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A keening spread through the Philadelphia entertainment world Tuesday as fans of Boot & Saddle learned the indie music venue would shut down for good, the rug pulled out from under it by the pandemic, co-owner Sean Agnew said.
While the closure is effective immediately, the iconic cowboy boot sign will keep shining — at least for a short while.
“For the next week, we will keep the neon lights on at Broad Street to remind everyone of what was,” reads a post on Boot & Saddle’s social media pages. “Grab a pic while you can and tag us.”
Shuttering the South Philly venue will allow Agnew’s R5 Productions and partner Bowery Presents to keep things going at their other local spot, the larger and more mainstream Union Transfer, Agnew told the Inquirer.
“We cannot sell you a contactless takeout or curbside delivery concert,” he posted on Facebook, urging followers to do what they can to support the city’s music scene before a wholesale collapse
The National Independent Venue Association — which represents more than 2,600 venues, including several in Philly — polled its members earlier this year. 90% reported they’d face closure by the end of 2020 without federal relief.
Stay on the lookout for an “R.I.P. Boot & Saddle benefit t-shirt,” the message continued.
Boot & Saddle began life as a country western bar back in the 1950s, but had closed down and sat vacant for decades before Agnew and friends decided to pick it back up (at the time, Avram Hornik of FCM Hospitality was a partner). That’s when the two-story-tall sign first appeared.
When the venue relaunched in 2013, its combination of eclectic concerts and DJs plus snacks and drinks hit a sweet spot for Philadelphians.
Fans of Boot & Saddle enjoyed that it was an indie venue that didn’t try too hard to be cool. The owners and bookers, it seemed, were just as willing to host dance parties that focused on the pop hits of the day as obscure bands that brought out a dozen people, as long as it made the audience happy.
Even folks who never stepped foot in the place knew about it, however, because of that instantly recognizable sign — one of several that dot the South Broad corridor.
In 2015, the illustrative marquee was removed so neon hobbyist-turned-signmaker Len Davidson could arrange for a complete makeover. It returned eight months later, with the huge boot glowing in pink, its heel outlined in blue, and the petite saddle next to it in green.
What will happen to the sign after this week of requiem? It’ll likely stick around, just as it did for the decades before this latest incarnation.
Property records show the building, located at 1131 S. Broad St., is owned by Frank Del Borello, ostensibly related to the country western bar’s original founder, Pete Del Borello. The Del Borellos, who also run a check cashing operation, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Agnew confirmed the Del Borellos have the final say, and said he hadn’t heard of any plans to remove the sign: “It will remain attached to the building, as far as we know.”
Here’s hoping its likeness makes an appearance on the benefit t-shirts promised soon.