Local liberals meet weekly in South Philly to discuss politics, clink glasses

Cement Roots is a new column about politics in Philadelphia. For her debut column, Anna Hyclak talks about beer — and the liberals who drink it.

On Tuesdays, Tangier’s outdoor tables are packed.

Beneath strings of unlit Christmas lights and red neon letters spelling out the bar’s name, a crowd of outspoken liberals sits talking and drinking the night away, their conversations peppered with “Obama” and “McCain.”

Drinking liberally is a way of life in Philadelphia, a land of dive bars and 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor in black plastic bags. Drinking Liberally, however, is something relatively new and unheard of—a social gathering with a political twist, where like-minded folks can discuss ideas and air grievances over plates of hot wings and pints of cheap beer.

Founded in New York City in 2003, there are now 293 Drinking Liberally chapters in 50 states and Washington, D.C., and three foreign countries. The Philadelphia chapter has been throwing back beers since 2006 and attracts a weekly group of about 20 people to its happy hour at Tangier Bar and Restaurant, located at 1801 Lombard St.

Any topic is game. On Aug. 19, points of discussion ranged from global warming to the Democratic National Convention to the goings-on in Harrisburg.

“It’s not hard to find people who share your beliefs, but, you know, you don’t usually get the chance to talk to strangers in bars about politics,” said John Lloyd, 23, a student at Drexel University and regular attendee of Drinking Liberally.

Drinking Liberally
Every Monday, activists meet at Tangier’s restaurant to talk about politics (Rachel Playe TTN).

In fact, politics is one of those subjects, like sex or death, that people tend to avoid during polite conversation. That’s one of the reasons why founder Justin Krebs, 30, organized the first Drinking Liberally event at Rudy’s Bar and Grill in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. He wanted to help people feel more comfortable discussing politics in social situations.

He also wanted to rehabilitate the word “liberal.”

“Conservatives have really demonized the word, to the point where people don’t want to use it to describe themselves,” Krebs said. “Calling the group ‘Drinking Liberally’ is a sort of a tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre way of getting people to call themselves liberals.”

Of course, many of the people who attend Drinking Liberally in Philadelphia were proud, active liberals before they started showing up at Tangier. Some of the city’s most prominent political bloggers, including Duncan Black, who writes for eschatonblog.com, are Drinking Liberally regulars.

This makes the weekly event a must-stop for local political candidates.

“These bloggers have audiences that rival small-town newspapers and influence that extends pretty far,” said Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg, who attends the weekly discussions. “So anytime there’s an election, everybody stops by.”

After graduating from the University of Chicago, Philly native Mel Knapp returned back home where she attended her first Drinking Liberally on Aug. 12. So far, she’s hooked.

“A lot of people who are really involved with politics and a lot of people who actually hold positions of authority in the city will come,” Knapp said. “You can sit and talk to them over a drink and it’s really chill.”
The “chill” aspect is perhaps the biggest selling point for those with strong beliefs who don’t want to put in the time by canvassing city streets with posters or selling their ideals over the phone. While most other political groups place a huge emphasis on action, Drinking Liberally is all about the talk.

Urevick-Ackelsberg, for one, is totally OK with that.

“I think it’s very valuable to have [an event like this] where there’s no real pressure to get anything done,” he said. “You can have a drink or not drink, make some new friends, discuss ideas and get different perspectives. It strengthens the community of activists, because people need to do things that aren’t serious sometimes.”

Anna Hyclak can be reached at anna.hyclak@temple.edu.

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