For us here at Philly Mag, writing about drinking is a little bit like writing about art: We might not know precisely what art is, but we sure as hell know what we like.
What’s more, we know what you like. And what you like is, well … everything. You like swank lounges and honest dives. You like the soft anonymity of hotel bars, the comfort of a street-corner neighborhood joint, and the raucous community of a sports bar on game day. You like gay bars and wine bars, gin mills, Irish pubs, British pubs, gastropubs and everything in between. And in this package, we cover them all.
We’ve spent three months drinking our way through Love City, and what you’ll find in the following pages are our thoughts on all of our favorite bars in Philly and beyond—what we love specifically about each and every one. We’re also choosing Philadelphia’s new signature cocktail; calling an end to the love affair with pre-Prohibition drinking; offering tips on how to cure a hangover and fake your way through a wine tasting; and hoping to inspire you to a little bit of historically Philadelphian lawlessness with instructions on how to become a modern moonshiner.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to dive right in. — Edited by Jason Sheehan
The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co.
Drinks like the Cowboy Killer and Oh, Sweet Nothing will change the way you think about cocktails forever. And the fact that you get to drink them underground and in the dark just makes them double-awesome.
Yeah, we know damn well that a few Oyster House Punches will lay us out flat, but we just can’t stop drinking them.
Alma de Cuba
The vibe was super-cool 10 years ago. Not so much today. But Alma is still the standby for groups who want one more drink at the end of the night. Inevitably, they end up having more than one more.
The Farmers’ Cabinet
This place is what would happen if Ridley Scott were directing a happy hour for beer snobs, cocktail historians, Jazz Age hep cats and righteous old drunks. It’s one of the strangest and most amazing places to have a drink in Philly right now.
One of the very few classic cocktail bars in the city that can make a $15 drink that’s worth every penny.
It’s the beautiful atmosphere that makes the $11 cocktails go down easier. And if you ever need a temporary escape, the Parisian bar here might be one of the least Philly-feeling places in the entire city.
Yes, it’s a mash-up of prowling cougars, rich socialites and Ed Hardy-wearing jackasses, but there’s no better place for watching the Rittenhouse society set get bombed on glasses of rosé and heavy pours from the bar.
Most people go here for the duck hearts and lamb’s tongue. We go for the bar; it’s one of the most underrated in town.
Parc too snooty? Go here instead. It’s got the same Gallic soul and French cocktails, but without the pretension.
The pinup girls on the ceiling are like muses swirling round the heads of good drinkers, and the black-and-white Deco styling makes you feel classy even if you’re drinking merlot with an ice cube in it.
Terrible name, but a good bar in the former Bar Lyonnaise space below Le Bec-Fin. If this is Georges Perrier’s attempt at attracting a younger demographic, it’s working, with its swanky take on non-Prohibition-era cocktailing.
Think of it as a grittier, more authentic backup when you can’t get into Franklin Mortgage. A perfect makeout bar because it’s pitch-black and has pictures of boobs everywhere—plus, the craft cocktails are delicious and will knock you flat. 2013 Ranstead Street, 215-563-3330.
Pub & Kitchen
A place that’s serious about its food and drink, but still remembers that the reason people go out drinking in the first place is to have some fun.
Twenty Manning Grill
After a couple cocktails at the bar, being here is like drinking in a cloud of cotton candy and beautiful people.
While the main action at A.Kitchen might be happening among the local celebrities on the floor, those who really know what they like hide out at the bar for excellent cocktails that perfectly marry classicism and modern mixology.
Perfect for precisely two things: 1) as a spot to drink martinis; and 2) as a spot to drink enough martinis that you won’t be bothered by the fact that you’re drinking with the crowd that frequents the Continental.
It’s small, it’s crowded, and getting through the door on a busy night can be a nightmare. But in the off-hours, this is actually one of our favorite places in the city to drink, because there’s nothing in the world that pairs quite so well as a $70 pour of whiskey, neat, and a $3 order of tater tots.
Perrier has always claimed this is his “casual” restaurant. It isn’t. But having a drink at the well-appointed bar can be.
An oasis of sanity and refinement in Old City. Where neighborhood grown-ups come to drink something that doesn’t come in a 40-ounce can spiked with caffeine.
There’s not much that can make us drink in a hotel bar, but this place sometimes offers specials that are irresistible: hot toddies on a freezing January day, champagne cocktails in the middle of February. If you’re in the mood to feel fancy, you could do a lot worse than drinking here.
Six-dollar cocktails at the happy hour here (atop the Bellevue) are the perfect way to feel like a classy gent while getting loaded on less than $20.
Anton’s at The Swan
Like partying at some musty old English manor house, but down the back stairs, with the servants.
Finally, a hotel bar swanky enough to truly call the Main Line home.
There are those among us who would sooner die than drink inside Silk City, but we love sitting out in the beer garden. It’s always a friendly mix of people, and good for large groups.
