Exploring the legacy of South Philly’s Boot & Saddle

A photo of the new Boot & Saddle, provided by R5 Productions
A photo of the new Boot & Saddle, provided by R5 Productions

For nearly 20 years now, Boot & Saddle—the abandoned country-western bar on Broad Street at Ellsworth—has remained vacant, its iconic boot sign the sole reminder of a once vibrant past. This Monday, however, all that will change. The venue will reopen, thanks to nightlife guru Avram Hornik (Four Corners Management), who together with FCM’s Mark Fichera, R5 Productions’ Sean Agnew, and The Bowery Presents, will transform the shuttered eyesore into a thriving concert venue, complete with a 60-seat bar and 150-person capacity performance space.

New places to catch shows are always exciting—yet in the case of B&S, what’s even more exciting is continuing the space’s long musical history, which will pick up after a 17-year hiatus. In celebration of Boot & Saddle’s new chapter, we hunted down patrons and employees of the old Boot—to talk line-dancing, brews, and their favorite memories from back in the day.

“My memories of The Boot (as many people called it) are a bit fuzzy,” says Robert Drake, WXPN DJ and longtime supporter of the local scene. “I would make it a stop every New Year’s Day as part of my stroll up Broad Street during the Mummers Parade—it was PACKED but friendly, with lots of regulars.”

“My first time there was 1980—and I would go every New Year’s Day until the bar closed up,” he continues. “I remember the only draft beer they had was ‘Miller Draft—in bottles’ … which is exactly what the bartender would say to anyone who dared ask.”

The bar was owned by Pete DelBorrello, a Navy man and well-respected South Phladelphian, who also owned several other businesses on the block, including a check cashing spot and a Laundromat. “Pete and his family were really good people—respected by the neighborhood,” says Drake. “I remember there being TONS of Navy memorabilia throughout the bar—which led to the bar being a spot for sailors who docked in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.”

The iconic boot sign out front

Military personnel were regularly on hand at The Boot, yet there was also a contingent of locals, who came for the cheap drinks and vibes. Frank Blank Moriarty, of famed punk band Informed Sources, remembers a younger group gracing the Boot as well:

“What would strike you was the diversity of the crowd,” he says. “One segment of the younger element was people into bands like The Blasters, Jason and the Scorchers, X, Lone Justice, and other roots- and country influenced music being produced at the time. The other segment consisted of homesick young members of the military. Surprisingly, I don’t ever recall there being a fight—I remember more of a ‘live and let live’ vibe,” he says. Continue reading →