South Street fixture The Legendary Dobbs closes. Again. - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
The Legendary Dobbs | still from video

South Street hard rock haunt The Legendary Dobbs announced today that it is indefinitely closed. According to a post on its Facebook page:

…all future events are canceled, due to circumstances beyond our control. If you have purchased a ticket on line, your purchase will be refunded. If you are a promoter and have paid a deposit to hold a date, your deposit will be refunded. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

This comes on the heels of last week’s sudden closing of the North Star Bar, and the folks over at Gashouse Radio speculate that financial difficulties may have led to the decision. But the room has been on a bit of an open-and-shut road for a while now.    

What the North Star was to the late 90s / early 00s Philly scene, Dobbs was to the late 80s / early 90s. Then known as J.C. Dobbs, its biggest claim to fame is being the first room Nirvana played in Philadelphia. (It’s also the first place Green Day played, and Pearl Jam, and other alternative-era names.)

The Nirvana thing comes up almost every time the room gets talked about in the bigger sense of the Philly scene, and is clearly part of the reason its current incarnation was tagged with the “Legendary” prefix.

But it stopped being J.C. Dobbs in the mid-90s and was rebranded the Pontiac Grille; during this era, it housed early shows from Modest Mouse, Blonde Redhead, Pansy Division and Elliott Smith. It operated strongly into the early aughts alongside The Khyber and North Star but declined much earlier than those rooms.

If I had to speculate – with admittedly limited knowledge about the real estate business and music venue operation – I would guess that escalating South Street rents made it more and more difficult for the Pontiac to competitively book shows. Looking at its calendar from back then, it was running on fumes before the Fishtown boom sucked the air out of the other rooms in the city. Records are spotty, but it appears the room unceremoniously shuttered somewhere around 2006 (my last time there during the Pontiac era was seeing my friend Dan Malloy play a set of ambient guitar instrumentals that spring).

For a while, there was nothing music-related at all on that corner of 3rd and South. In 2010, it re-opened as The Legendary Dobbs, with new investors looking to cater to the meat-and-potatoes hard rock and metal scenes – a demographic that tends to, for one reason or another, be underserved by other rooms in the city. It was booked strongly locally, with acts like Desoto Jones (a precursor to Kiska) and John The Conqueror showing up on the calendar, as well as the multi-day Liberty Fest: a celebration of the Philly rock scene anchored by a documentary from filmmaker George Manney.

Dobbs went briefly out of commission again in later 2012, with new owners stepping in early in 2013. Like the North Star, the signs were there that its days were numbered. Try as the venue did – and its regulars, including the Gashouse folks who put on monthly jam sessions there – it couldn’t fight the fact that South Street is increasingly less and less of a place for music. Unlike the North Star, however, there was very much a scene that congregated around Dobbs. Sure, the scene was very male, very macho, the sound was very anti-trendy.

But Dobbs was obviously a place that passionate music fans congregated: where my last memory of North Star is being one of the only non-performers at a show, my last memory of Dobbs/Pontiac/Dobbs is standing in a packed house and watching people scream along to a lineup of bands I had never heard of before and being hit with the realization that, wait a minute, there’s this whole world of music operating outside of the radar of the industry and its self-appointed tastemakers.

One thing that’s clear: the end of the venue won’t spell the end of this community. Curious to see where it takes root in the future.

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