The New Philadelphia Nightlife

From cooking classes to dance parties, Philly nightlife isn’t just for drinking anymore. Here, our guide to everything worth doing after dark.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

River Boat Tours

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | Docks at Rittenhouse and Penn’s Landing
Whether you prefer your cruise of the Schuylkill or Delaware to be narrated or self-guided, boozy or low-key, privately chartered or filled with new friends, Patriot Harbor Lines has your ticket to ride. Our fave: the seasonal “Different Night, Different Lights” tour, highlighting the evening glow of Boathouse Row and the downtown skyline—the city at its prettiest.

Bluegrass at Fiume

Music | 45th and Locust Street
If you think all music must be amplified, you need to get to Fiume, a tiny (and we do mean tiny) bar on the second floor of West Philadelphia restaurant Abyssinia. The bourbon-scented room gets packed (and we do mean packed) every Thursday including the devoted followers of the Citywide Specials. If you close your eyes, you might swear you’re in Kentucky circa 1921. Alas, the drink prices will remind you that you’re not.

Pep Bowl

Games | 1200 S. Broad Street
Say goodbye to snooty upscale bowling alleys and behold the stripped-down glory of Pep Bowl: six lanes, 1950s furnishings, beer coolers encouraged. (It’s BYOB and BYOFood.) And just like fans of The Big Lebowski, the clientele ranges from blue-collar to hipster, everyone abiding each other just fine as they drink and roll through the night, till as late as 1 a.m. on Saturdays.

First Friday at the Arden

Arts & Culture | 40 N. 2nd Street
Not the sort of person who goes to the theater? Not even for free beer? Every First Friday, the Arden Theatre Company presents edgy, top-notch acts—Bearded Ladies Cabaret, the Dali Quartet, Headlong Dance—at both its headquarters and a nearby performance space, to lure those who are “not our typical demographic,” says marketing manager Leigh Goldenberg. Did we mention free beer?

Blues at the Twisted Tail

Music | 509 S. 2nd Street
Sixty bourbons. Twelve bars of blues. Six nights a week. One cool night out. All that and more at Twisted Tail.

Art Alliance Cave Casts

Dance | 251 S. 18th Street
Part music master class and part intimate club night, DJ Brian Cassidy’s live podcasts at the Art Alliance are performances unto themselves. The host interviews an expert on a genre, artist or era, who provides the soundtrack for the evening’s live podcast. Then the dancing begins, sometimes going all night. This season’s lineup focuses on surf rock, Philly soul and sampling.

The Happy Rooster

Karaoke | 118 S 16th Street
Where is everyone in Rittenhouse getting drunk on Thursday nights? At the Happy Rooster, where the crowd skews young and fun. Expect to hear Madonna, “Sweet Caroline” and No Doubt.

Art After 5 at the Art Museum

Arts & Culture | 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Kick off the weekend at the Great Stair Hall as international and local artists turn the otherwise staid space into a live-music party. Nibble on Starr snacks, hit the bar, and take guided tours of select galleries. Just exercise moderation—if you break it at Art After 5, you can’t afford to buy it. Fairmount, 215-763-8100; Fridays.

Grace Tavern

Food | 2229 Grays Ferry Avenue
Why in-the-know up-all-nighters prefer Grace Tavern: The kitchen serves the entire menu until 2 a.m., not just some puny list of snacks. Open till 2 a.m. Monday to Sunday.

Hot Yoga After Dark

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | 1520 Sansom Street
Yoga gets cool—and really, really hot when this Bikram studio hosts a special evening session set to amped-up music, with refreshing nonalcoholic drinks, like mint-infused coconut water, to cool you down afterward. The class officially ends at nine, but sticking around to hang with your sweaty new friends is encouraged (and inevitable).

Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret

Arts & Culture | 624 S. 6th Street
Dig, if you will, the picture: Jared Leto in a linebacker’s body, wrapped in a flapper frock, strutting across the 624 S stage, leading his band through a samba version of “Paint It Black” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” R&B-style. He’s the genre-bending, gender-bending Martha Graham Cracker. Two guarantees: a Prince cover and a funky good time.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

The Trocadero

Movies | 1003 Arch Street
Cinephiles in search of silver-screen magic in unusual places—and on a budget—need look no further. On select Mondays, the Trocadero opens its balcony for $3 movie nights. (Bonus: The cost of the ticket goes toward your first drink.)

The HeadHouse

Karaoke | 122 Lombard Street
If you’re the kind of person who likes to sing 10 times in one night, The Headhouse is the place. Be warned: The DJ likes to post pics of drunken misbehavior. And he has lots of costumes for you to wear.

700 Club

Dance | 700 N. 2nd Street
The 700 Club is basically a kick-ass house party that takes over a bar Thursday through Saturday. Head up to the “attic” to throw your jacket on a couch, grab a drink—something from the bar’s international beer list or extensive whiskey selection—and get sweaty on the dance floor.

