High Art, Cheap Beer and Regionalism

Annette Monnier, one-fifth director of Copy Gallery and one-sixth founder of the now defunct Black Floor Gallery, will be writing on Artblog from time to time, by way of introduction her first post is on the relationship between place, art, and cheap beer.

Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR)

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Before I moved to Philadelphia I thought of PBR as the beer in the David Lynch movie, Blue Velvet, it was somewhat unusual and hard to find and even a little bit avant garde. “The Hard to find” part of that idea was quickly displaced upon arrival in Philly. One of the first places I was taken to was Bob and Barbara’s, which of course is a veritable gallery of old PBR ads, and I was introduced to the city wide special; three dollars gets you a shot of jim bean with a PBR to wash it down, though some people might say it’s a PBR with a shot of jim bean to wash it down. I drank a lot of those and it did nothing to discourage my view of PBR as the beer of the underground. We served it proudly at all of our Black Floor Openings.


Bud is also mentioned in Blue Velvet as the beer the character Sandy William’s dad drinks, and I’ve always thought of it as that too. However, I have noticed that many New Yorkers recently removed to Philadelphia choose this as their cheap beer of choice and it is mentioned glowingly in The Reverend Jen’s Guide to the Lower East Side, which is a half pseudo-tour guide, half puppet play written by Rev Jen, a performance artist of sorts. Bud is actually a smart choice, as it has all the irony of being cool because it’s not.


Jasper Johns produced some bronzed Ballantine Ale cans, reportedly because Willem de Kooning said the famous art dealer Leo Castelli “could sell anything. He could even sell beer cans.” So, it seems like an obvious choice but no one drinks it, most probably because the distribution is so poor.

High Life

We drank the champagne back in Cincinnati, so to me this beer always tastes like a good art party but, no one seems to drink it here but Ohio ex-pats. As testament to this my pal Carrie Collins dressed up as “The High Life Girl” for Halloween. . . in Cincinnati she would have drunk the whole night for free; here, people wondered if she was Little Bo Peep.

Yuengling Lager (or just lager)

Always a safe bet if you want to blend in with the crowd. The anti-statement. If you are drinking a quart of lager you are probably in West Philadelphia.

Schlitz or Schmidt’s

They aren’t the same beer and the can isn’t at all similar but the reaction to either is the same. Seen as a fun alternative to PBR and a little bit of an oddity. Schiltz has a better following in South Philadelphia. They serve it at Ray’s and it’s the inspiration for The Dive Bar’s sign. Schmidt’s is enjoyed best when there is a bear on the can.

National Bohemian (Natty Bo)

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This, after trying on Schlitz, Schimdt’s, Tecate, (which is awesome, but not, in fact, cheap) and Old Chesterfield (a Larger derivative) is Copy’s official beer. It is the cheapest of the cheap, beating out even the PBR and it is called National Bohemian, which is pretty arty. It’s sort of shouting out to the starving artist. Serving it up during November’s opening I was surprised to find many people pointing at it and shouting “Baltimore!” so one can only assume that it has quite a following there already.

Roberta has just pointed out to me that Ballantine is owned by Pabst and brewed by Miller and that Schmidt’s is also brewed by Miller, plus Schlitz is brewed by Pabst. It’s all pretty much the same beer, but the design of the can is 70% of the taste anyways. . .

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