Fishtown’s Anthony’s Café treasures past, welcomes present

Like many Philadelphia neighborhoods, Fishtown has experienced a renaissance of sorts in the past few years.

Part of this rebirth has been an infusion into the neighborhood of younger people looking for more than what the traditional corner bar has to offer.

This new generation of bar patron wants a wider selection of beer choices (like craft beers and microbrews), a more diverse food menu, and DJs or live music instead of jukebox tunes. As a result, older bars like Anthony’s Café in Fishtown are becoming scarce.

With such a far-reaching and vibrant history, though, Anthony’s isn’t disappearing — it’s growing and adapting, just like Fishtown.

Anthony’s Café, at 319 E. Girard Ave., has been serving patrons, sponsoring local athletics and acting as a community gathering place for over sixty-five years. That makes Anthony’s, the ownership of which spans three generations, the oldest family-owned bar in Fishtown.

The Zysk family has owned the bar since 1947 when Mary Zysk, a first-generation Polish immigrant, purchased it. She named the tavern after her husband Antonio (“Anthony”). Mary’s son, Anthony (also known as George) took over with his wife Agnes in the 1960s.

Mary’s grandson, Joey, assumed ownership in the early 90s. Joey Zysk had been tending bar in his family’s café since he was eighteen. Joey’s older sister Arlene, who also tended bar as a teen, still lives above the Café with her husband Pat Hart and their son Daniel.

Joey’s ownership of the bar has always focused on family and friends. His childhood friends Greg Fox, Ricky Spross, and Billy Spross are still tending bar at Anthony’s twenty years after they all attended high school together.

Anthony’s has also always played a major role in the Fishtown community, and has donated to local charities and sponsored many local youth and adult athletic leagues.

As times changed and the landscape of the bar business shifted, Joey and the Zysk family decided to make a graceful exit. Fortunately for Joey, one of his lifelong friends, Kenny Hepworth, a former partner of the Good Time Tavern on York Street, was in the market for a bar of his own.

Kenny’s vision of a Fishtown bar was very similar to Joey’s. Kenny was not looking to reinvent Anthony’s — he wanted to maintain the history and tradition of the bar while bringing in more patrons.

He has wasted no time in implementing his new ideas. The beer taps are operational for the first time in three years. There is now a DJ every Friday and Saturday after 9 p.m., and several bands have performed live. Kenny is also working on hosting guest or celebrity bartenders, implementing karaoke and the popular Quizzo trivia nights, and most recently, he announced the first-annual Anthony’s Beer Olympics, to be held later this month.

For those who loved the old Anthony’s Café, it’s not going anywhere. And for those who are looking for a fresh take on an old favorite, Kenny Hepworth promises you will not be disappointed.

Anthony’s Café is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. until midnight.

Give them a call at 215–634–0981.

Greg Pacana is a writer living in Fishtown. He can be reached at gppacana@yahoo.com.