Walking into the gorgeous renovated Hajoca Building at 3025 Walnut Street, it’s hard to imagine that just two years ago the space was an abandoned former plumbing supply showroom.
But for decades, that’s just what it was: The building, poised at a key location to welcome visitors to University City, was anything but welcoming. It was just ugly.
But then a unique partnership formed between Penn, local developer Carl Dranoff, radio station WXPN and local music-loving entrepreneur Hal Real, and before long, the Hajoca Building was transformed into something Philadelphia had never seen before.
Today, the Hajoca building serves two functions: WXPN, Penn’s acclaimed radio station, makes its long-awaited new home on the building’s lower level.
The rest of the building belongs to World Café Live, Real’s ambitious attempt to create a one-of-a-kind music venue—and restaurant, café and bar—for Philadelphia’s music-lovers.
Music for grown-ups
On a recent Sunday night, World Café Live welcomed an artist this city’s music fans know well: Rhett Miller.
Best known as the frontman for his Texas-based alt-country band, the Old 97s, Miller also records and performs as a solo artist. With a new solo record set to be released, Miller came to Philadelphia—a city that may appreciate his work more than most, thanks to regular airplay on WPXN—to preview new material and play some Old 97s classics.
There’s something about World Café Live that promotes friendliness, not only between concertgoers—there’s no pushing and shoving to get near the stage here—but also between artist and fan. Miller, for instance, spent nearly 30 minutes before his show hanging out in the World Café Live lobby, chatting with fans.
No bodyguards surrounded Miller, and they didn’t need to, because fans were respectful and calm. Nobody pestered Miller for autographs—they just thanked him for making music they loved. In return, Miller didn’t dart off to his dressing room. He answered questions and thanked the fans for supporting him.
That scene goes to the very spirit of what World Café Live is about: It’s a music club for grown-ups. In fact, Real says he created World Café Live as a venue after becoming frustrated with the typically uncomfortable environment found at most other local music clubs. He tired of the smoke, the poor sound systems and the generally unpleasant experience of seeing music he loved in clubs he didn’t.
Built to please
It’s no surprise that World Café Life is built to please. The club, quite simply, offers comforts that other clubs don’t.
Upstairs Live, the club’s full-service restaurant, serves lunch, dinner and drinks—giving concertgoers a convenient place to grab dinner before the show. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. for lunch, offers happy hour specials from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and features a regular schedule of music acts, many of who perform without a cover charge. The restaurant also hosts children’s programming on Saturdays.
Dinner is also offered in the club’s main music venue, a beautiful performance hall that captures the charm of a true music club but also extends customers simple courtesies like good bar service, a smoke-free environment and clean bathrooms.
The expansive bar, for instance, offers up everything from high-end liquor to local craft beers. And unlike at other clubs, you can get a drink without missing half the show: Service here is quick. Prices are reasonable.
Maybe the club’s best feature, however, is it’s sound system: On this night, Miller’s vocals and guitar rung out loud and clear, without distortion. His banter between songs did, too.
Upcoming shows at World Cafe Live include performances by singer-songwriter Jim Boggia, rocker Danielia Cotton, folkie John Gorka and blues guitarist Sonny Landreth, among many others. For more infornation, call 215-222-1400 or visit www.worldcafelive.com.
Originally published on October 6, 2005