David’s Mai Lai Wah

Food | 1001 Race Street #1
Looking for restaurant crews in their natural after-hours habitat? David’s Mai Lai Wah is where to find them, slurping down noodles and haunting the tables after last call. Open till 3 a.m. Monday to Thursday and Sunday, till 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Erotic Literary Salons

Arts & Culture | 1315 Sansom Street
If you pumped Viagra into Gertrude Stein’s erudite gabfests, you’d have something like these erotica readings. Pay $10 and hope it’s a night when regular contributor Frances Seidman, a saucy 96-year-old retired psychologist, is there to share her NSFW stories. Third Tuesday monthly.

Dahlak

Karaoke | 4708 Baltimore Avenue
If you’ve avoided karaoke nights because of a prevalence of frat boys and “Freebird,” go to this Ethiopian fusion melting pot. True to its location, Dahlak‘s crowd and DJ are one-of-a-kind, in a good way.

Free-for-All Stand-Up Comedy

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | 741 N. 23rd Street
Lively crowds sampling flights of craft beer at Rembrandt’s while cheering on (or heckling) a rotating cast of comics? A fine end to any hump day. Wednesdays.

University Pinball

Games | 4006 Spruce Street
Venture into University Pinball, and you might just forget you’re in Philadelphia at all. With everything from full-size driving games to basketball shooters and zombie shoot-’em-ups, this spot is family-friendly and every bit as good as anything down the Shore.

Art Show at Architeqt Salon & Gallery

Arts & Culture | 265 S. 10th Street
The mirrors and hair-cutting stations are wheeled away, leaving an open, white-walled space in which a new local artist shakes hands and showcases from 7 to 9 p.m. All the talent (and wine) of a typical gallery, not a whiff of the pretension. Every sixth Saturday at Architeqt Salon & Gallery.

Union Transfer

Music | 1026 Spring Garden Street
Three bars and sight lines to die for make Union Transfer the top choice for live music. The 1,200-capacity space boasts one of the city’s best sound systems and a lineup heavy on just-about-to-break-big acts. You’ll want to say you saw them here first.

Sex Dwarf at Voyeur

Dance | 1221 Saint James Street
If Stefon from Saturday Night Live ever gave Philadelphia nightclub recommendations, he’d have mentioned this New Wave dance party at Voyeur. Named after a Soft Cell song, WXPN DJ Robert Drake’s legendary set isn’t as kinky as it sounds. Expect deep cuts and a diverse crowd.


Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Clay Studio

Art | 137-139 N. 2nd Street
Have a Patrick/Demi moment at the Clay Studio’s couples’ nights, with pottery-making instruction and booze. Third Friday monthly.

Video Pirates Video Party

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | 531 N. 12th Street
Ever wonder where your old VHS tapes wound up? They’re with the Video Pirates at this mash-up of footage never intended for big-screen viewing—driver’s-ed instructionals, dog-training how-to’s, long-forgotten public-access shows, home movies and more, all spliced into thematic shorts and features. Fun throwback art for the iPod age. Every third Monday.

Bob and Barbara’s

Karaoke | 1509 South Street
This most esteemed dive (if there can be such a thing) offers the ultimate in liquid courage: the $3.50 Pabst-and-Jim-Beam special. Look for theme nights at Bob and Barbara's like “Bad ’80s Songs.”

Nomad Pizza

Movies | 611 S 7th Street
Pizza and a movie is a combo made in heaven, especially outside the living room. Nomad Pizza shows movies upstairs every Sunday night at 8 p.m. (Catch West Side Story and The Blues Brothers this month.)

Rosenbach Museum and Library

Arts & Culture | 2008 Delancey Place
Those seeking a high-minded night out can dive into scholar-led courses at the Rosenbach (for a hefty tuition) that explore classics like Ulysses or Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Hurry—they fill up.

McGillin’s Olde Ale House

Karaoke | 1310 Drury Street
The people-watching at McGillin's Olde Ale House, Philadelphia’s oldest bar, is priceless, though someone should tell the gangs of drunk administrative assistants that “Love Shack” isn’t a good karaoke tune.

Fleisher Art Memorial

Art | 719 Catharine Street
Fleisher Art Memorial is awash in after-dark classes and workshops, ranging from quirky subjects like iPad drawing and sketching live animals to more skilled instruction, like painting fundamentals. Professors are well-credentialed and—bonus!—many sessions are free.