Triumph Brewing Company
The brunch stout is like drinking a small fishbowl of warm French toast.
Victory Brewing Company
A serious beer drinker living too close to Victory Brewing Company’s bar is like David Duchovny living down the street from a whorehouse: fun, sure, but it’s not going to lead to anything good.
Everyone loves the beer and mussels at Monk’s, but the Belgian has the advantage of being just as good and only half as crowded.
The Pineville Tavern
The place was built in 1742, and it still feels like if you squint just right, you can see Ben Franklin and George Washington hoisting tankards in the corner—only without all the cheesy Disney World fakeness of drinking at City Tavern.
McKenzie Brew House
A microbrewery and restaurant for Malvern beer snobs and burger-seekers.
Because when that bus drove through it last year, our first worry was actually the beer collection.
It’s mostly a hipster gathering place these days, but the beers are still great, the menu is killer, and if you time it just right, you can have the entire third floor to yourself.
As good for draft beers on Saturday night as it is for brunch on Sunday morning. If they put out cots, some of us would just live here on the weekends.
Dock Street Brewing Company
If you’re a fan of Dock Street’s brews (and we are), you can’t get any closer to the source than this. Obviously, you’re coming for the beer, but the menu is surprisingly good, too.
With a great beer list and a full menu served till 2 a.m. (which means frites and sausages right up until last call), Grace is the neighborhood bar you wish was in your neighborhood. It might also be the only place in town that makes us excited to eat green beans.
Where else, Renaissance Faires aside, can you order an authentic German beer served in a massive stein and brought to you by waitresses in St. Pauli Girl outfits?
Flying Pig Saloon
If you like beer, need a proper pub like most people need oxygen, have some kind of weird pig fetish and live in Malvern, you’re probably already a regular at the Pig. If not, it’s worth it for the good juke, the 25 beers on tap and the nearly 200 bottles behind the bar. 121 East King Street, Malvern. 610-578-9208
If you spend any time in the city, you’ve probably walked by this dive-gone-gastropub a million times without even noticing it. We love it because it’s got some soul—and because the Center City hipsters haven’t discovered it. Yet.
Resurrection Ale House
Sure, it’s a path well traveled, but there’s something to be said about a dependable bar where every beer you order will be interesting and any menu item will be completely delicious.
This is where you go when you want something to eat with all those drinks—an indie Irish pub with a solid menu and real Irish people managing it and working the bar. Also a great place to get some work done (thanks to the free wi-fi) while knocking back a couple pints.
St. Stephen’s Green
Philly is full of gastropubs, but it’s rare to find a place that gets all three elements—the atmosphere, the food and the drinks—right. St. Stephen’s does.
It’s a South Philly version of a neighborhood gastropub, with pool, darts, good stiff drinks, and a game-heavy bar-food menu that makes you feel like a lion with a bear’s head who’s eating every animal nature ever devised.
Of all the British pubs in this city full of British pubs, the Dandelion is the one that hits closest to home for expat royalists and those who love them.
The Bloody Mary bar will change your life.
Teresa’s Next Door
Dirty mussels with applewood smoked bacon, a bit of cheese from the impressive board, and 26 beers on tap (including one nitro and two hand-pumps): The only thing better is the staffers’ commitment to serving only what they know and truly love—no matter how weird or unpopular.
It’s a hellhole, yes, but one that’s barely changed in all the years we’ve been drinking in it. And it’s one where everybody—from the corporate honchos to the hipsters to the skateboard kids to the old men with their behinds glued to the stools—gets along. Always. 1524 Sansom Street, 215-972-9938.
The waitstaff here is surly as hell—and sometimes that’s exactly what we want to be around. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you can smoke inside, because it makes the place feel like an actual bar rather than some fake, politically correct appletini theme park. 259 South 15th Street, 215-735-1259.
It’s aptly named, the bartenders are angry all the time, they don’t take credit cards, the beer list is nothing special. It’s dark and crowded with people in for a real drink, and it has dartboards. It’s the best dive bar in town. 347 South 13th Street, 215-732-5010.
The El Bar
A Fishtown favorite. We go for the drinks but love it for the Star Wars pinball machine. 1356 North Front Street, 215-634-6430.
Also known as the Aldine, it’s perfect as ground zero for a Mayfair bar crawl. And with the Mayfair Diner across the street, you never have to wonder where your last-call pancakes will be coming from. 7322 Frankford Avenue, 215-332-3230.
Bob & Barbara’s Lounge
A classic dive, full of PBR, problem drinkers and history. This is where the Citywide Special was invented, and the best way to drink here is to slap $3.50 on the bar, ask for one, drink it down, and repeat all night. 1509 South Street, 215-545-4511.
A tiny little whiskey bar set atop an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly. Absolutely beloved by serious drinkers, whiskey freaks and cocktail hunters. Not bad for the beer drinkers, either. Absolutely ignored by everyone else. 229 South 45th Street, second floor.
