Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Last call at Tangier: A bar man's tough decision

"This was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make," bar man Jack Roe said the other day.

Out with the old, in with the new.

It's called progress.

Jack Roe knows all that.

"This was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make," Roe said the other day.

"Everything pointed to the fact that it had to be done."

And that would be closing Tangier, at 18th and Lombard Streets, after more than 30 years.

The dive bar - just far enough south of Rittenhouse Square to keep it real - will have its last call on Monday, Aug. 4.

This was a long time coming. After toying with the idea to cash in on a valuable corner property, Roe decided more than a year ago to give the listing to a broker.

"I wasn't ready," he said. He figured that a sale would take a lot of time, given that he was asking what he called a high price for the building and liquor license.

But the Hwang family quickly agreed to buy Tangier, and settlement is scheduled for next week.

(Reached this week, partner Peter Hwang said he "would rather respect everyone involved and let Jack, the staff, the customers and the neighborhood close things out" before divulging a plan for the building.)

Since Roe announced the closing, he has faced a rush of emotions. "I now realize how much we touched people here," he said in one of the bar's wooden booths, adorned with an image of the signature headless camel.

"All the people who moved into the neighborhood over the years. They didn't know anyone, and they came in here and found friends," he said. "This was their touchstone."

Roe is proud that the bar has had no fights or robberies.

Or wine coolers. "We resisted that," Roe said proudly.

Roe was selling craft and imported beer long before it became popular.

Tangier's beer inventory - which once played out on 13 taps - has been dwindling. So has the collection of memorabilia - some purloined and some given away. A manager gave a coveted tap handle to a longtime customer who is under the weather. A group of former Graduate Hospital employees visited for a reunion, and Roe gave one of them the hospital's medallion, which had hung on one wall of the bar after the hospital closed.

Roe, 67, has no plans to retire.

"Hah," he said. "People have said I've been retired for 20 years."

He and a friend plan to set up a small brewery for fun near his East Falls home. If it succeeds, they may open a small brewpub. Roe, a Marine veteran, volunteers with the USO at Philadelphia International Airport.

Roe and several then-partners opened Tangier in 1981 (per Roe's records) or 1982 (newspaper archives) at what was a bar called RN's, across from the now-closed Graduate Hospital.

In a previous incarnation, the corner bar was a drag bar called Miss P's. The raised floor on the barroom's north side was the "stage" for shows back then, said Roe, who over the years has owned such spots as Goat Hollow, Nadine's and JB's Variety (now the New Wave Cafe).

As for the name: "I was looking for something semi-exotic," he said.

He heard of a nightspot in Akron, Ohio, called The Tangier.

But that was only one of a dozen names he wrote down on a sheet of paper and asked friends to evaluate.

Tangier conjured visions of Morocco, and the knickkacks had camel themes.

The menu? It's as Moroccan as Roe is.