Instead of a typical “closed” sign, the message on Saint Benjamin Brewing Company’s door reads, “Sorry, we’re dead.”
But with a regular full house on early Saturday afternoons, it seems the only time the bar is “dead” is at closing.
The micro-brewery on 5th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in Olde Kensington opened in 2014 in the old carriage house of the former Theodore Finkenauer’s Brewery, a pre-prohibition hotspot.
The in-house brewery gives Philadelphia history a modern twist. It makes 12 types of beer and is next to the bar’s taproom behind a large window with a historic Federal architecture style, so customers can watch the brewing process while they drink.
“When it comes to the beer, we are really committed to the process of making really well-crafted beer, and we try not to cut any corners,” said Tim Patton, the brewery’s owner and brewmaster.
The brewery offers a rotating selection of house-made ales throughout the year, with some of the more colorful current offerings including an oatmeal stout, a sour Berliner Weisse and a barleywine aged in a bourbon barrel. In addition to its brews, Saint Benjamin serves unique cocktails, like a green-tea vodka lemonade and a selection of mead from the Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, brewery Haymaker Meadery.
Bartender Kate Hughes said many customers return to the brewery because of the vegan and vegetarian food options, including mac and cheese eggrolls and vegan drumsticks.
Named after Benjamin Franklin, the brewery features a half-circle window above the front door and a parody photo of Franklin sitting atop a Mustang convertible with sunglasses in the bathroom. Busts of presidents’s heads also dot the bar.
Hughes said working at Saint Benjamin is one of the best jobs she has ever had, crediting manager Beth Fox with creating a welcoming work environment.
“It’s cool to work for someone who works so hard, and you can see it and feel it in the food,” Hughes said.
The brewery also holds regular prix-fixe dinner events, like “Vegantine’s Day,” a five-course, plant-based Valentine’s Day meal complete with heart-shaped beets.
Saint Benjamin often donates beer to community events, including block cleanups, Hughes said. Fox also tries to ensure all non-housemade drinks come from companies within 100 miles of Philadelphia.
“We get to represent Philadelphia in that kind of a cool way,” Hughes said.
Starting in March, the 32-ounce Art Bomb beer cans sold at the brewery will feature the winning designs from 12 local artists for their annual Art Bomb contest, in its second year. Those selected will have a single work of art displayed on the can for a month, and it will be sold at both the brewery and local farmers markets.
“This would be a way to catch people’s eye on different beers whenever they saw it, instead of just having our normal bottle and can offering,” Patton said. “We just thought more variety would entice people to take another look at us.”
Customers can tour the brewery, which is just a few steps away from the taproom, on Saturdays. Fishtown residents Mary and Jerome Baier recently visited the bar for the first time and said they liked the general “grungy” atmosphere.
“That they make their own [beer] is a draw, as opposed to getting whatever other beer [elsewhere],” Jerome Baier said.
Patton hopes that in addition to providing quality craft beer, Saint Benjamin can be a destination spot, similar to the Fishtown intersection of Frankford and Girard avenues — an area popular for bars like Garage Fishtown, Kosta’s, Frankford Hall and Johnny Brenda’s.
“I rolled in here in 2012 with an idea of what I wanted the neighborhood to be like and then to see it really come to fruition,” Patton said. “[I’d like to] have this be what Frankford and Girard was 10 years ago, where it was the starting point and everything grew from that spot.”