by LEN LEAR
Scissory-sharp George Reilly, 32, grew up in the East Midlands region of England, about two hours from London. His dream as a teenager was to become a great actor, and he appeared to be on his way when he was accepted into the prestigious Oxford School of Drama. After graduation, however, his road to success, like that of most young actors everywhere, was littered with potholes of stressful, time-consuming auditions with no payoff. Producers and directors began to look like the guy who tells you the bridge is out, and you’ll have to spend the night with him.
After a few small roles, George figured his luck might be better in New York City, so he decided to take the plunge in New York’s theatrical waters for two years, and if he came close to drowning during those two years, he would return to England, reconsider his options and maybe corkscrew into a different profession. (That was 12 years ago, and he’s still here.) “I actually had more luck in New York,” said George, “because my British accent was a benefit for getting Shakespearean roles.”
After a while, though, George could no longer afford to live in New York, so he moved to the more affordable Philadelphia area, where he could still go to New York for auditions as well as in Philly. In fact, his last acting role was at the Bristol Riverside Theater in lower Bucks County, where he also met fellow actor Laura, whom he wound up marrying two months ago.
In England George had also worked in pubs and been a bar manager in country clubs. In addition, his mother’s side of the family was in the Scotch distillery business, and his father’s side of the family was in the restaurant and hotel business. And George also played the guitar and fell in love with blues music, which coils around him like a snake.
Those two elements, blues and the bar scene, as close as pack animals for George, eventually dragged him off the stage, apparently for good. “The pub scene is very friendly in England,” explained George. “The social atmosphere is so different from here. There professional people might be drinking right next to the people who pick up their trash, and everybody has fun together. Here, though, at least in the big cities, it’s much more image-conscious. So many people are more interested in making a certain impression than just having a good time. I was looking for a great blues club where I could hang out, and I could not find it on a reliable basis in Philadelphia.”
So George traveled to the Mississippi Delta and Tennessee, where George found the elixir he was seeking — funky blues clubs with a friendly mix of races and social classes, nasty blues musicians and authentic barbecue dishes at affordable prices. “I loved the vibe at these places,” said George, “and I decided that I would do everything possible to recreate that feeling in Philly. The social atmosphere, the blues musicians and the food.”
Of course, finding a bank to fund such a dream these days is like finding a gold mine at Broad and Chestnut Streets, but fortunately for George, he has a family that supports his dream and is willing to walk out on a high wire with Euros and U.S. currency. (We recently met George’s parents, Nick and Suzy, whose forebears come from Ireland and Scotland, respectively, but who currently live in Germany, where Nick works for General Motors. They are charming, delightful people.)
Thanks to his family, on July 30 of this year George opened The Twisted Tail at 509 S. 2nd St. in Headhouse Square, formerly occupied for three years by Kildare’s. Divided into three main spaces, The Twisted Tail features a 4,000 square-foot downstairs bar and restaurant with seating for more than 60 people at tables and 25 at a central horseshoe-shaped bar; The Juke Joint, or live music venue on the second floor, with another full bar that runs the length of the room and a capacity of about 100 for performances with tables, a bar and an adjacent “club room,” a lounge outfitted with couches, fireplaces, televisions and a shuffleboard.
During our visit last Thursday night, The Juke Joint was packed with a serious jambalaya of customers rockin’ to the awesome harmonica-fueled blues band. “Man, this place is just what we need,” said the 30-ish guy standing next to me. “I will definitely be back with my buddies! We’ll be on regular rotation here.”
Before checking out the music scene, four of us had dinner downstairs. Chef Michael Stevenson pushes the possibilities of cooking like a jockey whipping his mount down the homestretch. Most of the dishes we tasted, like the flatbread ($9), “primal chili” ($7), kettle chip-crusted crabcake ($12) and dry-aged cowboy steak ($29) were nirvana, and we were all over the housemade carrot cake and key lime ricotta cheesecake like a hanging curve. The only items less than stellar were a “VooDoo” cocktail and a “dueling ribs” appetizer, which need work. All grilled items are cooked over charcoal.
There is a huge selection of draft and bottled beers and bourbon whiskeys, and there is live music every Wednesday through Sunday night, as well as a blues jam Sundays, 5 to 9, where any musician can come in and play. For more information, call 215-558-2471 or visit www.thetwistedtail.com.