Otto’s Taproom: A Look Inside Brewerytown’s Newest Watering Hole
Brewerytown is welcoming a new bar to the West Girard corridor with the opening of Otto’s Taproom and Grille at the corner of 29th and Flora Streets, one block north of Girard Avenue in the building formerly home to Sarah’s Place.
The new taproom had a quiet opening on February 8th, featuring a drink menu that focuses on Pennsylvania brewed beers and craft offerings from across the Atlantic. Business partners Stephen Carlino and Randal Mrazik of The Tavern Group wanted to open as soon as possible to get a feel for the neighborhood and how best to serve it, as opposed to going through with full renovations, which could have taken months or more.
As soon as the pair and their team ensured everything was operational and up to code, they put the plans in motion to open their doors to the neighborhood. There are no concrete plans for the future, but Mrazik envisions eventually installing a draught system with about 12 taps in addition to a traditional hand pump. Beer will be the main focus at Otto’s but they will also offer wine and a fully stocked bar.
The addition of a draught system is one of the group’s first priorities but something they didn’t want to rush to. Currently, they’re getting the job done with two kegerators to provide draughts to early patrons.
There will eventually be a food menu focused on grilled foods. The partners envision a simple and fresh à la carte menu to include vegetarian and vegan options. The menu is part of Otto’s philosophy of inclusivity. The mission is to provide a comfortable venue for guests with varying cuisine preferences to come together and enjoy food.
In an attempt to differentiate Otto’s from the previous establishments that stood in it’s place while also paying homage to them, the partners have painted over the large pop-art beer sign from the front of the building. For a while, the low-key taproom didn’t even have a sign in front. Inside, the same floor-long bar that stood in Sarah’s Place remains. The rest of the room has been repainted a clean black. Some tweaks and repairs have been made to the equipment, making sure that the bar is fully functional.
Getting operational as soon as possible has let the team get acquainted with the historic neighborhood and its residents. “I want to be a neighborhood bar and restaurant. Otto Wolf lived and worked in that neighborhood.” Mrazik said, pointing to the rich history of Germanic and Eastern European immigrants migrating to the Brewerytown area and shaping the neighborhood in the 19th century.
Otto Wolf, the namesake of the taproom, was a renowned Philadelphia architect who contributed more than 60 buildings to the landscape of Brewerytown. He was known to be prolific at designing breweries. Perhaps most famously, he helped create an entire brewing complex that was most recently known as the Red Bell Brewery. Because of the neighborhood’s proximity to Center City Philadelphia and masterful architects like Wolf, the neighborhood once housed 12 different breweries within the modern equivalent of four city blocks. It’s no wonder where the neighborhood got its name. Wolf went on to design almost 500 buildings around the world from Oslo to Havana.
The nod to Brewerytown’s history was a natural move for The Tavern Group, as Carlino has made it a priority to reinvent locations while keeping the historical appeal and styling of the building intact.
“One of the things that struck me about him from the get-go was that he always wanted to be true to the history of the building,” Mrazik said of Carlino, citing his work at U Bar and Tavern on Camac. “For me, that’s just kind of a fun and cool connection.”
The heyday of Wolf’s breweries may have passed, but Brewerytown is in the process of returning to it’s roots. Within just the last few years, local brewing has come back to the neighborhood with the opening of Crime & Punishment Brewing Co. and Flying Fish Crafthouse.
Mrazik stated that the makeup of the neighborhood was attractive for the group, citing many friends and associates in the food and beverage industry who are residents of Brewerytown.
But even with recent development, the neighborhood is still under-saturated when it comes to bars and restaurants in comparison to some other parts of the city. “It’s not a place where you go,” Mrazik said, “and there’s four or six other places in a one block radius.”
Carlino and Mrazik have put an emphasis on catering to the neighborhood and so far, the reception has been warm. Neighbors have been stopping in to say hello since they opened. One neighbor even brought over flowers as a welcoming present. “The reception we’ve had from the neighborhood has been great,” said Mrazik. Carlino and Mrazik hope to return the hospitality in the future.