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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Mad River leaves lasting impression on St. Joe’s students following closing

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Flowers were left on the door of Mad River following the announcement of its closing. PHOTOS: RYAN MULLIGAN ’21/THE HAWK

Late on May 16, Jamie Powell, general manager of Mad River Bar & Grill, posted to Facebook and confirmed what many St. Joe’s students dreaded: the bar on Main Street Manayunk had seen it’s last day. 

“There are so many rumors out there but the biggest truth of all is that Manayunk is just a different town anymore as far as nightlife goes,” Powell wrote in the Facebook post. “We decided as a squad it was just time to cash ‘em in.”

Mad River was set apart from the other bars on Main Street, not just geographically, but also in the minds of St. Joe’s students. Many saw it as an epicenter of St. Joe’s social life, with students flocking there every Thursday, a day generally referred to as “MRT.” 

“A lot of underclassmen look forward to turning 21 and becoming a senior just to go to Mad River on Thursday nights,” said Jimmy Howlett ’20, who frequented Mad River.  

Rumors had been spreading about Mad River closing its doors since early April. Alaina Boccino ’20, a bartender at Mad River, had heard the rumors about the bar closing, but didn’t know for certain until her boss texted her hours before Powell’s Facebook post. For Boccino, like many, it was a tough pill to swallow. 

I didn’t want to believe anything until my boss confirmed it and told us,” Boccino said. “So if people asked me, I would say no, I have no idea, my boss hasn’t told us anything. I didn’t want to believe it because [my coworkers and I] loved working there and Mad River was such a huge part of St. Joe’s.”

As far as rumors go, Powell was quick to dispel any that related to the bar’s demise. 

“There were rumors that we were bankrupt, the landlord was forcing us out [or] we were closing because of lawsuits,” Powell said. “All not true. We simply made the decision it was time to end the lease with all the unknown that COVID brings.”

According to Powell, Mad River usually expects business to slow down in the summer with college students returning home, so they count on a fruitful spring season. These plans were foiled by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused restaurants and bars to suffer due to government mandated closures of in-person dining in order to practice social distancing measures. They wanted to get out before they suffered any more financially. 

Mad River was in operation for 11 years.

“We needed a solid April River Palooza and then a busy May with senior weeks, graduation parties, etc.,” Powell said. “With that not happening, summer always being super slow and no real answers in sight, we decided to cash the chips in. Get out before we got in too deep.” 

The River Palooza was a hallmark of Mad River. The ticketed event, hosted seasonally, would have live music that reverberated throughout a sprawling tent nearly the size of the bar’s parking lot while DJ’s played music inside the bar. It was a day St. Joe’s students marked on their calendars each semester.

“I feel like it was such a good day for everyone to come together once every season and have a lot of fun,” Boccino said. “[Even] if it’s outside in the tent or just roaming around Mad River.” 

DJ Julez P, who performed at three River Paloozas, called it “another story of its own.” What he’ll remember most about those days is looking out on the hordes of people and seeing their expressions of pure bliss. 

“The entire building and outside is packed with people with smiling faces,” Julez P said. 

As far as the legacy Mad River will leave behind, it certainly left its mark on St. Joe’s students. When asked what she’ll remember most about Mad River, Boccino’s answer was brief. 

“Thursdays. Every Thursday that was the place to go,” Boccino said. 

Thursdays at 4100 Main St. will never be the same and, according to Powell, instead of teeming with partying college students it may be home to a different kind of business.

“As far as we know it’s all going to be turned into offices,” Powell said. 

While St. Joe’s students may have had hopes of another bar coming in to fill the void left on Main Street and in their social lives, according to Leo Dillinger, communications and operations manager of The Manayunk Development Corporation, that just isn’t realistic. He said it’s nearly impossible to practice social distancing in a bar or club like Mad River. 

“I would hate to see it turn into offices, but at the end of the day, the landlord is going to look for a tenant that can sustain,” Dillinger said. “It’s a tough climate to open a business right now.”

However, in a town that’s economy is built on the strength of small businesses, Dillinger had a message for Manayunk residents and St. Joe’s students. 

“Be mindful that there are people behind these businesses,” Dillinger said. “There are people that operate these businesses and it means the world to them.”

 

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