SCHMIDT'S is back.
Not the grand old Northern Liberties brewery, which shut down in 1987. And not the beer, which these days exists only as some generic fizzy yellow liquid that's brewed God-knows-where.
S-C-H-M-I-D-T-S, the actual stainless-steel letters that once looked down at 2nd and Girard from the mammoth brewery's brick facade, the letters that greeted hundreds of brewery workers, the word that once stood with "Stetson" and "Whitman" and "Fels Naptha" as a classic, universally recognized Philadelphia brand name - that Schmidt's is back.
The giant letters were salvaged when the grand, 14-acre brewing facility was demolished in 2001. Part of the site is re-opening tomorrow as the Piazza at Schmidt's, an 80,000-square-foot plaza at 2nd Street and Germantown Avenue, surrounded by shopping, entertainment and living space with restaurants and artist boutiques.
Sharp-eyed beer fans and history buffs can spot the letters, which date to about 1949, on a brick wall inside a 2nd Street storefront currently used by the Piazza's developer, Tower Investments.
The company has not announced any permanent location for the letters, but one official told me the plan is to keep them in public view.
That's a fine tribute to an important chapter in local beer lore.
C. Schmidt and Sons was the last big brewery in Philadelphia. The Northern Liberties facility - at one time, the ninth-biggest brewery in the nation - produced beer for 127 years.
And not just its flagship lager, which - depending on your palate - was either good and cheap or just plain nasty. It also brewed beer under the Duquesne, Reading, Valley Forge, Erie, Bergheim, Rheingold and Ortlieb labels. Gray-haired beer freaks still remember the sweet, roasted flavor of its Prior Double Dark.
After the brewery closed, the Schmidt's label was passed on to a string of beer-makers. It's now owned by Pabst (which no longer operates any breweries) and is reportedly made by either Miller or The Lion in Wilkes-Barre.
Today, you can still find bottles and cans in the dark corners of neighborhood distributors. In this town of traditionalists, there are some who still swear "it's one beautiful beer."
The Piazza at Schmidt's will offer more than just dusty memories of beers gone by. Among the businesses opening this weekend at the new development is the Swift Half, a pub from the same folks who run the Good Dog in Center City.
The bar's name comes from that supposed last half-pint before heading home, as in, "My mother-in-law is visiting this weekend. I can't face that battle-ax without one more swift half."
Enter from the southwestern side of the Piazza and you'll find a tidy lineup of 10 taps, including Flying Fish Belgian Mild, Sly Fox Dax maibock and Iron Hill Double Wit.
_ Holy Smoke (473 Leverington Ave., Roxborough) is serving fine hickory- and mesquite-smoked ribs, brisket and chicken, along with a half-dozen different styles from Victory Brewing on tap.
_ Brauhaus Schmitz (718 South St.), the highly anticipated German beer hall, is expected to raise its first liter by June 15. Sixteen of its 20 taps will be devoted to German specialties, while Stoudt's Brewing will make its house beer.
_ Silk City (5th and Spring Garden, Northern Liberties) is building an outdoor beer garden with a capacity of 250, to be opened Memorial Day weekend.
_ The Budapest Cafe (11th and Fitzwater, Bella Vista) will open in June. The cafe will be operated by Chris Fetfatzes (whose family runs Bella Vista Beer distributor across the street) and his girlfriend, Heather Annechiarico. They promise to carry every one of the more than 3,000 different brands registered for sale in Pennsylvania.
_ Brew (Hicks and Mifflin, Newbold) has opened in the shadow of St. Agnes Hospital. Developed by the folks behind South Philly Tap Room, the coffee shop will carry 800-plus varieties for takeout once it lands its liquor license.
_ Mary Oaks (3801 Chestnut St., University City) was supposed to be open in April. The phone rings with no answer, but the Web site still promises 24 taps and an extensive bottle list.
_ Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant opens its eighth location and first in New Jersey in July at 124 E. Kings Highway, Maple Shade. Chris LaPierre, formerly of Iron Hill/West Chester, is the head brewer.
_ Victory Brewing of Downingtown is targeting a fall opening for its Victory Square Brewery in Easton. The 300-seat brewpub is a collaboration with the owners of the highly acclaimed Farmhouse Restaurant of Emmaus.
Walk with Joe
Northern Liberties' storied past and exciting present are the focus of a walking tour Joe Sixpack will lead for First Person Arts on June 13. Join me for a tasty Saturday afternoon stroll around the neighborhood as I share stories about my former home.
Good beer and food are the focus of this edition of a unique series of edible tours that transform the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art.
The tour runs from 2-5:30 p.m. Tix are $65. Info: 267-402-2055 or www.firstpersonarts.org. *