What with the group of guys playing Risk at a table in the corner, the line cook making "dessert nachos" with freezer waffles, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and sprinkles, and the abundant beer on tap, my first impression of the Evil Genius Beer Lab was one of déjà vu. It was the sense of returning to college, or at least some vaguely dormlike state — only, this time around, there were lots of babies in strollers, and the beer was much, much better than the Beast that once poured from frat-party kegs.
Sure, Evil Genius Beer Co. could have opted for the theme, simply, of "Fishtown brewpub," for its Lab space, which opened in March. But owners Trevor Hayward and Luke Bowen had quirkier aspirations: They also created what is, subtly, a turn-of-the-21st-century-theme bar that pays tribute to the 1990s and 2000s — its patrons' formative years.
"Our core demographic is millennials, people from early 20s right up to late 30s," said Trevor Hayward. "We see the marketing and names we use as kind of nostalgic. Stacy's Mom is our best-selling beer: The moment someone sees that name, they think of the song, which is a throwback to 2003. We have names that tend to appeal to people based on that nostalgia factor. Then, they enjoy the beer and come back for more."
Other offerings reference '80s-to-aughts-era film ("Gwyneth Paltrow's Head was in the Box," a blood-orange IPA), music ("So This Is What It Feels Like When Doves Cry," a tart wheat ale), and television ("Purple Monkey Dishwasher," a chocolate peanut butter porter). Though the names are gimmicky, the beers are not, and there's a new one on draft here every week or two.
It's a plot more genius than evil, by the looks of the crowds that filled the beer garden when it opened temporarily last summer and, since the official opening this year, that have crammed into the refurbished 19th-century warehouse with its glass garage doors overlooking the brewing facility. It's transformed a stretch of Front Street in the shade of the Market-Frankford El that not too long ago was best avoided at night. (It's still not perfect. As I arrived, a man was loudly lamenting that someone had stolen a wheel off his bike, which was locked to Evil Genius' front fence.)
As at my first awkward college party, I didn't find navigating this space to be intuitive: I finally figured out you were supposed to order at the register, not just anywhere at the bar; that there are cards to fill out to request your preferred five-beer flight; and that those are menus lying around, wrapping old VHS-tape cases that someone has finally found a good use for.
But eventually, beer flight in hand, I found a seat at the concrete-topped bar, in front of what passes for the kitchen. It's not much. "We're a brewery, not a restaurant," Hayward said.
So, a line cook was turning out split-personality food offerings: On the one hand, there's an impressive-looking charcuterie and cheese board. On the other, there are the kind of meals you'd expect when a single guy in his 20s invites you over for dinner, like a hoagie-dip grilled cheese cooked in a panini press and served with a bag of chips.
I asked the cook if the dessert nachos, which look like grade-A stoner food, were developed while high. He wasn't sure, but he did have an idea for another dessert he thinks would sell even better: Homemade Dunkaroos. It's perfect — only a child of the '90s would even know what that is.
The Lab at Evil Genius Beer Co.
1727 N. Front St., 215-425-6820, evilgeniusbeer.com
When to go: It's busiest Saturday afternoons, but other draws include Wednesday game nights, the monthly Sunday morning yoga and beers, and Tuesday "speakeasy burlesque" nights." It's open 4-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; and noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
Bring: Xennials. People who talk about adulating. People who have never ceased quoting The Simpsons. Anyone who appreciates good beer and a silly sense of humor.
Order: Stacy's Mom, an India pale ale made with Citra hops, is the top seller for a reason. It's balanced, not too bitter, and very attractive for her age. Beers are $4 for an 8-ounce pour, $6.50 a pint, and $11.50 for a flight of five 5-ounce tastes.
Bathroom situation: A row of private, one-person restrooms with the gender designation of "Whatever. Just wash your hands."