Until 1977, the traffic-ridden corner of 38th and Ludlow was little more than a gathering place for the mentally insane. America’s first mental institution was situated here, in an area that was dismally referred to as “The Blockley.” The giant “Blockley Pourhouse” sign recently posted above the door attempts to revive the old space and kill any old spooky memories with plenty of beer and pub fare. Let’s just hope the ghosts of crazies past aren’t fans of fried food and $2 Lionshead bottles.
This new off-campus bar and eatery offers everyday drink specials that look to compete with our beloved watering holes already in existence. Along with the cheap Lionshead, Bud Light drafts are $3, Wild Turkey shots go for $4, and five bucks will get you a Three Olives concoction of your choice. The draft beer selection has yet to be finalized, but includes favorites like Blue Moon, Yards IPA and Victory Hop Devil along with a tasty American ale of 7% alcohol content called Long Trail Double Bag Ale.
The space is huge, with sturdy, dark wooden tables and a live music stage that seemed too big for the one-man show performing last Thursday night. While the circular bar leaves plenty of room for thirsty Penn students, it’s hard to imagine it ever filling up completely, leaving a sense of emptiness that will hopefully be remedied with time. The Blockley is still missing that special ingredient that calls out to the average college student. 50-cent drink night, anyone?
Still, the new place has its potential. The menu, made up of Snacks, Salads, Sandwiches and Entrees, looks even more delicious through beer-colored glasses. There may not be a single healthy thing on there, but since when have we Penn students munched smartly after hours? The crispy fried oysters ($10) are best described as amusingly delicious, featuring a crunchy breading with a hint of barbecue flavor and a tangy garnish of spinach, carrot and pickled red onion beneath. Potato skins (three medium-sized ones for $6, a truly fantastic deal) were far from the T. G. I. Fridays variety, drizzled with yummy truffle oil and taleggio fondue. The salads were priced as if the portions would be unmanageable, but the Caesar salad with shrimp ($9), was smaller than I expected, dressed perfectly but leaving room for more.
For the main course, we tried the house-smoked pulled pork sandwich and the IPA beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips. The pulled pork sandwich ($9) was on the sweet side of BBQ, topped with a simple slaw and a mouth-watering sauce. The fish ‘n’ chips ($12), on the other hand, were only a tiny improvement on the type of platter one might scrape up at a Golden Corral — the breading was missing that special something that we’d experienced with the oysters earlier, and the “potato wedges” were dried up and unappealing.
Close to everything (and I mean everything) on the menu comes either with fries or with something equally unhealthy, so if you’re yearning for something green with your entree, ask for a side salad substitute. That said, the house cut fries ($5) were delicious, served with a creme fraiche dip that knocks ketchup out of the park.
To the beer-drinking visitor reaching that munching time of night, the Blockley is a great place to swing by. The Snacks portion of the menu is by far the best; the options are more varied and a lot more fun. (The jerk chicken “nuggets” and the lobster pierogies are a couple of options we regret not trying.) As for the atmosphere, only time will tell. It’s hard to say whether it’s students they want to attract, but if that is the case, a college gimmick here and there couldn’t hurt… the cheesier the better.