Chances Are Your Bartender Rocks.
As part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For the most recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III discovers that nearly every bartender in Philly is in a band. Seriously.
Take a minute next time you order a beer. Talk to the person pulling your pint – they might just be a talented individual with amazing stories to tell.
At nearly every bar in Philadelphia, you’ll find musicians who perform around the region – and some who’ve toured around the world – pouring lagers and ales.
These folks aren’t like the aspiring actors you’ll find in New York or Los Angeles. Many of the local folks tend bar because they have a passion for their art, not because they’re struggling to enter the business.
“I do it because I’m a musician,” says Standard Tap bartender Maxx Stoyanoff-Williams, the frontman for Philadelphia-based good-time band Black Landlord. “It offers the most flexible schedule I can get.”
You’ll find Stoyanoff-Williams behind the bar on Mondays and Saturdays. The rest of the week, he’s making music.
“It’s not like a nine-to-five job,” he says. “If you need a night off or if you’re leaving for a few weeks to tour, you can.”
Several in his nine-member band (above) tend bar somewhere – drummer Bob Bannon at Union Transfer, guitarist Adam Campos at Kung Fu Necktie and sax player Michael Tramontana at The Abbaye, which is owned by Black Landlord percussionist Marc Sonstein.
“I actually thought every bartender in this city is a musician at some point,” jokes Campos.
Memphis Taproom bartender Keith Greiman (right) fronts the band Prowler. Alison Wadsworth at Fergie’s Pub is part of the band Fantasy Square Garden. Kurt Hunte at The Institute has performed around Europe with Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. Chris Doyle from the band Sun Airway tends bar at The Barbary, where nearly everyone serving drinks also makes music.
One former Grape Room bartender, Pat Callahan, was also a guitarist in a band that opened for Seether one night at The Grape Room. The Seether crew watched Callahan’s band and they liked his style. They asked him to become a member of Seether.
“Four days later, he was playing Wembley Stadium,” says Anthony Caroto, who tends bar and books bands at the Manayunk club.
Everyone who works at the Grape Room has a music connection. Caroto previously managed the band Psychostick, a “comedy metal” band from Arizona. Owner Brian “Scooter” Hassinger was the drummer for the seminal Philly band Stargazer Lily.
“Drinking and being an artist literally go hand in hand,” Stoyanoff-Williams says.
He hung out at Tattooed Mom’s on South Street during the mid-1990s. He eventually became a bar-back there after his former band, The Goats – who had shared stages with the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill, broke up.
He began tending bar a few years later and has been doing it ever since. He avoids scheduling Black Landlord concerts on Saturdays, as that is his busiest night at the bar.
“I’d lose a significant portion of my rent money,” he says.
Otherwise, bartending and being a musician line up perfectly for him.
“I make enough money,” Stoyanoff-Williams says. “I’m not going to get rich. I want to play music as much as I can – now I have five days per week for music. I’d rather have that than the extra money.”