The Story Behind Big Charlie’s Saloon, the ‘Electric’ Chiefs Bar in Eagles Country

chiefs fans

Getty Kansas City Chiefs fans.

There is a corner bar in the heart of Philadelphia Eagles country that prefers red and gold over midnight green. It’s a special place that has carved out a reputation as a safe haven for Kansas City Chiefs ever since the original owner won a Super Bowl bet and bought his son a Huffy bike.

Big Charlie’s Saloon, aka Arrowhead East, has been slinging cold beers and Chiefs cheers since 1970. Located at 1953 South 11th Street, the neighborhood watering hole serves as a shrine to all things Kansas City.

The taproom has a replica of the Chiefs’ 2019 Lombardi Trophy on display, along with a 2004 Sports Emmy Award given to an NFL Films documentary about the 60-year-old bar in South Philly. Chiefs’ memorabilia is plastered on every wall, including autographed footballs, helmets, pennants, figurines, and neons.

Make no mistake, you are in Chiefs’ country once you swing open the front door despite there being a Phillies sign to the right. The first face you’re likely to see is that of Laura Sessa who has been working at Big Charlie’s Saloon for 18 years.

“We’re not a pop-up bar,” Sessa told Mike Greger. “We’ve been here. We have that Philadelphia vibe, but for a different team.”

Sessa proudly wears the title of general manager and head bartender these days, but her Chiefs fandom isn’t for show. Sessa has been a VIP guest for games at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, as well as to training camp in St. Joseph, Missouri where the team took her and her family onto the field.

She has also traveled to Baltimore to watch the Chiefs take on the Ravens where the team gave her a football signed by Eric Berry.  And she has co-bartended at Big Charlie’s Saloon with Maria Spagnuolo, the wife of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

“She donated all the tips to charity,” Sessa said. “The Spagnuolo family gifted the bar a replica of the Lombardi Trophy from 2019. The team definitely knows who we are. And we get a lot of transplants from Kansas City in here to watch Chiefs games. When they come in for the first time, they are in awe of everything. They’re shocked when they see it. They’re like, ‘We don’t have a bar like this in Kansas City.'”

Meanwhile, Sessa made the bold decision to buy her children backpacks embroidered with the Chiefs logo when they were in the second grade. Paul Staico — the owner of Big Charlie’s Saloon — warned her not to send them to a Philly school with rival colors on. Sessa disagreed.

“It’ll give them character,” she said. “Everyone knows us. There’s nothing to be afraid about.”

Her son, Philip — along with friends Anthony Mazzone Jr. and Michael Puggi — was supposed to take the NFL draft stage in 2017 at the Rocky steps and read off the name of a Kansas City draft pick. Unfortunately, that pick got traded away so the group never made it to the podium.

“Again, it’s not for show. We’re really Chiefs fans,” Sessa said. “It’s an electric atmosphere inside Big Charlie’s. You would think you’re at Arrowhead Stadium.”

The Story of How Big Charlie’s Saloon Happened

The creation story of Big Charlie’s Saloon has been told and retold a hundred times. The New York Times touched on the history behind the bar in recent days. Its humble beginnings started when founder “Big Charlie” Staico swore off the hometown Eagles after winning a Super Bowl bet. His son, Paul, has been keeping the tradition alive.

Here’s the short version of that story, via Yahoo! Sports:

Rather, this is about a bike. A Huffy bike. The kind a 4-year-old Paul dearly wanted in the winter of 1970 when Big Charlie threw down a hefty bet on that year’s Super Bowl. Big Charlie promised Paul he would buy him the bike if his big bet came through. Then when it did and the Huffy bike was his, Paul made a promise too. He would love the Kansas City Chiefs.

“After that, all my presents from my mother and my sister and my friends, they all gave me Chiefs stuff,” Staico says.

Sessa continued the story from there during a phone conversation with this reporter. Big Charlie died from a heart attack in 1983 and Paul took over the bar. What started as roughly 4-5 friends coming in to watch Chiefs games next to Paul quickly morphed into 100 people packing the place. Many of them swapped their Eagles’ allegiance for Chiefs’ loyalty. It’s been a wild ride for the one-time row home in South Philly.

“Paul is a very captivating person, especially if you watch a game with him,” Sessa said. “It really started blowing up after the Emmy and hasn’t stopped. It was never planned. It all happened by accident.”

The Eagles fans in the area have embraced it, too. There is no animosity. In fact, Big Charlie’s Saloon has a strict no-fighting rule in the taproom and violence of any sort will not be tolerated, according to Sessa.

“We have cops and security guards for any big event, just to keep everything under control,” Sessa said. “We’ve never had a problem. We strive to keep the neighborhood nice. Our neighbors are great. They’re sweet and most of them are Eagles fans.”

No Super Bowl Party for Chiefs-Eagles on February 12

Big Charlie’s Saloon was garnering national headlines on Tuesday for deciding to cancel their Super Bowl party. That’s right. There will be no Chiefs cheers or Eagles fight songs echoing out of the corner bar at 11th and McKean Streets. They had originally planned to host a huge party, but the demand was too much for them to handle. Sessa said they didn’t feel comfortable hosting 300+ people, so they decided to close for the night instead of disappointing people. They didn’t want to turn anyone away.

“When we started digging deeper, we were thinking customers wouldn’t be able to get Ubers to get home,” Sessa said. “We didn’t want them stranded on the streets in South Philly. If we were playing against any other team, not the Eagles, it would have been different. We just gotta take a knee for this one.”

One thought was to rent out a catering hall and do a watch party there, but there wasn’t enough time. The planning for that needed to start two months ago.

“Unfortunately, the stars didn’t align for us this time,” Sessa said. “It’s a shame. We could have made a lot of money.”

Instead, the majority of Big Charlie’s regulars will plan smaller gatherings in their living rooms and root on the Chiefs from there. Sessa will be wearing her Travis Kelce jersey, flanked by her son, Philip, and the rest of her diehard Chiefs family.

Sessa didn’t want to take a crack at the final score, saying “it’s going down to the wire, a very close game” — although she relayed a prediction from owner Paul Staico: “30-27, Chiefs win.”

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