Friday Saturday Sunday
Only the upstairs Tank Bar, where the glowing marine fish tank, the claustrophobic proportions of the place, and the crowd of middle-aged solo-drinkers make you feel like you’ve slipped out of reality and walked into some late-’90s music video.
Perfectly Irish. Smithwick’s? Check. Live Irish music tearing it up? You bet. Our friends pouring us into a cab when, after five Jamesons, we pick a fight with a light fixture? That’s just how we know it’s Friday.
So tiny, but such a nice selection of drinks. And despite being packed with non-neighborhood people, it somehow maintains the vibe of the neighborhood bar it wants to be.
Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar
If you must do karaoke, Ray’s is the only acceptable place in the city to do it. Also, if you must start drinking at 7 a.m., Ray’s is one of the very few bars in the world that can make you proud to have gotten out of bed so early.
So many people we know had their last first date here.
Like Cheers for the gays, only with karaoke.
Pub on Passyunk East
Known to most as the P.O.P.E., it’s an unassuming corner joint with a truly rad beer selection. Avoid the tables if you can, but a seat at the bar is totally worth fighting for.
The Boat House
Imagine getting drunk at your great-grandpa’s house—if your great-grandpa lived in a shack in New Jersey and was a former boat captain. Just an awesome old bar with great classic cocktails and plenty of boat-y decor on the walls. 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-2244.
Old Guard House Inn
Very old-school. Very Main Line. As a matter of fact, when they were building the old school on the Main Line, the Old Guard House is where all the construction workers drank and ate schnitzel.
A nautically themed bar in Delco that we frequent for the $5 Beefeater martinis and the thought that if times ever get desperate enough and we get drunk enough, we might try robbing the nearest bank with one of the swordfish heads mounted at the end of the bar.
Fox & Hound
A chain, yes, but one with a great Tuesday special: $2 drafts, with 30 on tap. Only place in town to drink Harp or Guinness at two bucks a go.
It’s older than dirt and is constantly being bought and sold and bought again, but it has some of the nicest bartenders on Earth—and it doesn’t price-gouge like some of the other boy bars in town.
It’s nice to have a place named for what it does best.
Pen and Pencil Club
A quasi-private club and notorious late-night hang for reporters, restaurant crews and working media professionals? Well, we know where we’ll be spending our nights from now on
Every drinking city needs to have a Moe’s Tavern. This is Philly’s. 13639 Philmont Avenue, 215-677-3177.
The quintessential cozy neighborhood pub, with good sandwiches—including the world-famous Schmitter—to boot.
Some places, you go for the cocktails. Some places, you go for the beer. Some places, you go for the service or the vibe, or to be with the cocktail waitress you’re secretly in love with. The ’Vous? We go because it’s cheap.
The shuffleboard authority around Philly, for those who like games to distract them from their drinking.
Continental Tavern Small and friendly and perfectly un-fancy without being a suburban Oscar’s—just the place to grab a beer with the locals.
The perfect escape from work. A mid-afternoon seat at the bar, three innings of the Phils, and the best thing is, you’ll never get caught, because no one you know comes here. 28 South 18th Street, 215-567-5144.
A great mix of working-class folks who haven’t set foot in Center City in two decades and professionals who recently moved to the ’burbs and can’t find anywhere else to go for an after-work drink.
Percy Street BBQ
If you like your beer in cans, Percy Street has more than 60 behind the bar. And if you like your canned beer with pickle juice and BBQ sauce, order the Hillbilly Gatorade. You’ll thank us later.
The bar you want to wake up in once you become the kind of person who wakes up in bars.
According to one regular, “Though I’ll drink by myself pretty much anywhere, I truly believe Tria is the best place in the city for a woman to drink alone. It attracts the most harmless jerks of any wine bar in the city.”
A great place for drinking wine, especially if you can get the railing seat that looks out on 20th. Just settle in and watch the world go by.
They serve their wine in carafes with peaches on the bottom, and we love that. Eating the wine-soaked peaches at the end? We love that even more.
Chick’s Café & Wine Bar
You’ve walked by it a hundred times. Now it’s time to step inside.
If you’re looking for a crowd to watch the Eagles game with in Mount Airy, this is the spot. It’s loud, it’s crowded, and the staff seems always on the edge of collapse, but the beer list is fantastic, and the food is almost as good. 7170 Germantown Avenue, 215-247-9920.
Pickering Creek Inn
A charming spot outside the city, and perfect for beer people who want to watch the Phillies: They’ve got a great list, knowledgeable bartenders, TVs, and plenty of new friends for you.
If you judge a bar by the number of TVs it has, the Drake is your Nirvana—an archetypal after-work sports bar with an outdoor deck and a decent selection of microbrews.
Chickie’s & Pete’s
There are Philly expats who cross state lines just to get a drink and some crabfries at the original Chickie’s & Pete’s, in Mayfair. Spend a night here when the Phils or Eagles are playing and you’ll understand why.
The best Philly soccer bar housed in a former chicken slaughterhouse.