Spotlight On… Interstate Drafthouse!
Sometimes your future will just fall in your lap.
At least, that’s how it happened for Bob Ritchie and his two partners, Michael McCloskey and Keith Dailey. They’d been handling the accounting for Interstate Drafthouse at 1235 E. Palmer St. in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia for awhile when the previous owner decided that his time as a restaurateur was over.
“We weren’t actively pursuing the bar,” Bob tells us, “but it kind of fell in our lap when the previous owner was looking to retire. We were familiar with the numbers and knew what to expect, but we had no experience running a bar. So it’s been interesting.”
Yet, Bob’s passion for craft beer and food made it an easy transition from accounting to bar ownership. The three partners had a good relationship with the previous owner, Bob Bitros, who’d stayed on for a transition period and can still be seen a few nights a week imbibing at the bar.
When Bitros had purchased the bar, it was more of a shot-and-a-beer kinda place — no kitchen, no real clientele. Nonetheless, there was promise in the quickly-gentrifying neighborhood, with Bitros adding a kitchen and dining room.
“He really crafted something special here,” Bob says. “It fits in well with the neighborhood. A very comfortable bar, it’s not too fancy or stuffy. You come in here, and we have a good staff that makes everyone feel comfortable. This section of Philadelphia has gentrified in the past ten years or so, but our bar is welcoming to both people who have been in this neighborhood for decades as well as newcomers to the neighborhood.”
The three partners left most everything unchanged, except for expanding the beer selection. Their sixteen taps are dedicated exclusively to craft beer, and Bob says that the quality of the beers that they’ve been showcasing has increased since they’ve taken over.
“And certainly Cape May fits into that,” he says. “I think you guys are making great products down there.”
Bob frequently spends some time over the summer in North Wildwood, just a stone’s throw from the brewery.
“We often find ourselves taking bike rides to the brewery and seeking out your beers on tap around town,” he says. “We saw that we had the ability to carry your products in Philadelphia, so we were happy to jump on board.
“And they always sell well. I think a lot of people in Philadelphia have a familiarity with Cape May from going down to the shore over the summer. So I think there’s a lot of brand recognition that they bring back with them.”
Bob points to Cape May IPA as one of the bar’s favorites.
“I think it was the fastest-selling half keg we’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s a style that’s one of the most commonly-reached for by craft beer drinkers, but also it’s a really well-done IPA, as well.”
We spoke to Bob in the week before our Steal the Glass event at Interstate Drafthouse, and he was looking forward to having Cape May IPA back in the lineup.
“I never mind bringing that one on,” he says.
With a kitchen open until 11 and a late-night menu until midnight (1am on the weekends), their southern/cajun/Tex-Mex-inspired menu is Interstate Drafthouse’s main draw. Bob’s burgers sell very well, and he points to the Ancho Honey Wings as being a big seller.
“I’m really proud of them,” he says. “They’re a little different. We offer them in both chicken or seitan — we try to cater to everyone with vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. They’re a different take than your usual wings. They’re a little smokier and you get the spice that comes along with those ancho chilis.”
The staff at Interstate Drafthouse takes “great pride” in the fact that there’s no microwave anywhere in the building. All of their sauces are handmade and everything is made from scratch.
“It’s a great source of pride for my guys,” Bob says.
We’ve been running this column for over a year, now, and we’ve seen a huge array of non-traditional menu items, but Interstate Drafthouse has the first instance of a reptile.
And, apparently, it sells pretty well.
“We do sell quite a bit of gator here,” Bob says. “It’s in our chili. It’s in our jambalaya. It’s in our po boys. It fits in with the southern menu we have. You can imagine it somewhere in the bayou of Texas or Louisiana. I’m sure you might find gator on the menu down there, as well. People seem to like the uniqueness of it. It’s not something you find everyday around town.”
That’s for sure.
Bob, himself a vegetarian, couldn’t give us an accurate description of what it tastes like. We asked some of the Brew Crew to give it a whirl during our event this past week, and our Philly rep, Erin Gale, came through for us.
“Yes, I tried it!” she exclaimed. “It was pretty delicious — sort of a cross between seafood and landfood, which I guess makes sense!”
Challenging food hybrids notwithstanding, one of the Interstate Drafthouse’s specialties is their Fishtown Iced Tea. For the uninitiated — and we have to count ourselves among you — Fishtown is known for its propensity for a specific brand of iced tea: Arctic Splash.
We do our due diligence here at Straight to the Pint, but we couldn’t find very much information about Fishtown’s signature drink… other than the fact that it’s Fishtown’s signature drink. Even a search of the apparent manufacturer’s website — Dean Foods — yielded no results.
Nonetheless, it seems that the neighborhood’s identity is forever entwined with this mysterious brand of iced tea, spawning artwork, a Twitter account, and an enduring cocktail at Interstate Drafthouse.
“It’s a kitchy take on the classic Long Island Iced Tea,” he tells us. “It’s served in a pint-sized Arctic Splash carton and has the basic Long Island Iced Tea ingredients with a little of the Arctic Splash iced tea.”
Bob warns that it’s “full of alcohol. It can be quite boozy.”
Two nights a month, the Interstate Drafthouse hosts a Quizzo night on the first and third Wednesdays at 8pm. Every Monday is wing night with special, house-created wing sauces: $5 gets you an order of wings with 7-10 sauces to choose from. Taco Tuesdays are a big hit — a variety of tacos sold for $1 apiece — as well as Two-Fisted Wednesday: any sandwich and a pint of local beer for $12.
“Typically,” Bob says, “it’s a laid-back atmosphere. It’s the type of place where people come to get some good food and have a couple of beers. It’s not a big party scene — it’s a great place to come with your loved ones — we’re kid-friendly here, as well.”
Erin loves having them as one of her customers.
“They’re great customers,” she says. “I enjoy working with them!”
Find out what all the hubbub is about! For more information on Interstate Drafthouse, see interstatedrafthouse.com or call (215) 455-0045.