The Small Venue with a Big Heart

The Grape Room: A place for local Manayunk Musicians to perform and grow

By Alexandra Cohen

Photography By JPG Photo & Video

Squeezed between the hillside rowhomes and bustling restaurants just off Main Street, you may hear the distinct sound of guitars being tuned, singers warming up their voices, and a long line of eager fans waiting to get the best spot in the house. If you follow the excitement, you will find yourself in front of Manayunk’s best kept secret – The Grape Room.

The Grape Room, located conveniently at 105 Grape Street, is a bi-level music venue with different events happening throughout the week. First opening in the mid 70’s, The Grape Room has so much history that it cannot be considered just a music venue. It is a milestone, a beginning, and a place to connect.

The Grape Room thrives on providing a stage for musicians local to Manayunk and throughout the Greater Philadelphia area. The owner of The Grape Room, Brian Hassinger, or more commonly known as “Scooter,” knows the love and devotion that the venue has to offer the community. Scooter started off at the Grape Room as a performer himself along with his band in 1992. It evolved into monthly performances and soon, Scooter became a major part of the business. Whether he was up on stage performing, serving up refreshing drinks for the crowd, booking bands for the next weekend to perform, or working on sound (all of which he still does), Scooter was there to help in one way or another, and it led him to eventually become the owner to keep the venue thriving the same way it’s always been.

Scooter goes on to describe the vibrant music scene that is a part of Manayunk.

“There is a hearty Manayunk music scene,” Scooter said. “You know a lot of musicians who have been entrenched in the Grape and the music scene in Manayunk are now expanding into the city and it’s pretty awesome.”

While Manayunk does not have as large of venues that can be found throughout the different neighborhoods of Philadelphia like The Fillmore or The Met – everyone must start somewhere. That’s why intimate venues like The Grape Room are so important to the community. Giving local musicians a stage and an opportunity to show their amazing talents to the world will and can change their lives.

Kevin McCall, who is the current booking agent, also started off his connection with The Grape Room by performing with his band, Andorra. He emphasizes the importance of local bands.

“It’s kind of like the idea that a national band is equivalent to a teacher getting tenure where it is like you can phone it in, whereas local bands still need to prove themselves and they are looking to do that everytime they hit the stage,” Kevin states. “That’s why it’s the best. That’s why they sorta bleed it out everytime they can go up on stage and do their thing. Everybody is looking to prove something.”

Another great emphasis on The Grape Room’s values is that they give the opportunity for these musicians to grow and connect with other venues and performers in the scene to sing their heart out every single opportunity they can. To see musicians who started performing for the first time at The Grape Room and advanced to performing at Kung Fu Necktie or J.C. Dobbs is a proud moment. Some bands make it even bigger to perform at The Mann Center and other large scale venues, but, they would not have been there without the opportunities that small, local venues offer.

The Grape Room will never forget the artists who have played at the venue and have moved on to the bigger adventures either! On stage, you will see a mural that is of a spaceship shooting a rocket. This is a dedication to every single artist who has gone up on the stage to perform and give the room a piece of themselves. They give their time and musical abilities, and all performers are important. It shows that The Grape Room will help you explode into the great music world!

Having a place to gather and connect as a community is extremely important as well. The Grape Room does not have an audience just for the young, newly 21 crowd, they bring in all walks of life no matter what. Whether you are there to support your friend performing or need a break from reality and a night full of dancing, all are welcome with open arms.

Scooter goes on to describe a time when these performers and the community needed this reality break the most : The COVID-19 pandemic. Just like many, many other Manayunk businesses and music venues throughout the world, The Grape Room needed to pivot the business model and navigate the new and scary reality.

With performers not having a stage to perform – it was a very uneasy time for supporters of the music scene. The venue did not want to lose the sense of community or lose the opportunities to give the local musicians a platform. so The Grape Room pivoted. While cramming the usual three hundred people into the bar would not work for everyone’s safety and health, the venue decided to take a 180 turn. Opening the jumbo windows in the front, the band set up facing towards the street. Attendants would bring beach chairs to watch and nearby neighbors sat up on their roofs and decks to watch the performances as happy music flooded the street, and times seemed to be just okay for a moment again.

“It gives me chills,” Scooter recalls. “It was a time, it was certainly a time and place to live through that. As I said, these musicians, they are the new falcons of Manayunk spreading their good word around the city.”
Now that regulations are lifted and attendants are welcomed back inside, The Grape Room is back to the regular schedule of serving up drinks and ensuring music that anyone can dance along to! With a packed and exciting weekly schedule, there is always something for everyone.

There are a variety of different events that occur throughout the week. If you want to start your week with a little laughter boost, The Grape Room has an open comedy night each Tuesday evening! If you are looking for something more relaxed and want to just jam – Wednesdays are for you at the Open Jam sessions. If you have a band that is looking to get their foot in the door – The Grape Room offers a rocking Music Open Mic night every Thursday evening! And throughout the weekend on Fridays and Saturdays, you can find live shows being hosted with remarkable bands.

“I’ve witnessed bands forming at open mics that have gone on to play the room on a Saturday night and essentially sell it out,” Kevin discusses the important of each night they offer, “Countless musicians that have gone to open mic night and just said ‘Hey would you like to start a band?’ and then next thing you know they have a Saturday night show booked there. That is the natural tradjerectory of how the Grape Room works. We sorta see it from start to finish and then expand into even more by performing in other clubs and see these bands become a really great staple in the Philadelphia area.”

And we cannot forget the ones who organize and grind each night to ensure that each and every patron is enjoying their evening. Whether it is the ones preparing the beverages, the security guards checking IDs, sound, lights, and everything else! The night would not be complete without these hard workers and dedication.

Kevin concludes by stating, “Your perspective walking down Main Street and coming up Grape, expecting to just have a shot and a beer. And then you see this band is killing it on stage playing their heart out. People react and stick around and love it, which is what The Grape Room really wants to offer.”