Went to the Pen & Pencil Club in Philadelphia last night with Kristen, an associate editor at the Ocean City Sentinel where I work. The Pen & Pencil Club is America's oldest press club, founded in 1892 with the merger of three journalist societies. Membership is private, but I'm a member, and Kristen wanted to go.
We wanted to catch the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute beforehand, but we arrived at the museum to discover tickets were sold out. So, we treked from the Franklin Institute to the Philadelphia Art Museum to see the Renoir exhibit and arrived just in time for the museum's closing. Disheartened, we decided to go to dinner and headed to Buca di Beppo, an excellent Italian restaurant where we had bruschetta and gnocci in a blush sauce. I haven't eated Italian in a while, so this was a real treat. After that, we headed to the club.
The odd thing about the Pen & Pencil Club is its location. Tucked away in an unmarked building on Latimer Street, you don't know you've stumbled across a journalist's society unless you're actively searching for it. You make your way past a few parking garages, an abandoned building and restauant and see a nondescript fascade with an iron wrought door. Pushing your way through the door, you're in a small lobby with a neon "P&P", an door with an electronic keypad lock and a security camera. I knocked on the door. The bartender opened it and looked at us.
"I'm a member," I said.
"All right," he said with a shrug, not even asking me for a press pass as he let us in. "You picked the slowest night of the week. Nobody comes in on Saturday," he said.
Kristen and I made our way into the club's bar, a wooden paneled room with eight tables covered in white tablecloths. The bar also had a wall-mounted jukebox and an electronic trivia game. The bartender took his place behind the bar, near the door, where one patron sat eating a pizza and watching coverage of the Phillies game on TV. Kristen and I sat down and ordered drinks, then I flipped the bartender my card and we talked about the Jersey shore, how tourists come down to the Jersey shore and the plethora of special events hosted in the offseason at the Jersey shore.
An electronic Scorpion 9000 dart game occupied most of our attention, and we played a round of darts. The machine itself proved challenging to understand and the scoring system totally alien, but we enjoyed throwing the darts at the target.
The club has photographs from photojournalists on the walls, a nice touch and a way to showcase their work. The Pen & Pencil Club also has another tradition: a heated pot filled with hot water for cooking hotdogs. Hotdogs are a Pen & Pencil Club tradition, but alas, no hotdogs were cooking during our visit.
The club was a mainstay for some famous writers and journalists, including sportswriter Red Smith (1905-1982) and newspaperman Damon Runyon (1884-1946). The Pen & Pencil also hosts events like winetastings, photography exhibits and lectures by editors, writers and politicians.
I'm a fan of clubs and societies. I think they're needed for fostering friendships and as places you go for comfort and brotherhood. A club for editors and journalists is an excellent idea. We need a place like the Pen & Pencil Club to remind us of our mission as reporters; a place where, at the end of the day toiling in the jungle of reality, we can crawl to and share drinks with colleagues and talk about the profession and exchange condolences or support.
The club charter.
Old typewriters (Underwoods, possibly) in the lobby.
Scorpion 9000 electronic dart game. Personally, I prefer cork-board pub darts.
The Angry Reporter looking angry for no reason.
Kristen not looking angry at all.
The Double P.