At a passing glance, the vacant space that rests firmly next to Brü Craft & Wurst seems to hide nothing of immediate interest.
A brief trek down the narrow set of concrete stairs just below the surface of Brü reveals the final stages of U-Bahn, a soon-to-be subterranean bar modeled after a German subway station.
Set to release in early February, the eatery is a product of Brü owner Teddy Sourias. No stranger to the kitchen, Sourias has been working in the restaurant business since he was 19, running both the Irish-themed Finn McCool’s Ale House on South 12th Street as well as the German beer garden-styled Brü. The latest addition to his food enterprise will be located at 1320 Chestnut St., directly beneath Brü Craft & Wurst.
With its unconventional take on entertainment and theme, in addition to its intriguing location, U-Bahn managed to land itself a spot on Zagat’s “18 Most Anticipated Philly Restaurant Openings of 2015” list in early January.
The idea for U-Bahn sprang from an interest in creating a spin-off of Brü with a more local focus.
“We wanted to do something different and have local beers, all local vegetables, cheeses from local farms and local music,” Sourias said. “So we figured we’d build a stage, build two bars and bring in something the city has needed for a long time.”
True to the restaurant’s stress on locality, U-Bahn will only serve beers brewed within a 90-mile radius. It will also incorporate cured meats and homegrown vegetables in its menu.
Despite the multitude of entertainment options, Sourias aims to keep quality, regional food at the forefront of the dining experience. U-Bahn’s tentative menu consists of an array of gourmet sandwiches along with various sides such as cheese platters and olives.
With U-Bahn, Sourias also aims to blend arcade and live entertainment with gourmet sandwiches to create an atmosphere vastly different from his other culinary ventures. The eatery will be host to six classic arcade machines, including popular titles such as Space Invaders and Street Fighter II in addition to a large stage for live music.
“It’s a whole different ball game,” Sourias said. “Instead of just sitting at a table and eating, we’re giving [the customer] things to do. We might have a burlesque show, a whole show with different styles of dancers or a band that’s local.”
Originally home to Whitman’s chocolate factory in the early 19th century, the underground space has undergone a hefty makeover to fit the German subway look. Authentic railroad ties line the walls behind the two bars, one of which is constructed with used beer barrels from the Delaware-based Shawnee Craft Brewing Company. U-Bahn will also boast a firkin beer engine, a hand pump used to manually pour ales without the use of carbon dioxide.
Converting a long-abandoned basement into a subsurface subway bar did not come without its challenges.
“With construction, there’s always going to be difficulty,” Sourias said. “When you’re looking at a building that’s built in the 1800s, you’re going to find difficulties with the structure. Combining the buildings is tough – it’s a lot of work.”
With a spot secured on one of Philadelphia’s most prominent culinary countdowns, Sourias sees a promising future for U-Bahn.
“It’s amazing for us,” Sourias said. “We wanted to do something cool for the industry and have a good time with it, and I feel like this whole concept has blown up. I think the anticipation of it is because it’s something new that nobody else offers. If I wasn’t on the building side of it, I’d be excited too.”
Eamon Dreiscbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org