Lord of the Barflies

No gold Buddhas. No undulating bamboo ceilings. Yet with his six bare-bones bars, Main Line-raised lawyer Avram Hornik is the king of sticky-floored nightlife

On “Episode 17: Altercations” of The Real World: Philadelphia, cast member Melanie makes a plea to the Real Worlders that will resonate with any human who has ever been exposed to more than five minutes of reality television. She’s found a secret place; she goes there by herself; she’d rather the other six of them not invade it. “Please, please, please,” she implores Landon and M.J. “Like, if you don’t really like that place, or, like, you don’t have an affinity for it, I absolutely love it. … ” She trails off.

“That place” was a Market Street dive called Tom Drinker’s Tavern. Nightlife impresario Avram Hornik, age 32, opened Drinker’s in 2002, promising an “anti-modernity” alternative to the rest of Old City: no computers, no elaborate sound system, no high-concept bathrooms. Little by little, though, the theme surrendered: Now there are neon beer lights, a touchscreen point-of-sale system, a Jägermeister dispenser promising shots that are “colder than ice.” The important traditions, however, remain: A can of Pabst is just a dollar if a patron agrees to consume its contents in one gulp, a quarter landed in a special container behind the bar will buy everyone a round of shots, and if an especially giddy customer wants to buy a shot for each of his fellow patrons, the cost is a mere $30. But in case that doesn’t give you enough of an idea, a helpful Citysearch.com user named euRC51 posted this review of Drinker’s back on April 6, 2003:

“Never has a bar in Philly been so aptly named. However, it could be even more appropriately named: Riffraff; Obliterated Frat Boys; or Sloppy, Stumbling Drunk Girl.”

“We are serious about our drinking, and our drink selection and specials reflect our dedication to intoxication,” the Drinker’s manager, Shawn Gormley, was quoted in a company newsletter as saying.

Gormley, a fleshy, spiky-haired, sweet-faced Feltonville native with tattoos covering his right arm, was not, incidentally, drinking on the Thursday evening on which I was in Drinker’s Tavern. He had given it up for Lent. Lent hadn’t started yet, but he’d gotten confused and then decided an extra seven sober days wouldn’t hurt. Gormley boiled me a green tea and said this about his savvy boss Hornik, whose amassing of six restaurant-bars and recent expansion from Old City to Rittenhouse Square has already touched off Stephen Starr comparisons:

“Stephen Starr’s a dick and Avram fuckin’ rules.”

Avram Hornik is the anti-Stephen Starr, and Hornik’s customers and employees love him for it. Hornik gives his staff “most of the credit” for his success. He offers health benefits and paid vacations. Hornik doesn’t attempt to enforce any specific “experience” upon his clientele; he’d rather they do it themselves, even if that experience involves throw-up. Despite his deliberate, almost professorial manner (dad’s a Penn communications professor) and his Temple law degree (mom’s a lawyer), Hornik manages more like a corner-tavern patriarch than the owner of a multimillion-dollar empire.