|NO TROUBLE AT ALL|
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY
“Many a man who thinks to found a home discovers that he has merely opened a tavern for his friends.”
- George Norman Douglas
have, since the very first tankard of ale that touched my lips,
harbored this fantasy of spending at least one evening back in the
eighteenth century. In this particular flight of fancy I find myself
safely ensconced in some colonial tavern after a long tedious journey
by coach. With a mug of Flip in hand and a warm fire at
my back, I
partake of the hospitality and camaraderie so generously bestowed upon
me by both the proprietor and patrons. On this night I shall win at
cards, be the subject of countless toasts, and my pronouncements on our
potential dissolution of relations with the Crown will be echoed in
taprooms from Boston to Philadelphia. Of course I have the ever
overriding presence of mind to return to the twenty first century
before I am pressed into conscription, suffer a bout of smallpox, or am
thrown into debtor’s prison upon disclosure of my financial affairs.
THE BETSY ROSS FLAG COULD WELL HAVE FLOWN ABOVE THE DOOR
lieu of this bit of time travel I have spent many years trying to
recapture the spirit of the age of reason and rebellion in those few
remaining colonial era taverns that continue to operate throughout the
eastern United States. In most instances the experience has fallen far
short of expectations. The glow of the fireplace is normally outshone
by the glare of the flat screen. And most attempts at thought provoking
conversation are usually overshadowed by the purveyors of pop culture
on the 52 inch plasma. So naturally I with utmost haste accepted the
invitation to spend an evening in the living quarters of historians,
Patrick and Laura Spero. Their home on Spruce Street just happens to be
the site of the former “A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE,” the only
pre-Revolutionary tavern building in Philadelphia proper.
This handsome structure has weathered and survived several incarnations since it was first built on the banks of the Little Dock Creek in 1759.There is some evidence that suggests early on it operated as, “A Man Loaded with Mischief.” The original sign board most likely mirrored the one that beckoned to thirsty Englishmen outside of its namesake on London’s Oxford Street. The renamed and less bawdy version that currently hangs in its place was probably in deference to the somewhat more refined clientele that replaced the sailors and longshoremen that frequented the establishment before the inlet that flowed from the Delaware River was filled in and paved over with cobblestone. The arrival of the merchant class on this newly reclaimed piece of real estate probably helped to raise the status of A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE from that of a ribald tippling house to that of a more reputable licensed tavern.
By the mid 1800s most of the public houses that had served those that had served the American cause were gone, replaced by the loftier structures of an industrial age. Even Philadelphia’s renowned City Tavern, arguably the most important edifice in America prior to the design and construction of Washington DC, was deemed unworthy of preservation when weighed against the considerations of commerce. But somehow the modest brick building on Spruce Street prevailed against the prescripts of the new prosperity, and up until the latter part of the century the location was still the source of a decent meal and a good drink for locals and travelers alike.
B. NAYLORS HOTEL 1860
|THE COLONIAL ERA BUILDING WHICH HOUSES A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE WAS CONSTRUCTED IN 1759. IT HAS SURVIVED PERIODS OF NEGLECT OVER THE CENTURIES AND NUMEROUS INCARNATIONS AS WELL INCLUDING B. NAYLORS HOTEL AND A WHOLESALE CHICKEN MARKET. ITS REBIRTH AND RESTORATION TO ITS ORIGINAL MANIFESTATION BEGAN IN 1963. TODAY, ALTHOUGH PRESERVED AS AN HISTORICAL ICON, IT NEITHER OPERATES AS A TAVERN NOR A MUSEUM, BUT IS A PRIVATE RESIDENCE OWNED AND MANAGED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA AND LOVINGLY LOOKED AFTER BY THE SPERO FAMILY.|
THE CELLAR EXPOSES THE ORIGINAL FOUNDATION AND A PIT WHICH DROPS INTO THE WATERS OF DOCK CREEK, A TRIBUTARY OF THE DELAWARE RIVER. THE CONFLUENCE OF DOCK CREEK, AS ITS NAME SUGGESTED, PROVIDED A PROTECTED WHARF FOR SHIPS AND BOATS OF COMMERCE DURING COLONIAL TIMES. THE CREEK WAS FILLED IN AS PHILADELPHIA DEVELOPED, BUT STILL FLOWS UNDERGROUND.
here we are a few years into another century, and I find myself on
the threshold of fulfilling my most cherished fantasy. I am about to
raise a glass with a dear friend and colleague, Ed Petersen and our
exceptional hosts in this idyllic colonial barroom. Although there have
been a few concessions to the needs of a young couple with a newborn,
(a bicycle and bassinet take up the corner where a fine mahogany card
table once stood) - the moment is near perfect! In the course of this
delightful evening we talk history and politics, explore the building
top to bottom, and partake of some really excellent beer. Only a
visitation from one of the Founding Fathers could make this night any
better than it already is.
Enter Lew Bryson, author and managing editor of the Malt Advocate. While he is not quite Thomas Jefferson, he is the one most likely to be at the forefront of America’s next whiskey rebellion. The conviviality continues for a couple more hours. We top off the night with a swallow of soon-to-be-released rye whiskey from Finger Lakes Distilling, compliments of Mr. Bryson.
As we draw near to taking our leave, I gaze out on the world full of trouble that awaits just beyond the door. I turn back and find comfort in the smile of an infant full of mischief, in the arms of a couple full of love, living in a home full of hope!
A GATHERING OF ICONOCLASTS INDEED, PERHAPS WITHOUT THE ELOQUENCE OR WISDOM OF OUR FOUNDERS, BUT WITH LIKEWISE APPRECIATION OF A FINE PUBLIC HOUSE.
|THERE IS HISTORICAL EVIDENCE THAT A
FULL OF TROUBLE WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED A MAN LOADED WITH
MISCHIEF. GENTLEMEN, COMPARE THE DEPICTIONS ABOVE AND ANSWER THIS
QUESTION, WHICH PREDICAMENT WOULD YOU PERSONALLY ELECT?
127 SPRUCE STREET
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA 19106
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