The directions lead to the front door of Abyssinia. The carpeted stairs are dimly light, frayed and discolored, forming a clear walking path for tenants and patrons alike. The only sign indicating its presence hangs on a double door, reading, “Bar is open.”
Boasting 120 beers, 80 whiskeys and an infinite array of cocktails, Fiume aims to move away from being labeled a dive bar. Although the half-painted walls, hole in the ceiling and mishmash of chairs have the typical symptoms, the atmosphere screams something a bit more sophisticated.
Intricate and custom typeface on small wooden planks adorns the walls to showcase every craft beer from ales to IPAs, sours to stouts. A large beer cooler quietly hums in the corner, attracting the attention from hardcore beer snobs with its choices.
The three, illuminated shelves packed with whiskey, appropriately named “Stairway to Heaven,” gleams against the Christmas lights against the far side of the bar.
City Wide special enthusiasts can still find comfortable compromise at Fiume. Four dollars unites the two selections with a shot of Old Crow and a can of PBR.
Sometimes, the occasional homemade orange Jockey Box, a beer cooler with a spout connecting a line to a keg, will even pour an international beer until it’s kicked.
However, this sort of selection and attention to variety is something Fiume created to change how Philadelphia views a dive bar.
“A dive bar is a place with some old men barflys and the same four beers they were offering 15 years ago,” said part-owner Kevin James Holland. “This place is always changing, there is a lot more emphasis on products.”
Holland admits that the first appearance of Fiume might not seem put together, but the idea of an airbrushed appearance doesn’t fit the personality. For the past 12 years, he has made sure that Fiume keeps its charm. Holland has a more casual philosophy of what Fiume is.
“We want to offer a good product,” Holland said. “Conversations and personalities tend to follow suit with that. The people here tend to care about the world, even if they are cynical, they still find it beautiful.”
Rubbing shoulders with mechanics, doctoral candidates, students and punks of West Philly while discussing the self-interest of a different generation is not only encouraged, but on Thursday nights it feels required.
The “shoebox sized” bar manages to pack the house, keep the drinks flowing and host a weekly bluegrass band, that has Holland playing and singing through the night with his band.
“Come early,” said Drexel student Ryan Barnes. “Otherwise you’re spending the night in the hallway watching over everyone’s shoulders.”
That sort of spontaneous excitement is exactly what the bar hopes to keep alive. The direction of Fiume is always evolving along with its extensive beer and whiskey programs. While participating in Philadelphia’s annual beer week they wanted to push the normal status quo and offer over 100 different beers. This meant squeezing 50 more selections onto the already stacked list.
Feeling like they created a serious name for themselves Holland wanted to transition this success across the board. This translated quickly into improving their whiskey program and eventually introducing their cocktails.
“Cocktail week was a little more thought out. I was hoping to create the same effect,” Holland said. “The first thing we did was [start] working together on Cocktail Week, which would sort of herald, ‘Hey, we are actually making some stellar cocktails up in this ridiculous little room.’ It worked beautifully.”
In the ensuing weeks, Fiume would greet customers with the typical “120 beers, 80 whiskeys…” only to be interrupted by “No. We came for cocktails tonight.”
Holland knows first hand the hard work put into creating a diverse and coherent selection of alcohol, but acknowledges that he has had a lot of help along the way.
“I would never sit here and talk as if I’ve been the sole person who’s made Fiume what it is,” Holland said. “I clearly have a high caliber staff, as well as phenomenal customers and overly talented musicians.
If you ask me about the course Fiume has taken through the past 12 years, I’ve been lucky enough to captain the ship.”
Patrick McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.