The Hayes, from chef Townsend Wentz, joins Midtown Village’s bar scene
It's an American tavern, but 'in lieu of mozzarella sticks, I figured we’d put scallops on the menu,' says chef Townsend Wentz. 'Some habits I can’t break.'
Chef Townsend Wentz was riding high in February 2020: His domain had grown to five properties spanning from Fairmount to East Passyunk, and his eponymous flagship restaurant, which he moved to Rittenhouse in late 2019, nabbed a three-bell review right out of the gate. Then came COVID-19, and Wentz found himself selling fresh pasta and focaccia for pickup to stay afloat.
The chef’s empire has reorganized slightly in the years since. Walnut Street’s Oloroso and Fairmount’s A Mano anchored operations while Townsend returned to its original East Passyunk Avenue home, which Wentz bought. He continues to hold the lease at 2121 Walnut St. and plans to roll out a new concept there.
In January, Wentz reopened the cavernous bar he bought next door to Oloroso, at 1123 Walnut St. — the 38-year-old home of the Irish Pub, briefly followed by the Pearl, his initial concept for the space. Now dubbed the Hayes, it’s still a work in progress, with a happy hour menu and a new neon sign on the way. (The old Irish Pub sign is hanging over the bar’s entrance for now, along with lingering Christmas decorations.)
Wentz spent a good part of the pandemic working on the building, which he owns. The bones of the Irish Pub — tall arched windows, exposed beams, painted ceiling — remain intact, but significant upgrades were made elsewhere. Wentz and team painted the interior and exterior, installed a new penny tile floor and lighting, renovated the bathrooms, updated equipment, and replaced stained-glass windows behind the bar with chalkboard menus. They also sanded down the wooden bar and lacquered it with seven coats of varnish. It may be the glossiest bar in Center City.
In a time when the latest entrants to Philly’s bar scene are increasingly flashy and slick, the Hayes strikes a different note. There’s a middle-of-the-road, almost throwback feel to it, with more emphasis on beer and wine than cocktails and a menu that includes buffalo wings, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and French onion soup. That may reflect Wentz’s own taste in bars — “I have my local favorites by my house in Jersey, what I call Jersey roadhouse-style places, with really excellent chicken wings and cold beer” — or the fact that bars have to cast a wide net for customers in this part of Center City.
Even so, you can expect the food and drinks to be top-notch and — with most menu items priced below $20 — affordable. Wentz himself was cooking in the kitchen until just recently, and bar manager Bohdan Darway is quick to shake or stir up an off-menu cocktail if you tell him what you like.
“Our theme here is really just American tavern,” Wentz said. “We want to have good bar food: burgers, good entrées, a good steak. I don’t want to say it’s more casual than everything else we do, but it is. We still put all the same effort into what we do.”
That means the pita for the hummus plate is house-made, as is the bread that comes alongside the bone marrow. (That bread is smeared with fat from the roasted marrow, sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano, then grilled to make a slice of bread so delicious, everything else seems secondary.) Expect other cheffy touches and seasonal additions to the menu, like chestnut stuffing for roasted chicken and seared scallops with grilled spring onions.
“[It’s] maybe not American tavern of the past,” Wentz admits. “You know, in lieu of mozzarella sticks, I figured we’d put scallops on the menu. Some habits I can’t break.”
The Hayes at 1123 Walnut St. is open Tuesday 4 to 10 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday noon to midnight. 215-982-2192, thehayesphl.com