Ever since the Districts were high schoolers in Pennsylvania's Lancaster county making scrappy indie rock, their music has had a tangible energy. Now based in Philadelphia, firmly in their mid-twenties and four albums into their catalog, they've expanded their sound while keeping the intensity and charm of their original formula. While the synth-heavy, adventurous tracks on their latest LP 2020's You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere are not like their twangy and straightforward early singles, they have an immediacy that feels even more essential.
Though the four-piece band's spring tour promoting their recent album was postponed due to the spread of COVID-19, which is affecting all corners of the music industry, the band is still keeping active holed up at home in Philadelphia.
"When I got home I felt like I had way too much energy because I was mentally prepared to tour for five and a half weeks, so I've been recording in my room a lot and trying to stay busy," says frontman Rob Grote. Now that Grote's adopted city has had its bars, venues, and restaurants shut down to stop the virus' spread, he's missing one of his favorite dives for a weekday hang: Bob and Barbara's Lounge.
For this installment of I Know a Place, we talked to Grote about what makes Bob and Barbara's Lounge so great, from its live jazz, PBR memorabilia, and its classic Philadelphia history, to its shot and beer special, the Citywide.
Why did you pick Bob and Barbara's Lounge?
It's on South Street and it's one of those places that has been, historically, one of the super cool spots in Philadelphia. Then eventually it got to be like maybe less cool in some ways, 'cause it had its heyday in the 70s or whatever, but Bob and Barbara's is a true holdout. It's a super awesome and old school place. It's got pleather armrests on the bar, and great, mid-century-looking lighting in it. I think the drag show every Thursday is the longest standing drag show in Philly. There's like a lot of cool things about it. They have a jazz show Friday and they started the citywide special.
What's the special?
It's a shot and a beer. It's PBR and Jim Beam and I think it's only four bucks. Pretty solid deal.
How did you first hear about this spot?
Before I was even 21 I had some friends that liked to go there. They're pretty strict about carding so I could never get in back then. But I just heard about it for a while because I think it's kinda got the reputation for starting the special. Anywhere you go in Philly pretty much, you get a citywide—a shot and a beer. I guess it was just kind of a word on the street thing. My friends loved the place.
Tell me about the first time you went there.
I think the first time I went was one of the nights where they had karaoke. I like going early. It gets pretty crowded. There's a graduate hospital nearby, so on the weekends it gets pretty crazy with all the medical students. I remember getting there the first time and definitely badness ensued. I generally got pretty drunk with all those beer and shots. The other really cool thing about is they have like a ton of PBR memorabilia. The walls are just covered in it. There's some pretty crazy stuff that you would not see today. One ad that really stood out to me that is like super not cool in today's standards reads, "Ladies, is your husband always stressed out when he gets home from work? That's why you should always have PBR in the fridge."
When you've played Chicago, have you ever been to that old school jazz club The Green Mill? The way you're talking about this place kind of reminds me of that.
The Green Mill is awesome. It's kind of a similar vibe. It's less classy. It's a little more divey feeling. It's not a shitty dive by any means, it's a solid dive. The Green Mill has a slightly formal feel. Even though they have live jazz too, you're going to Bob and Barbara's for a shot and a beer.
Why do you keep coming back?
It's pretty welcoming and laid back I've definitely gone in for some afternoon drinks with Braden or something. It's pretty low key, anyone's welcome and it's not pretentious. It's the best in the afternoon or on the weeknights because the weekends can get pretty hectic.
Out of all the places in Philadelphia, what sticks out about Bob and Barbara's?
There are plenty of cool bars here but I think this one's just a super classic Philly spot. I think it represents the city well. It's got a little bit of everything. It's got working-class deals but also has drag shows, karaoke, and live jazz. Everyone goes in there. You've definitely got the med student thing these days, but it's also like welcoming to anyone.
If someone's visiting, it's nice to have them see a certain side of Philly. Both Bob and Barbara's and Tattooed Mom are both on South street at different ends of it. They're both different, but really good classic Philly spots. Tattooed Mom is kinda like a punk bar. It's got graffiti and abandoned bumper cars upstairs and cocktails with like Pop Rocks in them. Both those bars are the best way to show off South street.
With the bars in Philadelphia being closed due to coronavirus, are people rallying to support their staff that's not getting work?
Yeah, there's a GoFundMe happening right now.
Is this going to be the first spot you hit up once this has settled and people can go out again? Maybe. I haven't really gotten that far yet. I'll definitely go there the first week I can.