At some point during the 19-year run of the original Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, a bartender turned to Pete Souders and said, “You’re the one that created this whole Northern Liberties boon.”
Souders responded with his usual flair: “Get the f– out of here.”
But, upon further examination, maybe that statement wasn’t total hyperbole.
In 1987, Souders, a part-time sax musician, walked away from his job as a computer programmer and bought the dilapidated Ortlieb’s brewery bar. He promptly transformed it into something Philadelphia hadn’t seen in many years: a serious, jazz-only, music-first bar with a diverse clientele.
“I was sort of disgusted by the music situation in Philly. At that point jazz had become really segregated here,” says Souders. “There were basically two kinds of rooms: one where the musicians were stuck behind a potted plant and everybody stood around sipping martinis, and the other thing was organ-based jazz rooms, where the music was great and vibrant, but the audience wasn’t as diverse as you’d like it to be. I wanted a place where people could mix and music was the focal point.”
From 1987 to 2007, Ortlieb’s was one of — perhaps the single most significant — pillar of the Philadelphia jazz community, and a cultural hub of Northern Liberties. But that glory quickly faded when Souders sold the venue.
Recently reopened by the company behind Drinker’s and Lucy’s Hat Shop, the Jazzhaus is now Ortlieb’s Lounge. And the new owners have invited Souders back to curate the Tuesday Night Jam Session. “It’s a little surreal: I mean I’m up there playing and hosting, but I have to remind myself not to look at the table and wonder if the waitress is getting to people,” says Souders, with a snap of hooting laughter.
If you go
Tuesday Night Jam Session
Every Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
847 N. Third St.