Sooner or later, Casper was bound to haunt Sean Kilkenny.
Kilkenny, a union plasterer, is one of a handful of Democrats gunning to replace longtime Republican Rep. John Taylor, who is retiring at the end of this term, in the 177th House district, a heavily gerrymandered wedge that covers parts of Port Richmond, Bridesburg and Mayfair.
He’s also part-owner of a Mayfair property that was home to the infamous Casper’s Place, as several tipsters pointed out to Philadelphia Weekly. In 2008, the neighborhood watering hole garnered citywide notoriety when offensive T-shirts bearing the bar’s name surfaced around town.
The shirts prominently advertised Casper’s logo with the iconic friendly ghost and a smattering of Irish shamrocks. While the tagline read “A Friendly Place To Drink,” the specter’s speech bubble suggested otherwise to African Americans: “No Spooks Allowed!” the ghost exclaimed.
Casper’s Place has since been replaced by another bar called the Parish Pub, but the Cottman Avenue property owner, KSC Ventures LLC, has been consistent since 2006. That’s where Kilkenny — one of the property owners, and a former shareholder of Casper’s business — comes in.
To hear him tell it, Casper’s “wasn’t an ordinary watering hole” but a “friendly, neighborhood establishment.” More importantly, he says, neither the bar nor the building owners signed off on the T-shirt with the bar’s name on it.
“KSC Ventures as property owners — and Casper’s Place as business owners and operators — never authorized the manufacture or knew anything at all about the offensive T-shirt,” Kilkenny said, in an email to PW. “No sales of the shirt were ever authorized by KSC Ventures, or Casper’s Place. The property owners and the business owners were made aware of the unpalatable clothing, and took immediate action.”
Kilkenny called the message “disgusting and nauseating,” but the origin of the T-shirts remains a mystery.
“This allegation came to light in the press, almost eight years ago,” he continued. “I condemned the actions then, and I continue to condemn them now. I not only see a problem with these repulsive words on articles of clothing, I have a problem with this language in any conversation, or dialogue.”
Pressed for further comment, Kilkenny said that several Mayfair residents had first alerted bar owners to the presence of several men in their “mid-20s” wearing the shirts around the neighborhood. How many shirts were made, and who would use the bar’s name to make such merchandise? He replied that answers were never pinned down.
“One idiot wore [the] shirt into the establishment, and management asked them to remove the shirt,” he said. “When they refused, they were escorted out.”
Kilkenny obtained a 15 percent stakeholder interest in the bar business after KSC Ventures acquired the property. While his day-to-day role consisted mainly of property management duties, he sometimes assisted in various roles at the pub itself.
The Casper’s T-shirt gained public exposure in 2008 when Don Russell, a beer critic, better known under his nom de plume of Joe Sixpack, spotted the offensive Casper’s Place apparel while on his way to a Phillies game. Sixpack wrote in a blog post: “How, in the 21st century, does anyone who conducts business with the public even think of printing a T-shirt like that?”
Sixpack added that Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations “nearly shut down Geno’s Steaks for less” — a reference to the South Philly steakery’s infamous sign requesting customers order in English, which the commission ruled discriminatory in 2011.
Casper’s offensive shirt never caught that much attention — outside of the neighborhood, at least.
A working-class row home neighborhood in lower Northeast Philly, Mayfair’s population is predominantly white, with growing numbers of minority and immigrant residents.
Some of these self-identified Mayfair residents were reportedly contending with another problem at Casper’s prior to its closure. Numerous online comments and posts about Casper’s Place claimed that the bar regularly served alcohol to minors.
Kilkenny acknowledged the complaints.
“Regarding the allegations of underage drinking violations at Casper’s Place, any findings by the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) were addressed accordingly by Casper’s, and Casper’s instituted better practices,” he wrote.
The Philadelphia office of the state’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement did not return repeated phone calls for comment. Later, Kilkenny said that his company’s internal investigation into the matter found the bar faultless.
“KSC did investigate all rumors, brought to our attention, through both word of mouth/hearsay and online posts,” he wrote. “Our findings determined that the online posters, and those spreading the rumors, were former employees, or antagonists of current employees associated with Casper’s Place (ex-partners, mutual admirers of the same person, patrons who may have been flagged for behavior unbecoming of the establishment, etc.)”
While still early in the 177th House race, Kilkenny has already won the endorsement of the Building Trade Council and other unions.
He said he has no other business interests other than the bar property on Cottman Avenue, and real estate records show this as the only building owned by KSC Ventures LLC.
He maintains that neither the T-shirt debacle nor the allegations of underage drinking had anything to do with Casper’s Place changing ownership. The bar was sold at or above market value and as aforementioned, reopened as the Parish Pub a few years ago.
“Allegations and rumors did not play any role in the sale of Casper’s Place to the Parish Pub,” he said.