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Morgan’s Pier: The First Pop-up Beer Garden (and Open Through October!).

September 30, 2015

MorgansPierRDS01smallText by Beth Ann Downey. Images by Rachel Del Sordo.

With a drink in hand, sun on your skin, the cool breeze of misting fans, the sound of birds and laughter and the PATCO train passing over the Ben Franklin Bridge, it’s hard not to enjoy any time spent at Morgan’s Pier. When day turns to night, there is also frequently the chance to catch a live band or DJ playing at the 500-person capacity outdoor bar and restaurant. It has rightly earned its self-proclaimed title of “Philadelphia’s Backyard Beer Garden.”

Now in its fourth season, Morgan’s Pier plays annual summertime host to a slew of bands, a renowned chef-in-residence and thousands of revelers there to eat, drink and enjoy the city’s waterfront. For the first time, the restaurant will stay open through October, with a series of events planned.

When it first opened, long before amenities like the Spruce Street Harbor Park were created, Philadelphia boasted few outdoor beer gardens and casual eateries on the water.

“I feel like we were probably the first pop-up beer garden that wasn’t pop-up, because we’re stationary,” says Dana Canalicho, the Morgan’s Pier general manager who is in her second season in the position. “I do feel like we helped begin this trend.”

Along with dozens of beers on tap and a number of signature cocktails, Morgan’s Pier complements its beer garden vibe with a menu imagined by one local and celebrated chef-in-residence each season. Past chefs include George Sabatino (Stateside) and David Gilberg (Koo Zee Doo). This year, “Top Chef” winner and Laurel owner Nicholas Elmi has found that going from feeding about 40 people per night at his East Passyunk eatery to serving as many as 1,500 people on any given Saturday at Morgan’s Pier to be an interesting and fun challenge.

“The food is simple,” he says of the current Morgan’s Pier menu. “Everything has two or three ingredients, so obviously everything has to be really good. You have to pack a lot of flavor into a lot less things. It’s a good challenge.”

Elmi called on his New England roots, integrating ample seafood and other light-but-satisfying items, for this year’s menu. His main inspiration? Thinking about what he’d eat if he were drinking a beer or a glass of champagne on a nice summer day.

“That’s sort of the basis of the menu – what would my ideal vacation be and what would I be eating at the time?” he wonders.

Aside from many diverse options of snacks and sides, there are burgers and sandwiches, including crab, lobster and clam rolls. Elmi also introduced several large plates to the menu, including fish and chips, steak and a whole grilled lobster, which give the menu both a casual and upscale feel.

“The larger plates we serve are still kind of down-and-dirty, eat-with-your-hands kinds of things,” he says. “They’re all served on wooden boards, so nothing plated, nothing garnished.”

Elmi says the base of the menu will remain the same throughout the summer. But as the season progresses through different varieties of vegetables and fresh seafood, he and his dedicated crew will change things up.

“We can switch things out and alter it,” he says. “Or if we get sick of something, we can just completely scrap it and start over.”

Morgan’s Pier has applied this same “switch things up” strategy to musical offerings this season. This will be the first year in which R5 Productions doesn’t have a hand in booking when the restaurant and bar turns into a venue. In years past, R5 brought acts like James Murphy, Parquet Courts, Fucked Up, Ted Leo and Waxahatchee to Morgan’s Pier. Most were free shows.

Canalicho explains that the split came about due to some changes within Four Corners Management, which also owns Union Transfer, Ortlieb’s, The Dolphin and both Drinker’s establishments.

“It wasn’t a negative thing,” she says. “Just moving some things around in different directions.”

Canalicho says they’ll now host more local DJs as opposed to traveling acts, as well as live bands on Wednesday nights. Forthcoming acts include The Business, The Sensational Soul Crusiers, DJ Eddie Tully and DJ BeatStreet.

Though many of Morgan’s Pier offerings still cater to a younger, drinking crowd, Canalicho hopes things like the revamped live entertainment and brunch offerings will please a diverse patronage.

“We’re finding that during the day, people want to come with their kids and they still want to have a drink, which you can’t do at most places,” she says. “So, now mom and dad can sit there and have their cocktails. The kids play and the parents can play, too.”

One Comment
  1. October 11, 2015 12:39 am

    I’ll have to check this out before the Machineheart show at The Trocadero!!! (:

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