Unlabeled bar supports small brewers, distillers

A second-floor bar hidden above an Ethiopian restaurant features more than 150 kinds of beer.

Fiume, a speakeasy-style bar on 45th and Locust streets, displays different whiskeys on a backlit ramp Kevin Holland, the bar’s manager, calls “The Stairway to Heaven.” | MADISON KARAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Up through the side-door of Abyssinia Ethiopian restaurant and atop a red-carpeted stairwell, you’ll come to a set of two blue-trimmed white doors. A sign covering the small, square window reads “Bar open @ 6:00.” 

Every day of the year after 6 p.m., Fiume opens its doors on the second floor of Abyssinia on 45th Street near Locust. Unlabeled to street pedestrians, the cozy, splotchy-painted and dimly-lit six-stool and five-table bar offers more than 150 kinds of beer, 80 types of whiskeys, and a wine and craft cocktail list.

Fiume, a speakeasy-style bar on 45th and Locust streets, is pictured through a window above an Ethiopian restaurant. | MADISON KARAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Yet, if you order a Seven and Seven or a Jack and Coke, Fiume won’t be able to serve you one. There are limited-edition beers from shut-down breweries, $60 special-release wheat whiskey pours, and a signature cocktail named after the restaurant below, but no Corona, Red Stripe or even Jim Beam.

“We want to welcome people that are just going to come in and ask for something like that,” said Fiume manager Kevin Holland, 45. “But we simultaneously want to show them this is what we do, and it’s a little bit different and here’s why.”

Before he took over, the space above Abyssinia was a vegan cafe. After it closed, multiple people founded Fiume as an anarchist-run bar in 2001. The staffers had no official positions and collaborated on all business decisions. Holland helped run the bar a few months, but eventually, the operation fell apart and he became manager, Holland said. 

And although there’s almost nothing anti-establishment about the bar anymore, Holland still curates Fiume’s menu to support smaller brewers, distillers and wholesalers, he said. 

“It sort of fits in with the 99 percent sort of thing,” he added. “I want to keep a thriving middle class with lots of opportunity and lots of money, and not just money, but the other things that take one hold.”

Fiume, a speakeasy-style bar on 45th and Locust streets, is pictured through a window above an Ethiopian restaurant. A door with a sign that states “Bar Open at 6:00 p.m. is the only indication of the establishment. | MADISON KARAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The bar’s inventory changes frequently, stocking new brews from across the country, Holland said.

“Almost every week, I come in and there’s at least one new thing,” said Micah Edwards, 34, who’s been working at Fiume for five years.

Fiume requires only one of its six employees to staff it each night until the last call at 1:15 a.m., making it different than any other bartending gig, Edwards said. 

“You’re the bartender, the barback, the busser here, you know, you’re doing everything,” he added.

In Fiume’s display fridge, one of every type of 150 beers they sell is stocked. | MADISON KARAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The relaxed atmosphere of Fiume brings in a diverse crowd of students, regulars and neighbors, Edwards said.

“It’s a local staple, so many of my friends and peers always came here for something special, like the atmosphere,” said Ryan Hendriksen, 31, who lives on 49th Street near Walnut.

While Hendriksen frequents Fiume for its craft beer menu, the first night he visited eight years ago wasn’t for the drinks, but for live music. 

On Sundays at 8 p.m., the bar has rotating house bands who play New Orleans jazz and Balkan music. And on Thursdays at 10 p.m., The Citywide Specials, a bluegrass band that Holland fronts, takes the stage.

“That band is the last truly anarchist thing about this bar because as its leader, I can just tell you, they don’t do what I say,” Holland said. 

Larry Toft, 39, an elementary school music teacher and frontman for The Red Hot Ramblers, a Prohibition Era jazz ensemble, has been playing at Fiume since 2014, and calls it a “modern speakeasy.” 

“It’s hidden enough that you kind of have to know what you’re getting into to go there,” Toft said. “It’s very small, intimate. It feels like you’re playing in someone’s living room. All the guests that go there are just very into getting into the unknown, in terms of music and bar scene. It’s completely unique from any other bar I’ve been to.” 

Keeping Fiume open for guests 365 days of the year is important for Holland to give people a space to go if they don’t have family to go to on holidays. 

“They might actually feel that they have that here in the sort of, it’s important for me to be open for them, and it’s often a fun night,” he said. “And then there’s also people that have just been with their family for like, too long and they need to go to their bar and drink.”

For better or for worse, there’s no other bar like it, Holland said. He hopes Fiume can run as long as it can.

“This is such a special and unique place,” he said. “Nothing lasts forever, especially this.”

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