BY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!
ON THE COVER
CP: “Khyber Last Show Ever”! It’s not the first I’d heard on the subject, and it likely won’t be the last, but Brian Howard’s compendium of misty, punk-rock-colored memories will likely stand as the greatest tribute to the Old City club’s colorful history and sad departure. That is, until the last show on this Saturday’s final show. That, friends, will be bedlam, the likes of which you won’t be able to find at Johnny Brenda’s. Take it away, B-How.
Since the Fishtown gastro-pub-cum-rock-club opened in 2006, high-profile indie shows have gradually found their way to the polished venue with the curling balcony, superior sight lines, lofty stage and killer sound system. Which is at least part of the reason Khyber owner Stephen Simons tells City Paper he will stop putting on shows there at the end of the month.
“Philadelphia has always been able to support two top-tier rock ‘n’ roll bars that held about 200 people,” explained Simons last week in an office above the bar. The Khyber was long part of that two-step, with J.C. Dobbs, Upstairs at Nick’s, Upstage and North Star Bar. “Now it’s Johnny Brenda’s and North Star. The punk rock or alternative crowd doesn’t really want to come to Old City now. And I understand that.”
The club’s second floor will continue to host DJ events. But Simons — who, with his longtime Khyber right-hand man, Dave Frank, also co-owns three successful bar/restaurants — plans to shift the focus of the space to its already renowned craft beer taps and a food concept he’s keeping close to his chest. (A music-restaurant hybrid probably wouldn’t work; in 1997, Simons infamously turned up noses trying to host morning brunch and evening rock in the concert area.)
It’s a development that’s sent tremors through the scene despite the fact that until now there’s been no official announcement beyond a note on the website stating, cagily, “There will be no shows at The Khyber in the month of August.” Maybe he was wavering on the decision, or maybe that’s just the way Simons plays things; he was similarly elusive about the club being for sale earlier this year.
This will bring to an end a tradition that predates the Simons family’s ownership and stretches back to the 1970s when Serrill Headley (mother of eventual terrorist David Coleman Headley) ran the space as a bohemian jazz club of sorts — complete with imported beer, Pakistani tapestries, upright piano, upstairs wine bar, a phalanx of buxom barmaids and a purported friendly ghost. Though the scene in Headley’s Khyber Pass was a world away from the grungy glory of the Simons’ Khyber (Stephen’s older brother David owned the club until 1996), both possessed eerily similar senses of community. You can’t help but wonder how much the spirit of (or in) the building itself — purportedly a bar of some sort continuously since 1876 — has shaped its history.
Punk rock! Beer! Terrorism! The revitalization and then Jersey-fication of Old City! It’s all here. Being of a certain (read: young) age and not having grown up here, I don’t have the same associations with the Khyber as many of Howard’s subjects; to me, the place is all beer and filthy bathrooms, the stuff of Friday happy hours. But there are dingy holes in the greater Baltimore/D.C. area where I’ve left pieces of my heart over the years, and I can tell the Khyber has been similarly littered throughout its history. Even after the music’s over, long may it rock.
PW: Ooh, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell? Tara Murtha certainly can. She was there when about a dozen city agencies came crashing down on a South Philly house so crammed with animals and – no surprise here – their feces that neighbors frequently gag while taking out their trash. It’s a wonder you can’t smell the thing roughly a block away, at Pat’s and Geno’s.
To capture the real story of 739 Earp Street, we have to go back in time almost a decade. At its center, it’s a story of systemic failure. After all, residents who lived under the foul cloud of the Stink—a horrible stench that radiated from the house for years—and within earshot of what sounded like “a gazillion puppies” had tried to get the city to do something about the house for years and years. Some residents fled, moved out of the ’hood altogether. Some who remained are considering it now, disheartened by the city’s inefficiency.
Fear defines a lot of this story. Cresting on a wave of gentrification that rapidly juxtaposed second- and third-generation South Philly residents with newcomers in the last decade, residents of Passyunk Square say they were scared to speak out about the Stink and about what they see as a “culture gap” or the “inherent tension” between some residents on the blocks.
PW spoke with newcomers—all sources requested to remain anonymous—who believe old-school residents use physical intimidation to send the message that they better not try to shake things up for old-timers. They say efforts to battle the Stink are misinterpreted as personal attacks on the Rotontas or, for that matter, old-school residents in general. Now, many say they’re frightened of retaliation for the raid, though ironically, all evidence points to the probability that it wasn’t even complaints filed with the city’s beauracracy that finally made something happen.
Meanwhile, Fran Rotonta says that she believes she is the target of a harassment campaign.
“So yeah I had the dogs,” she admits, but “they blew it out of proportion, believe me.” But her story is a far cry from what she told PW when first contacted the day before the raid. At the time, Rotonta was adamant that she owned just four dogs and two cats. “And I make the cats go in the kitty litter,” she added.
“It’s bullshit,” she said. “I can’t take it anymore.”
It’s a weird, convoluted tale, and even though the tensions of entrenched tradition versus gentrifying newcomers are a mystery to me, the hostility on all sides comes through in the proliferation of quotes Murtha gatheres. It gives a sense of the claustrophobia in the old neighborhood. Nice work.
INSIDE THE BOOK
CP: Ain’t that a SHAME (I thought it was SHAmE – scrapple, hamburger, American cheese, egg – but no matter). Serving 15 to life. Isaiah Thompson’s heart grew three sizes that day. Bees! Bees everywhere! They’re ripping my flesh off!
PW: Next German techo-themed restaurant: TGI Falco’s. Gaslight Anthem: Putting Jersey in the rear view. Seeing red over green. PW’s interns are not easily impressed.
WINNER: Gotta give props to PW and Tara Murtha for all they went through in making this week’s cover happen. When someone asks her “were you in the Stink?,” she can say, “Yeah, I was in the Stink.” Kudos.