A Chili Reception

Eggs, crackheads and an apparent death on a trip up the El.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted May. 25, 2010

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Billy's Chili Pot

“What time do you close?”

“We’re a fucking bar. What time do you think we close, jackass?”

Anytime you call Billy’s Chili Pot Inc. on the phone, a drunk customer seems to answer. This makes it difficult to get questions answered about the place. For instance, does Billy’s Chili Pot actually serve chili? I’ve heard it doesn’t. Oh, it does? Twelve kinds, you say? The most popular is Jim Bob’s? What’s in that? Spice and everything nice, but mostly Jim Bob? What’s that mean? [click]

Billy’s is a shitshack a considerable ways up Frankford Avenue, a scary Market-Frankford El ride to the Oxford stop. A trip this far up the El isn’t advisable, and around Billy’s you’ll generally find either people looking to cop serious drugs or seeking to be murdered by someone looking to cop serious drugs.

That sounds like wild hyperbole, but all the proof you’ll need to see it isn’t is to actually get off the El at Oxford, and start looking for the place. It’s like night of the living base heads out here. Women tweaking on meth or high on crack dance in front of cars as they try their best to drive by. Still more folks with itchy skin dart in an out of abandoned storefronts, and appear from out of nowhere right in front of you from behind the large cement columns holding up the El. It’s a goddamn crackhead obstacle course.

As such, you’ll feel a heaping helping of relief once you make your way into Billy’s dingy, smoky inner sanctum. It’s an oasis from the madness outside. An oasis that does indeed sell chili (out of an old crock pot). But not tonight. Tonight they’ve got boiled eggs for 35 cents, which they serve in a Styrofoam bowl with a shaker of salt. They’re grossly overcooked, all gray and green hard yolks, but my friend Brian eats one and lives to tell about it the next day.

Bartender Mary is sweet enough, possibly because she never has to answer the phone. Pints of Lager are $2 during Phillies games, and the 15 or so old drunks around the bar each look like they have a dozen or so already in them. I buy four for my party, and pay with a twenty. This illicits an “Oooooh!” from a guy with an uncomfortable eye on my wallet.

He’s Irish, and speaks in such a thick, drunken brogue (forgive the redundancy) that everything he says is completely unintelligible. Mary tells him not to be a bother, and he clams up.

I take a seat in one of the few booths in the back, so as to not have the smell of Brian’s egg bother anyone too much, or the smell of any of them bother me too much. There’s a shuffleboard bowling game in the very back end of the bar that doesn’t work (and won’t any time soon), and a Harley-Davidson pinball machine that does.

Hanging on wood-paneled walls are about 30 years of softball plaques commemorating various Billy’s Chili Pot teams over the years, everything from First Place to Thanks for Showing Up. I look around at the old timers nodding off at the bar. Nothing about them suggests they could field a team worth watching, but who knows? Maybe there’s magic in that crock pot.

Then, suddenly, a very loud THWACK. One of the old men has fallen face-first onto the floor and has been knocked out cold. My back is turned to him, so I don’t see it. Instead I catch the expression of concerned horror on my wife’s face. A man this old, this drunk, taking a fall this hard: We all wonder for a hard second whether or not we’ve just heard someone die.

A couple men stumble to his aid like it’s old hat and ask if they should call him a taxi or an ambulance. One of them doesn’t wait for an answer before abandoning his fallen comrade for a game of Harley-Davidson. He drops in some change, and begins playing pinball with the unconscious old man still out cold between his legs.

After a few spooky minutes, the man finally comes to, but doesn’t seem to understand a word being said to him (and not just because it’s the Irishman doing the talking). He stumbles out into the wilds of the night, nearly falling again before he gets to the exit.

“There’s no way he’s going to make it home,” a man observes.

Thinking about it, I start to feel sick. But it may just be the smell of Brian’s egg.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Jane said... on May 27, 2010 at 09:17AM

“The El Stop is Margaret-ORTHODOX, not Oxford.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 3, 2010 at 08:19PM

“I'm 23 years old and once in a while me and my buddies will head to the chili pot. This guy makes it seem like it's a piece of shit, but it's always been pretty chill, everyone in there are good people and it's cheap. What more do you ask for in a bar. Plus, thus guy obviously never showed his face o a Wednesday night because 90% of the time there is a travelling shuffleboard league facing off with the home team in the back of the bar.

This guy probably got flagged or something at Billy's because it's an awesome bar in a not so awesome place. And the chili is amazing!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Sep 8, 2010 at 09:39PM

“This dude McManus is full of shit. I am no regular but I drink at the pot and everything this dude says is a lie. He must have been flagged.

1) The Chili here does not come in 12 varieties but one. Billy's recipe that he used when he was in the Philadelphia Fire Department, and is very very good. They don't make it in the summer months due to lack of chili sales in the heat, but they always have it Sept-May and I NEVER had it served from a crock pot. Total BS by this author.

2) They run two leagues in house and two leagues out house for shuffleboard. That's four teams. The board always works as they have home games every week year round. Another blatant lie by McManus.

3) And the fact that this dude finds the need to keep putting down the old heads that drink there shows his bias. Are there poor people there.. on Frankford ave.. well of course. But just cause they are poor don't make them losers like he claims. I've met a ton of great people there, some retards but that is every bar”

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4. Irishsteve. said... on Jan 14, 2011 at 10:48AM

“Brian McM-anus certainly knows how to talk out of his loose anus, perhaps thats why he works for a toilet paper like Philadelphia Weekly, a rag so mind-numbingly dull and full of nothing but advertisements that they have to give it out for free. Do you get paid for this drivel Mc M-anus?

Just remember who these people are you scumbag! The 15 or so old drunks or so you mention are all military veterans, Korea, Vietnam, they saw it all and gave their all you cheap punk! You owe them a great deal more than a public put-down. Why dont you come and hear some of their stories and gauge their contribution to this country to that of you and your ilk? No, i dont think a yellow bastard like you would have the spine for that so hide in your pathetic little closet office at PW if you even have one and keep scrawling with the half-truths.

PS I didnt vote for Obama so i must be a racist

Have a shit life and fuck yourself.”

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5. mikeshea said... on Aug 2, 2011 at 03:05PM

“hey mcmanus,i agree with steve u have no idea what you are talking about. i used to go in there awhile ago and always treated great by those oldheads. sorry it nolibs or fishtown,and your probably one of those smelly hipsters at the dirty ass elbar anyway.

p.s whats up IRISH”

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6. mikeshea said... on Aug 2, 2011 at 03:06PM

“hey mcmanus,i agree with steve u have no idea what you are talking about. i used to go in there awhile ago and always treated great by those oldheads. sorry it nolibs or fishtown,and your probably one of those smelly hipsters at the dirty ass elbar anyway.

p.s whats up IRISH”

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7. David O. said... on May 17, 2012 at 11:34PM

“A gap and a chasm exist between what this reviewer half absorbed from his one visit and what Billy's actually is. It's disingenuous and wrong to write a review of a bar without a scintilla of knowledge of what the subject matter is about.

Billy's is working man's pub where the people he mentions have names and stories that would resonate with a writer that cared.

To you it's a "shitshack". To us, Billy's is a no-bullshit bar that deserves better than an attitudinal reviewer whose article suffers from bad editing.

'kindly don't come back with the”

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8. Dukrut said... on Nov 21, 2012 at 06:22PM

“An African guy is drinking here tonight. Details to follow...”

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