Up until 11am yesterday, there was a brief spell there where you could not hear a DJ spin or a small band play on South Street proper, east of Broad, unless they’d already graduated to the 800-capacity TLA. If you’d told a Philly music head that in the mid-80s, they would have puked all over you. But so it was.
No longer. On Tuesday, Milkboy opened a second locale at 4th & South, just as their home base at 11th & Chestnut celebrates its fifth anniversary this weekend. The South St. location was last scene as Lickety Split, which did the thing all bars should do once they let Jon Taffer in: It died in shame. Shame because Lickety, in one version or another had DNA in the original South Street renaissance of the 1970s, and also because the likewise Dobbs died of anemia, too. South Street’s got problems, but Milkboy’s arrival there is part of a solution that includes Serpico, Tattooed Mom and the very-much in-progress 4th Street/Fabric Row radical re-invention. For its part, Milkboy offers this: the aforementioned small venue capability, a little grub, and an open-to-the-street floorplan borrowed pretty much exactly from its other location. (Oh also: Maxx from Black Landlord is the day bartender there.)
At the same time, over on the NoLibs side, The Fire is not only surviving way longer than anyone ever thought it would — this is BroLibs, after all, where even your bougie-bougie friends have been priced out for years now — but also rebooting itself this month. With new financial backing and longtime booker Derek Dorsey taking over management, the bar and music room are being refurbed, and there’s a new food program being headed up by Jason Kelso of the popular Bao Wow Wow food cart.
All good news. Because all the while, new music in Philly continues apace, and for everything that the big shiny new venues bring, a wealth of smaller spots creates the exact environment for an ongoing Philly music farm team. And if the availability of those smaller rooms where any old freak with a dream can get a gig — whether it’s these two, or Connie’s Ric Rac, or Bourbon & Branch — is an indicator of anything, it’s the state of musical health. By that rubric, how we doin’?
Well, Philly is fit as a fuckin’ fiddle, thank you very much.