After 20 years, the Draught Horse Pub & Grill on Temple University’s campus is closing down. The Draught Horse served as a bar and grill for students, faculty, and visitors during the day; but served as an infamous party spot when the sun went down. The Horse was one of the only places in Philadelphia where you could have a sit down meal with your mother at noon, attend a happy hour at 6pm, then show up at 10:30pm for $.50 beers on Wednesday.
From 2015 to 2020, I had the absurd experience of working at the Draught Horse. After transferring to Temple I spent a single summer day applying to every restaurant and bar on campus until landing a gig at the Horse as a barback. Not only did I have no experience as a barback, I had applied as a security guard but was convinced by the hiring manager, Shawn Palecek, to work as a barback.
In six years at the Draught Horse, I cleaned up more vomit and piss than any one person should. Half of the time working at the Draught Horse was hard physical labor, whether the job involved carrying kegs, stocking cases of Bud Light, or running steaming hot fajitas from the kitchen to the Front of House. The other half of the time was the greatest time of my life.
The staff of the Draught Horse was split evenly between Temple students and non-Temple students. The 18-21 year olds would turn over from year to year, but the heart and soul of the Draught Horse were those who stayed year after year. Maurice Williams, a North Philly Native and father spent nearly a decade in the Draught Horse kitchen, outlasting a handful of chefs that supposedly “ran the kitchen.” Two men: Alex and Frankie, whose legal names are neither Alex nor Frankie were responsible for kitchen prep nearly everyday. A myriad of wild characters made up the kitchen of the Draught Horse, as they were often involved in a government program incentivizing the Draught Horse to hire the formerly incarcerated.
In the kitchen, 90’s rap music blasted as J.A.W.N Burgers cooked and nachos were made. Out by the bar, waitresses sat and studied for classes or gossiped until lunch rush came and threw the day into dismay. I made some of the best friends I’ll ever make while working at the Draught Horse.
When I wrote my first book, I sold physical copies at the Draught Horse and told people I’d be a writer one day. The opening audio to the first episode of my podcast series was recorded with Maurice Williams over shift drinks and to this day a poster promoting my podcast series hangs in the Draught Horse vestibule. When I went to London to study abroad, the Draught Horse hired my best friend Brendan to hold my job until I came back to America.
Draught Horse General Manager Mike Frost was someone with whom I fought and disagreed with on nearly everything, yet there was a mutual respect between employees and management that allowed for beautiful moments. Frost gave the okay to host a charity event for an employee whose mother was battling cancer, a charity event that was attended by nearly every other employee.
The Draught Horse was a family of misfits. Each employee was either a college student struggling financially or an older person stuck in a college atmosphere. It was a second home for people whose first homes may not have been there for them.
Regulars like Sheila, Matt, and Captain would come by in the middle of your shift and remind you that the world was filled with unique and amazing people. The bartenders I worked with were my therapists and life advice shared behind the bar was sacred. To many, the Draught Horse was a place to unwind, a place to dance, sing, scream, and let loose when the world had you down.
At the Draught Horse I watched the Eagles win the Super Bowl, I met professional athletes and partied with some of America’s greatest DJ’s, I learned to respect people I disagreed with, and cleaned many clumps of sorority girls’ vomit out of bathroom sinks. I served tables, worked security, poured drinks, changed kegs, filled dunk tanks, hosted quizzo, and made more friends than I deserved. The Draught Horse was my favorite place in Philadelphia, but Temple is taking that away.
Temple University did not ease up on the Draught Horse during the COVID-19 pandemic, in fact when it was time to renegotiate their lease, Temple asked for more money. The Draught Horse is being squeezed out so that Temple can take control over the space it currently occupies.
As a graduate of Temple University, I am used to being embarrassed by Bill Cosby and I’s alma mater. It is my opinion that Temple is a high-level money laundering scheme for State funds with the intent to gentrify North Philly. Their greed and disregard for the community will never surprise me. The Draught Horse remained incredibly profitable pre-COVID, but Temple is forcing them out in the name of power and control of North Philly.
Over time it will be interesting to see what the Horse is replaced with, whether it will continue to be a restaurant or rather converted to join the recreational facility it’s already attached to. The Draught Horse was a bridge to the North Philly community, it’s no surprise that Temple would burn it.
The Draught Horse has about two weeks left in business, go shower their employees with tips and praise. Remember the good times you had. Without the Draught Horse as a reliable source of income I don’t know what my life would be like. There are friends I made at the Draught Horse who will be at my wedding and my funeral. As a man whose worked dozens of jobs I can confidently say places like the Draught Horse don’t come along everyday.