of it curated by the joint’s creative director, Joey Sweeney. There’s also going to be a 12-seat bar and a list of 16 signature cocktails plus beer and wine; a snacks menu that’s leaning into finger foods and tea sandwiches, and a totally plush environment that McCoy has been working on for years.
No word yet on a precise opening date, but 48 Record Bar already has a few events on the books, starting December 2nd with South Fellini’s HOAGIEWAVE. So at the very least, they gotta be up and running by then.
Big Fat Rittenhouse Greek Restaurant
In other news, the team behind Estia is looking at opening a new concept in the LARGE space at 1636 Chancellor Street just a block off Rittenhouse Square. Almyra is going to be a 7,000-square-foot Greek restaurant with seating for 200 on the floor and another 45 at the long bar. The space is lovely — all pale woods and cream upholstery — and banked with big windows looking out onto the corner of 17th and Chancellor. Allegedly, those windows will be able to open come summer, adding a nice breeze to all the promised live plants and greenery which, I’ll admit, does sound kinda gorgeous.
The menu is modern Greek, as you’d expect. The kitchen will be doing short ribs with feta mashed potatoes, filet-mignon kebabs with parsley chimichurri, a Greek-style sushi roll and tiropita wontons laced with Greek hot honey. And the bar, they’re operating off the same playbook: ouzo, metaxa and mastiha forward, with a big wine list and bottles racked along the walls.
And kinda like 48 Record Bar above, they’re also talking up their “state-of-the-art JBL sound system” which promises “a lively bar scene into the late evening,” according to Estia manager Gus Pashalis. “It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard in a restaurant.”
Almyra will be doing daily dinner service from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., with the bar staying open a little longer (11 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, midnight on the weekends) to facilitate that aforementioned “lively bar scene.” And while (again) there’s no hard date for a grand opening, the plan is to turn on the lights and start welcoming guests in early December.
Is “Churro Happy Hour” Redundant? Discuss
One more bit of good news for those of you who, like me, are just obsessed with churros: El Merkury (just on the other side of Rittenhouse Square from the new Almyra) is launching its very own Churro Happy Hour!
And this is particularly good news because El Merkury’s churros? They are a sight to see. Giant and loopy and served (mostly) in a cup of vanilla soft-serve, El Merk’s kitchen does something like a dozen different varieties — everything from Eagles green covered with meringue and sprinkles to a South Philly version with extra caramel sauce, Nutella and cannoli chips in the ice cream. And now, from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, at the Chestnut Street location only, they’re doing a BOGO deal where you buy any one of their super-cool $7 churros and get a second one for free. Or, when the weather is all gray and shitty, you can trade in that second free churro for a hot drink instead. I suggest the Guatemalan hot chocolate (as a second dipping option, natch), but there’s also espressos, cappuccinos and lattes on offer.
Seriously, if you haven’t been down to check out the churros at El Merkury, now’s your chance. Grab a friend, get that BOGO churro and share. Or just go alone and eat both of them yourself. You’re a grownup. No one can tell you how to live your life.
And now it’s time for Leftovers.
Looks like Christmas Eve will be the last day of service for Aux Petits Delices in Wayne. The French bakery is powering through Thanksgiving but then scaling back and winding down operations through the Christmas season.
Like the sign says, Aux Petits has been there for 36 years. That’s a helluva run for any business. But I guess the end comes for all of us eventually. Au revoir, Aux Petits. Et bonne chance.
Over in Rittenhouse, Jose Garces has announced that Buena Onda, his beach-vibes taco shack, will now be closing indefinitely. The spot went on a temporary hiatus back in July, hoping to weather the slow summer crowds and lack of lunch business. Maybe that’s a weird move from a summer surf-and-sun-themed taco spot, it now looks like those challenges are still present enough to stay closed at least for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t the end for the Buena Onda brand, though. There are still locations open in Radnor, Center City, Fairmount and at the Wells Fargo Center, and there are still franchise deals being made. The folks over at Philly Voice have a breakdown of where the operation is going next, so if you’re interested — or are looking at picking up a franchise — check it out.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking at putting the ol’ drinking socks on and don’t mind a little walk, W Philadelphia — in conjunction with Middle Child Clubhouse’s beverage director Brandon Thrash and Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé from Tiny Table Tours (and, notably, a regular contributor here at Foobooz), are doing “A Philadelphia Cocktail Tour” on Saturday, December 9th. They’ll be taking a look at the city’s cocktail history, then taking a small group through a series of cocktail experiences at a.bar, Franklin Mortgage, My Loup and then finishing up at Steven’s Prophecy — the speakeasy-style drinkery hidden behind the W’s Living Room Bar.
Interested? Then be quick. The group is limited to 10 people. You can score your tickets right here.
Finally this week, it looks like Lucky Well — Chad Rosenthal’s blues-and-BBQ spot on Butler Avenue in Ambler — is closing so that Rosenthal can focus on private events, catering and the Lucky Well restaurant incubator. He’s also got a new location already picked out for a prototype “quicker service” Lucky Well at 4060 Chestnut Street in West Philly, right near UPenn and Drexel. The plan, according to Rosenthal, is to open a bunch of little Lucky Wells near college campuses all across the country.
First, though, he has to get this one open. No word yet on when that’ll happen. But I’ll keep my eye on it.
But this isn’t all bad news because guess who has already bought the building that Lucky Well is leaving? The Inky is reporting that it’s Brian Sirhal from Cantina Feliz. Apparently 111 East Butler Avenue in Ambler is going to be the new home of a bigger, shinier, newer Feliz which (hopefully) will be up and running by next spring.
The original Feliz will stay open until work on the new one is done. But what happens after that is anyone’s guess.
And that’s the news, folks. Happy Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving Eve to all of you out there who celebrate, and we’ll see y’all back here bright and early next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel.