A clump of memorabilia including a cowboy hat, a piñata and award ribbons hovers over a horseshoe-shaped bar.
While the hand-cut snowflakes, balloons and buoys seem to be arbitrarily placed, there seems to be a story behind everything in Dirty Frank’s, a corner bar located at 347 S. 13th St. The bar’s history is rich, having four previous owners before its current leadership, Brad Pierce and Jody Sweitzer – and the history of the eclectic decorations inside is no different.
“However many years ago, there was a pothole on Pine Street,” Pierce said. “So a person would come down Pine Street, hit the pothole, and just from the dynamics of the intersection the hubcaps would roll off and land in front of the door. So [previous owner Jay McConnell], when he came in in the morning would pick the hubcap up and stick it on the ledge …Things end up here for many different reasons.”
Pierce, who started at Dirty Frank’s in 1980 as a bartender, took over for McConnell with Sweitzer, who began in 1992. The bar is said to have started in 1933 around the time prohibition was repealed. A self-proclaimed dive bar, Dirty Frank’s has landed itself on numerous “best-of” lists for its friendly atmosphere, casual vibe and affordable, yet varying beer selection.
Dirty Frank’s has a $2 can of rotating cheap beer on its “Shelf of Shame.” The bar’s most popular special is a 7-ounce beer with a Kamikase shot for $2.50. Despite the bar’s age, Pierce said he is willing to change with the trends of drinkers.
“If we have a customer that comes in and requests something, and they are a regular customer and they keep asking for it, then we’ll get it,” Pierce said.
Pierce and Sweitzer took over in 2012. Sweitzer said McConnell knew whom he wanted as his successors.
“He wanted to retire two years ago, and he’s been telling me for five years that he wanted me to take over,” Sweitzer said, who called on Pierce to be her partner.
While Sweitzer said the crowd’s makeup varies depending on the night of the week, she said there’s an undeniable quality that all Dirty Frank’s patrons possess.
“Their ability to talk to a stranger and make them feel completely welcome – it’s just across the board,” Sweitzer said.
“When I was behind the bar, [author] Pete Dexter would be here at every happy hour…sitting next to a mailman, sitting next to a Supreme Court judge, and they’d all have a discourse,” Pierce said. “It was pretty amazing.”
It’s not just patrons that are noteworthy at Dirty Frank’s – one of the bar’s doormen, Frank Sherlock, is the poet laureate of Philadelphia.
In addition to a community hub, Dirty Frank’s has a longstanding history of being an art bar. The left wall is completely dedicated to showing the work of local artists.
The wall’s plain white paint and brightly lit lights are a stark contrast to the rest of the establishment, which is crowded with neon signs and photographs.
Sweitzer is in charge of the gallery, whose show changes every two months. The gallery was started in 1979 by McConnell with help from Mary Liz, Bunky Devichios and Phil Sumpter. The bar also hosts an open call for artists biannually to be displayed in the gallery. Sweitzer said the gallery makes art accessible to the bar’s patrons.
“In finding out about the art, they realize it’s accessible in a sense of price range, and slowly they become collectors and it’s really great,” Sweitzer said. “It gives them an access point where they never really had the ability to appreciate art and say, ‘OK, I can own that now.’”
The bar hosts various other events throughout the year, including parties for the Mummers’ New Year’s Day Parade, a Kentucky Derby party and a Comfort Food Fest. Dirty Frank’s will host a Chili Cook-Off on March 22. For $10, attendees will get to taste multiple types of chili and vote for their favorite.
For a bar that does more than serve drinks, Pierce still isn’t put off by being labeled as a “dive bar.”
“Well, look around,” Pierce said. “What else could we be?”
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jenelley.