There’s a long, elevated stretch of I-95 that acts as the overpass for the 2300 block of South Swanson Street.
Along that same stretch, you’ll find the 2300 Arena, the recently renovated, 1,500-person capacity venue that has always mixed things up. Normally the venue plays HQ for boxing favorites such as bantamweight Raesse “The Beast” Aleem and South Philly’s favorite son, heavyweight Sonny Conto. However, tattoo conventions, fringe rockabilly shows and weddings have forever been as much a part of 2300 Arena as mixed martial arts and wrestling matches — long before owner Roger Artigiani bought the arena 13 years ago.
Artigiani was part of the 2300 when Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky famously filmed the indie-favorite “The Wrestler” at the South Philly punching palace. “That was a lot of fun, and incredible to watch,” Artigiani said. “We filmed a Rocky movie here too, but ‘The Wrestler’ was great because they used our wrestling fans as part of the filming.”
The venue now prepares for a new challenge as the folks at Philly Loves Beer have moved its signature event, the Opening Tap soiree, from the Fillmore and will host over 70 breweries and cideries in the heart of South Philly. Much of this comes courtesy of Artigiani’s addition of Vicki Pohl, who heads the arena’s events and catering program (and co-created 2300 Arena’s gorgeous new bar). Together, the 2300 collective, which also includes Artigiani’s business partner Christy Bottie, are up to the task of welcoming some of the most devout beer lovers in the region.
“Philly Loves Beer is always looking to highlight Philly landmarks, be it historic or a secret treasure, and the 2300 Arena certainly is on that list…I can’t even imagine the stories these walls must hold. We’re just happy to add some beer chatter.”
– Christina Dowd, executive director, Philly Loves Beer
Also, Philly Beer Week’s notable totem, The Hammer of Glory, used to ceremoniously tap the opening keg, cementing the venue as a great fit since it sounds like it could be a 2300 Arena wrestling champion.
“I have been in the catering industry and corporate event booking my whole life and was looking for something large scale to host and place my events,” Pohl said. “I coerced Roger into doing this a year and a half ago, and it’s been great ever since.”
Before he got to 2300 Arena and conceived it as a megalopolis for sporting and music events, Artigiani had friends in what would be the core tenants and core promoters from Pennsylvania Hall of Famers Russell Peltz’s boxing promotions, Joe Hand’s boxing promotions and Marshall Kaufman’s King’s Promotions.
“Along with those names, I had a slew of martial arts and wrestling promotions, and combined, had the best of the best of the independents,” Artigiani said.
Add in the participation of ESPN — according to Artigiani, the 2300 Arena won an ESPN honor as “venue of the year” — with Univision, Fox Sports, NBC, CBS and more at the arena, and the intimate feel of blood, guts, competition and camaraderie is complete.
“ESPN once said that our atmosphere is one where the fans can reach out and touch the fighters,” Artigiani said. “MMA, boxing, wrestling, even concerts, you feel part of what is going on in that ring or on stage. That’s a cool feeling. Add it all up, and this became the best place to see such sporting and music events. Then Vicki Pohl took us to a whole new level with her private and corporate events.”
Pohl wanted to offer the idea of a unique venue opportunity to those who might normally book stodgy ballrooms and old fashioned country clubs. The 2300 suited her designs. “[It’s] a phenomenal space that can be used to its capacity attendance or, because it is comprised of two different rooms, more intimate events,” she said. “Plus, it just has the look and feel of being alive. That makes a big difference, and business is booming because of it.”
Weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate bashes can all be found at 2300. The Philadelphia Eagles had their Super Bowl ring ceremony there. The Philadelphia Flyers recently held their Friday Night Fights there with the original Broad Street Bullies. There are upcoming events such as design and catering confabs (June 5), heavy metal concerts (with OldEarthAnalög, Gods Shall Burn and Eyes Of The Living on June 15), drag comedy (RuPaul Drag Race contestant Katya, July 30) and what’s being dubbed as a literal Dog & Pony show on Oct. 20.
Artigiani noted that, along with a Carl Palmer drum clinic in November, additional big-name concerts will hit 2300.
“Plus, we’re a non-union facility with 300 free parking spaces, our own video walls, lighting and sound,” Pohl noted.
Then there’s the 2300 bar and the overall renovation of the arena, both of which give the entire space a slickness that wasn’t there when “The Wrestler” was filmed in South Philly.
“My partner Christy Bottie, an artist in her own right [and a muralist with Jane Golden’s Mural Arts program], has everything to do with that as she created the whole look,” noted Artigiani of 2300’s onyx luster and multiple street-wise scenarios such as subway systems, bridges and ticket-taker booths. “It’s all Christy and Vicki. I’m just the pretty face around here.”
Artigiani is fond of saying that Bottie came to him first in order to do a men’s room mural in tribute to the old days of ECW Wrestling. “This mural is so great,” he said. “[We have] thousands of wrestling fans, young and old, snap photos in front of that mural. I never let her leave after that.”
As for Philly Loves Beer and Philly Beer Week, when there was a scheduling conflict with The Fillmore, all eyes went toward 2300 Arena as PBW’s heads of state knew Pohl’s prowess when it came to hosting and making a great party.
“Philly Loves Beer is always looking to highlight Philly landmarks, be it historic or a secret treasure, and the 2300 Arena certainly is on that list,” said Christina Dowd, executive director of Philly Loves Beer. “What I remember the most is  being home to Extreme Championship Wrestling throughout the 1990s. I can’t even imagine the stories these walls must hold. We’re just happy to add some beer chatter.”
This was a sentiment Pohl and the rest of the 2300 crew wholeheartedly agreed with.
“I invited them over to look at the space, they loved it, and we’re excited to have them here,” Pohl said in regards to their meeting with Philly Loves Beer. “I think we’re going to get exposure to a whole new crowd of people we didn’t have, but will now.”