West Reading Avenues Winter 2017 - 5
WEST READING PEEPS
in West Reading:
By Denise Drobnick
y first meeting a few years back with artist and club
owner Albert Ciervo was somewhat auspicious, as it
occurred when a friend and I made a terrible faux pas
and crashed his private night spot, the IA Club, unaccompanied
by a member. Our curiosity about this legendary haunt had gotten
the better of us, and we needed to see exactly how it worked.
Albert was rather gracious as he told us to come back the proper
way the next time, and even hinted that perhaps we could even
be considered for membership. I followed through and became
a member by Thanksgiving that same year. After all, I'm Italian
and in West Reading - not requirements, but certainly apropos.
But we'll get back to the Club later...
Albert was established circa 1964 in West Reading - "born and
raised." He lived in the 200 block of Chestnut Street until 5th grade
when his family moved to Reading Avenue, where his parents still
live today. It was a simple time with neighborhood kids always
outside, spending summers at the West Reading Pool and Saturdays
at the basketball courts at 5th and Chestnut. Everyone knew
everyone so even without the benefit of cellphones, the parents
had a way of finding out if you got in trouble. Penn Avenue was
blue collar Americana with shops like Miller's Candy Store and
the GNA sandwich shop.
Albert, a product of 12 years of Catholic school, has fond
memories of sneaking out the bathroom window at Sacred Heart
School to get lunch at GNA. He admits he needed the structure
provided by his Catholic education, but he realized early on that
he viewed the world through the lens of an artist. His love of
drawing was only rivaled by his dislike of arithmetic, and at age
13 he entered one of those TV Guide drawing contests where you
copy a drawing exactly. He was chosen to move on in the contest,
but it required contestants to be 18. This only fueled his urge to
break out of the box he felt trapped in at school. After graduating
from Holy Name High School, he started his college career and his
entre into the art world at Kutztown University and ultimately the
Art Institute of Philadelphia. But we'll get back to the art later...
Albert's college days also ignited another passion - bartending,
which he affectionately refers to as "the beginning of my demise"
and the "longest part-time job" of his life. His first gig was at
the Hofbrau in Reading (currently the Ugly Oyster), followed by
Meet Albert Ciervo
Doc Watson's in Philadelphia. When he got back to Berks County
around 1990 it was 3rd & Spruce, then the Peanut Bar, Lincoln
Plaza, Louie's Restaurant, 3rd & Spruce AGAIN, the Chill Lounge,
and finally the Winedown Café in more recent years.
This devotion to bartending changed Albert's life in two important
ways. First, it prepared him well for taking over the private club
that was started by his grandfather, Donato Ciervo, and three
other Italian guys from the neighborhood in 1937 - the Italian
American (IA) Club. He took over 6 years ago and has worked,
with the help of his brothers Danny and Victor, on elevating the
club from a somewhat seedy little place where Italian husbands
snuck away from their wives late at night to the upscale, trendy
speakeasy-style club it is today. On any given night you will find
local restaurant owners and personnel, entertainers, musicians,
lawyers and professionals, and other neighborhood dignitaries
enjoying the cozy atmosphere, which is incidentally a showcase of
Albert's artwork. Little by little he has painted walls and ceilings in
his outsider art/Bohemian pop/1970s-influenced/graphic designstyle. This place is iconic West Reading at its finest; chances are
Frank Sinatra will be playing and Prosecco will be pouring.
Secondly, and more importantly, in 1992 during one of his stints
bartending at 3rd & Spruce, a pretty red-head named Amy LaRue
grabbed Albert's attention. She had just graduated from Shippensburg