The Grape Room

By Noel Bartocci
Photography by Melissa Kelly Photography
(melissakellyphotography.com)

 

Ten years ago this February, a neighborhood haunt with roots planted firmly in this neighborhood, The Grape Street Pub, shut its doors after decades of original musical performances. A local relocation and uncertain future loomed for fans and employees of the establishment — but a desire to revive it at its original location pierced through the doubt. Today, it stands as The Grape Room, a premier Manayunk music venue and voted Best Place to Get Your Groove On.

A few short years after the pub closed, Brian Hassinger — a renaissance man known around these parts simply as “Scooter” — reopened under the name The Grape Room, now in its original location. Scooter, a musician in his own right, had been a driving force at the pub for over a decade before taking the reigns as owner in 2010. If you’ve ever been in and you see a bald gentleman with dark-rimmed glasses bopping his head while serving drinks, maintaining the club, cleaning the bathrooms, or anything else The Grape Room requires — that’s him, owner extraordinaire.

“It’s just me as a small proprietor,” he explained while I chuckled at the list of duties he performs daily for The Grape Room. “I have an amazing staff and a whole host of performers that help [run] open mics and comedy nights,” he adds making sure I’m aware just how much of a team effort every night really is.

This sentiment of community would become even more clear as I learned more about the space from others. In order to get a fuller picture of what The Grape Room provides for our town, I reached out to some local performers, all of which were effusive about what The Grape Room offers the community.

“The Grape Room is one of the true music venues in the Manayunk area. I’ve played many amazing bars and restaurants as a paid entertainer, however, for a musician who writes and performs their own music, it’s when we find ourselves in an environment built around the art form that we truly feel alive,” John Gilbride, a local musician who’s played the space multiple times explained to me.

The Grape Room has cultivated an atmosphere that supports performance, expanding their offerings to include multiple open mics, in addition to booked talent, for artists to come and play.

“The small stage is what I love about The Grape,” Scooter elated. “I just love the sheer unadulterated outpouring of raw emotion on stage — you feed off of the crowd because it’s right in front of you. Instead of it being a long shoot of a room, it’s a wide one. Even the bar gets to be a part of the show.”
As a musician, it was easy for him to put himself on the other side of the bar and instinctually cater to both artists and the audience.

“When the artists are having a great time — the people are having a great time, because the vibe is great,” Scooter said. “When it’s a killer show, you just get that vibe. [The patrons] roll up happy with smiles on their faces.”

Creating this palpable air of artistic support has paid off for concert goers and bar attendees just as much as the acts. In such a shared creative environment, it’s not difficult to swerve into that wave of positive emotion.

“I’ve played venues where the bartenders, servers, managers, sound techs, etc. seem disconnected, unenthusiastic, even bothered by the music in their own workplace. This was not the case [at The Grape Room].” John illustrated, adding, “I sat at the bar before and after my set and took a look around. The bartender was dancing, bobbing his head and really into the performances.”

What John wasn’t aware of at the time was that that head-bobbing bartender was likely Scooter. Regardless, this shared memory got me thinking — as someone who attends a lot of live events, I cannot for the life of me recall the staff appearing to have just as much fun as everyone else. How can you not become addicted to that kind of groove, whether you’re there to perform or just take it all in? That kind of joy is undeniably contagious.

Stepping up their game, The Grape Room’s offerings have expanded to include more interactive kind of nights that go beyond the typical open mic. In speaking with Pat Durkin, guitar and lead vocals for The Jawn — a four-piece rock band from Northeast Philly — made me aware of #OpenJawn, which they host on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. They primarily improvise music and invite patrons to hop on stage and join in. This has fostered a steady group of regular contributors and fans.

“The Grape Room has become home since we started hosting the jam,” Pat filled me in, adding his impressions of both Scooter and his staff. “Scooter is one of the most genuinely nice and caring people. All of the bartenders and sound people have been great — they care about the bands.”

So, what’s next for The Grape Room? Scooter shared his hopes and plans for expanding hours and adding more musical performances, including acoustic sets in the upstairs bar area. But no matter what they do, he never intends to lose sight of what makes it all work — artists and the audience coming together for an incredible experience.

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