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    NO TROUBLE AT ALL small brick logo
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POH


“Many a man who thinks to found a home discovers that he has merely opened a tavern for his friends.”
                                                  - George Norman Douglas

I 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.


Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE TAVERN IN PHILADELPHIA, PA IS THE ONLY SURVIVING PRE-REVOLUTIONARY TAVERN BUILDING IN PHILADELPHIA.



Society Hill in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE TAVERN IS LOCATED IN THE SOCIETY HILL SECTION OF PHILADELPHIA. SOCIETY HILL WAS ORIGINALLY A NEIGHBORHOOD OF MERCHANTS. IT WAS NAMED FOR THE QUAKER INSPIRED FREE SOCIETY OF TRADERS BACK IN COLONIAL TIMES AND NOT FOR THE SOCIETY OF GENTRY WHO PRESENTLY INHABIT THE AREA.


Betsy Ross Flag on the Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
THE BETSY ROSS FLAG COULD WELL HAVE FLOWN ABOVE THE DOOR




Patrick and Laura Spero of The man with Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
HISTORIANS LAURA AND PATRICK SPERO, AND ASPIRING HISTORIAN ANNA ARE THE CURATORS OF THE RESTORED COLONIAL TAVERN






In 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 surviving 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.



Bar and grille at the Man full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
THE TERM, "BAR AND GRILLE" DERIVED FROM THE SECURITY CAGE THAT AN INN'S PROPRIETOR WOULD LOCK AFTER HOURS TO PREVENT ANY  PILFERING BY "SLEEPWALKING" GUESTS.






                                                www.freelibrary.org
Naylors Hotel 1860 as seen in American Public House Review
B. NAYLORS HOTEL 1860

                                                www.memory.loc.gov
Man Full of Trouble 1958 vertical as seen in American Public House Review
1958
                                                www.memory.loc.gov
Man Full of Trouble 1961 vertical as seen in American Public House Review
1960
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.







Foundation of Man Full of Trouble Taver in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
Pit beneath Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review

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.








So 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!

PLEASE NOTE: Patrick and Laura Spero are some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my journey through life, and I would hope that for the personal enrichment of anyone that reads this article you might also get the chance to make their acquaintance. But before you go knocking on their door, remember that A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE is now a private residence owned by the University of Pennsylvania. Please extend your respect and courtesy accordingly.




Through the window of Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
A GATHERING OF ICONOCLASTS INDEED, PERHAPS WITHOUT THE ELOQUENCE OR WISDOM OF OUR FOUNDERS, BUT WITH LIKEWISE APPRECIATION OF A FINE PUBLIC HOUSE.





                                                                          www.quinnipiac.edu
Man Loaded with Mischief as seen in American Public House Review


Sign at the Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
THERE IS HISTORICAL EVIDENCE THAT A MAN 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?





Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review



Plaque on Man Full of Trouble Tavern in Philadelphia, PA as seen in American Public House Review
mfot


127 SPRUCE STREET

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA 19106



This iconic tavern is now a private residence, but is one of the treasures of historic Philadelphia. It's a delightful stroll south from Independence Hall, or a stone's throw north of Headhouse Square. For an authentic colonial tavern experience, stop by the City Tavern for a repast. You will be in the neighborhood.


www.ushistory.org/tour/tour_manfull.htm

OR

CLICK HERE FOR A MORE IN-DEPTH LOOK INTO THE HISTORY OF A MAN FULL OF TROUBLE


DIRECTIONS




AMERICAN PUBLIC HOUSE REVIEW text, images, and music © 2007-2009. All rights reserved. 
All content is subject to U.S. and international copyright laws. Email: ed.petersen@americanpublichousereview.com for permission before use.

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