The first time I was ever in the building that houses Union Transfer, it was a Spaghetti Warehouse and we were there for dinner. Since then, it’s been transformed into one of Philadelphia’s best smaller music venues.
Located at 1026 Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia, the building was originally built and opened in 1889 as the Spring Garden Farmer’s Market. Between 1918 and 1942, the building housed the Union Transfer Baggage Express Company, which served as storage for bags and other items for the railway company. Over the next 50 years, the building transformed multiple times including being a tire shop, a trust company, and eventually Spaghetti Warehouse.
The building opened as a music venue in 2011. It’s an open space that holds between 600 – 1000 people, depending on how it’s configured. There are two floors. The first floor has a large general admission area in front of the stage. There are also standing areas on each side of the main floor that are slightly elevated. In the back of the room and up a few steps is a large bar area. There are a few small tables near the back and sides, although the view of the stage is not very good from them.
On the second floor is a balcony area. There is a rail in a U-shape that goes around the whole balcony. There is also “bleacher-type” seating at the back center of the balcony.
Note that when a show is billed as “all ages”, you cannot take alcoholic beverages onto the general floor area on the main level. Typically, one of the side standing areas (for the last show we attended, it was the standing area on the left if you are facing the stage) is designated as 21 and over, and you can drink there. Also, you are typically permitted to drink in the entire balcony area, as well as any of the bar areas.
There are bathrooms located on the left side (if you are facing the stage) of the main floor. There are additional bathrooms located near the bar area outside the main floor area.
When the building was turned into a music venue, several improvements were made including installation of a state-of-the-art sound system D & B Audiotechnik, so the sound is really good. In addition, the old wooden columns were removed and replaced with steel supports so they do not obstruct the view.
Here are my tips if you are attending a concert at Union Transfer:
Tip #1: Get There Early for Close and Free Street Parking: If you get to the venue early enough, you can almost always find a spot on Spring Garden Street right in front of the venue. You don’t have to pay the meters after 6:30 p.m. If you don’t find a spot on Spring Garden, there is plenty of additional street parking near the venue.
Tip #2: If You Get There Early, Grab Some Food at a Neighborhood Bar: There are several restaurants/bars within walking distance of the venue. The Institute Bar (www.institutebar.com) is a great neighborhood bar at 549 N 12th Street. They have a great beer list and good food. Prohibition Taproom (www.prohibitiontaproom.com) is also a short walk away at N 13th at Buttonwood. They have a great drink selection, as well as some really unique food choices, including a daily special. The Llama Tooth (www.llamatooth.com) is right across the street from the venue at 1033 Spring Garden. They have a huge beer list and outdoor seating when the weather is nice. Their food is not very inspiring, but the service was good when we were there last, and they have a pretty lengthy beer list. A little bit further away (probably a 20 minute walk) is Silk City Diner (www.silkcityphilly.com). They are located at 5th and Spring Garden. They have great food (their fried chicken is amazing) and huge portions if you want to commit to a further walk or just drive/Uber down and back. In addition to the diner, there is a night club in the other part of the building, so this is a fun spot if you are looking for something to do after the show. We typically park at the venue (see Tip #1) and walk to one of these places. If I had to rank the three places we’ve been to that are the closest walk, I’d put Prohibition Taproom first, Institute Bar second, and Llama Tooth third because their food was not that impressive.
Tip #3: Grab a Rail Spot on the Balcony: If you are not set on being close to the stage, a great place to see the show is on the balcony. If you grab your spot along the rail early enough, you’ll have an unobstructed overhead view of the stage and floor below. The rail also has a little shelf where you can set your drink. They also have a rail along the two side standing areas, as well as the back bar. At the last show we went to, we were able to get a spot at the back of the left side standing area. We had a great view, plenty of room, and a place to put our drinks down on the rail. As mentioned above, there may be age restrictions in some of these areas, so be sure to look for signs or check with a staff member.
Tip #4: Want to Be Up Front on the Rail?: If you want to be right up front, get there early. For the Bishop Briggs show this past Friday, we got to the venue around 6:00 p.m. (doors opened at 7 p.m. and show was at 8 p.m.) and there was already a line formed at the door. The stage is small and not very wide, so there are a limited number of people that can be along the front rail.
Tip #5: Hang Out in the Bar After the Show: There is a large bar area when you first enter (right on the street). While you can’t see the show from there, it’s a great place to hang out for a bit after the show and have one more beer. The beer prices at Union Transfer are very reasonable. You’ll pay around $7 for a draft beer, which is comparable to anywhere in the city, but much lower than at a lot of the larger music venues in town. They also have a pretty decent craft beer list.
Tip #6: If You Hang Around After the Show, You Might Get an Autograph: Because of the size of the venue, most of the artists that play here are either totally unknown or up and coming. When you have those types of artists, a lot of them like to meet the fans after the show, so they will hang out in the merchandise area. Most of the acts that we’ve seen here have done that. So, pick up a poster or CD, and ask the artist to sign it for you.
Union Transfer is not a Live Nation venue, so you will need to buy tickets directly at their box office or on their website (they use Ticket Fly as their ticketing agent). Follow them on Facebook or sign up for their e-mail newsletter on their website to be up to date on future shows. Their website is www.utphilly.com.