Friendly Lounge is friendly because it's quiet.
A quiet bar will always get some business from people like me who enjoy a quiet bar. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for Dominick the owner, Friendly Lounge stays quiet because most people like to drink in a livelier joint.
Afternoons, cigarette smoke curls through the sunlight streaming through the windows and old movies play on the television. The bar is minimalist deco, with rounded wood trim on the mirrors, and a nude pinup next to an aging cash register. The place has the air of a David Lynch movie. All that’s missing is a midget.
How to make the bar busier was a puzzle to Dom, one he wasn’t trying very hard to solve. Back in 1971, when Dom and his brother Marco took over the bar after their mother died, it had been even slower. They’d brought in go-go girls for three or four years, and that kept them afloat for a while. They’ve managed to limp along ever since.
Dom once made most of his money on Saturday and Sunday from people coming to shop on Ninth Street. "It used to be like walking into a carnival midway over there," said Dom. "There were more people than cars." That was 30 years ago.
The night I was there was a Friday and Action News was on the television. The regulars were talking back to the screen, like the crowds at the old Chestnut Street theaters, where watching a movie was a participatory sport.
According to the news, a woman’s weave saved her life by stopping a bullet. "Must have been a thick-ass weave," said a guy who looked like he might be Method Man’s brother. Dom said they ought to make bulletproof wigs. "It could be a big pompadour like Johnny Cash’s," he said.
The conversation then somehow turned to Michael Vick and dogfighting. From there, it was on to chimps ("dangerous as shit,") cockfighting ("make a stew out of the loser,") tigers that kill their trainers, the prevalence of homosexual tiger trainers and finally back to horses. They used to bury them on Washington Avenue, said Dom. They had stables there, and up on Mifflin Street, near where the South Philly Tap Room is now, he said.
1039 S. Eighth St. 215.627.9798 �The Friendly Lounge has been on the same South Philly corner since the dawn of time itself, and it's all the better for it. It's most definitely not the kind of bar th...
Neither the building nor the bar had changed much since 1991, when I was 18 and lived around the corner. We bought takeout forties of Olde English 800 there, and sometimes we’d stick around to listen to the jazz combo and live out our Kerouacian fantasies. We assumed Way’s had been there forever;it never occurred to us that you could buy an old bar and slap a new name on it.
“Smoke at your own risk,” says the hand-lettered sign above the jukebox, and nearly everyone does—Parliament Lights, GPC’s and USA Golds. Good health is already in short supply among this crowd anyway. Between the canes and the walkers and the overall level of physical infirmity, the place can look more like a doctor’s office than a bar. Patti the bartender has to remind guys to take their prescriptions. They swallow their pills with a beer chaser.
The owner, Jaroslaw “Jerry” Lebin, says there are a lot of dives dirtier than his, and he’s right. Jerry lives upstairs and drinks downstairs and the bar looks like it could be his tchotchke-filled den. There’s a pool table, and photos of his parents and soccer teams he’s coached, and a plaque from when he was an All-Catholic soccer player at Roman in 1972. Below the TV is a bumper sticker that reads “The Navy Yard is...Americans working for America.”