After a nearly decade-long hiatus, welcome Old City’s Khyber Pass back to the Philly music scene

Old City’s Khyber Pass Pub is back in the business of live show programming after nearly a decade of being away. While its tin-ceilinged downstairs will stay tuned into a Southern-inspired bar and restaurant menu, Upstairs at Khyber will again roar…

Old City’s Khyber Pass Pub is back in the business of live show programming after nearly a decade of being away. 

While its tin-ceilinged downstairs will stay tuned into a Southern-inspired bar and restaurant menu, Upstairs at Khyber will again roar loudly. Longtime Khyber employee-turned-booking manager Josh Agran gave PW the scoop on how the Khyber got its groove back.

Give us a quick history of you. I know you did R5 Productions with Sean Agnew.

I grew up in Havertown, went to Temple starting in 1999 and started with Sean and R5 from the very beginning. I did a lot of the First Unitarian Church stuff. I played in a bunch of bands, most notably Paint It Black. I started working at Khyber four years ago.

That’s where we lost track of you, as part of the Khyber’s food and bar enterprise. What do you recall of the best of the Khyber’s past glories?

I remember The Strokes having a residency there, which was awesome. Turbonegro had a great show. I even played there as Tokyo with members of the Dillinger Escape Plan. The most hilarious experience I had playing there though was through Stacey George, the Khyber’s former booker. I used to play children’s shows on acoustic guitar, and she had me opening for Bob Rock III because I was funny, That show killed. So, a year later when comedian Todd Barry played the Khyber, [George] asked me if I wanted to open, do a stand up set. I guess I’m better at off-the-cuff stuff rather than scripted jokes because I put together such a terrible set, totally bombed, that years later I found out that Barry mentioned my act, and this ‘crusty rock club in Philly’ in his book, saying something like ‘never let the local promoter book the opener.’

Khyber was doing perfectly well as a food and culinary destination. Steven Simons and Dave Frank got out of the live music game, as Old City had changed radically and was moving more toward restaurant and gastropub culture. What changed… especially since Old City just seems to be getting its sea legs?

The Khyber just has this rich, interesting history of live music. You can’t imagine the amount of people who come in — older guys who stop and look around — and remember the place. For our generation, Khyber Pass was the CBGB of Philadelphia. The kind of shows, bands who went on to become legends…. this piece of shit crusty rock club like Todd Barry said… this was history. It really only fell off at the end because of the influx of spaces such as Johnny Brenda’s and Boot & Saddle. A decade after NOT doing it made the nostalgia factor ripe for doing it again. Craig, our manager at Khyber, knew that I had a past with R5, knew that I knew the bands and the Khyber… I guess that’s why they asked me to do it. They convinced me.

Is it fair to say that ‘From the Vault’ was a transition from Khyber’s past and present?

Yes. As we’re trying to get music to happen, Paul just happened to have all of these great photos that would remind people — those who have been there and those who just come in without knowing — what Khyber meant. Check it out. Iggy Pop played in this small weird place where you’re having a beer. Our marketing person, Jenny Hobbs, is responsible for that idea.

Considering where you want and need this to go, what is the feel from the bands you want?

It might not even be the most money making venture, but I think that a room like Khyber’s is beautiful and deserves to have great shows that you would find in a great West Philly warehouse show. I’m collaborating with [War on Drugs’ producer] Jeff Ziegler on some live music events. Give new acts a chance to show off, spread their wings, like Soft Crime who is playing September 29. And comedy shows, too. Only here you could have great beers, Mac N’ Cheese or even half-rice Po’ Boys with a special second floor menu. People have great memories of being there from the past. Old and new, people coming up there are like ‘holy fuck.’ I just want them to make new memories with the music they see there now.

Khyber Pass Pub | 56 S. 2nd St. khyberpasspub.com/ 

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    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.