Gershman YMCA

Games | 401 S Broad Street
I’ve only experienced the thrill of bingo victory twice. Once was in fourth grade. The other was at the Gershman YMCA during GayBingo. The chances of winning seemed slim at this fete hosted by Philly drag mistress Carlota Ttendant and her merry band of queens—there were birthday parties, bachelorette parties, eager young families and, yes, plenty of old folks filling the seats. But two games in, there they were: five numbers in a row. I hesitated—false bingo alarms are so embarrassing—before jumping up and hollering. A parade of drag queens sent me off with cash and blown kisses. You can’t win if you don’t play, and friends, if you’re not playing GayBingo, you’re seriously losing out.

Music Church at the Boom Room

Music | 1300 N Front Street
Set in a loft-like single home under the El (it’s a recording studio by day) dubbed the Boom Room, this electric jam session starts off mellow at 9 p.m., building to a boil by its 1 a.m. conclusion. Grab your guitar and jump in, or just bring a six-pack and listen. And from tight blues guitar to harmonica-infused beatboxing, you’ll want to listen. Sundays.

Pastorius Park

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | W. Gravers Lane & Millman Street
I grew up in Center City, so I didn’t experience much iconic nighttime nature: the song of the crickets, catching fireflies in mason jars, staring at a sky studded with stars. If I wanted to see the constellations, I went to the planetarium. Now I get my after-dark nature fix at Pastorius Park in Chestnut Hill. Unlike much of Philly at night, Pastorius is pitch-black, and it’s glorious. Lightning bugs bounce between trees, frogs make noises somewhere between burps and unzipping zippers, and if you’re lucky, a couple of bats will do a swoop-and-dive dance overhead.

Alla Spina

Food | 1410 Mt Vernon Street
Salumi, pig trotter involtini, house-made pretzels with beer cheese, and fancied-up Italian poutine? Yeah, that’s why Alla Spina is so crowded. Open till 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, till midnight Sunday to Thursday.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Balkan Dance Party

Music | 1200 Callowhill Street
The brassy, sassy West Philadelphia Orchestra (whom you may have heard around town blasting everything from klezmer to big-band jazz) throws this bash at Underground Arts. It starts late (10 p.m.-ish), but with unique music (WPO often partners with another local band), two bars and a strobe-lit dance floor, you’ll reenergize in no time. Monthly.

Barbuzzo

Food | 110 S 13th Street
You know why it’s a good idea to hit Barbuzzo late? Because it’s still often impossible to get a table during prime time. Open till midnight Monday to Sunday.

Tabu

Karaoke | 200 S 12th Street
While the sporty gays watch Monday Night Football on the first floor, sing your little heart out with the drag queens and locals upstairs at Tabu. Each week is a new theme, but needless to say, show tunes are popular.

Classes at COOK

Arts & Culture | 253 S. 20th Street
The prices are high, the seats are extremely limited, and sessions often sell out minutes after they’re posted online. But there is simply no better way to get up-close and personal with the city’s marquee chefs (Lacroix, Vetri and Olexy, to name a few) than to have one of the seats at the short counter at COOK. Rittenhouse, 215-735-2665.

The Garage

Games | 1231 E. Passyunk Avenue
Gearheads, game geeks and beer nerds, rejoice—this is your mecca. Pinball and pool dot the sparse interior, but the real attraction (besides the indoor hot-dog cart and huge canned craft beer list) is the Skee-Ball lanes, which dispense tickets you can exchange for Garage swag.

Video Pirates Video Party

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | 531 N. 12th Street
Ever wonder where your old VHS tapes wound up? They’re with the Video Pirates at this mash-up of footage never intended for big-screen viewing—driver’s-ed instructionals, dog-training how-to’s, long-forgotten public-access shows, home movies and more, all spliced into thematic shorts and features. Fun throwback art for the iPod age. Every third Monday.

Khyber Pass Pub’s NSFW Dance Parties

Dance | 56 S. 2nd Street
Billed as “the queer dance party that will have you avoiding the watercooler the next day,” Khyber's dance party puts other costumed throw-downs to shame with its creative themes. You’ll never think of the Revolutionary War the same way again. Monthly.

Classes at the Barnes

Arts & Culture | 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Meet the masters of Western art—through discussion of techniques, motifs and influences—in these workshops. You won’t need a B.A. in art history to attend classes at the Barnes, but you’ll feel like you’ve earned one when you’re done. Mondays and Tuesdays.

Adobe Cafe

Karaoke | 1919 E. Passyunk Avenue
The setup at Adobe Cafe—karaoke in a back room separate from the bar—allows for lots of space, so it’s popular with the birthday crowd and great for office parties. A Tecate and tequila shot for $5.50 won’t hurt, either.

Club Studios

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | 414 Green Street
A $35 yearly membership grants you access to this retro two-floor hideaway that’s part performance space, part DIY speakeasy. Club Studios serves till 3 a.m. nightly, and there are ping-pong competitions and pool tables. But it’s the inspired performances (think burlesque shows in the downstairs cabaret room, live bands, improv nights) that make it extra-fun.

Philadelphia Sketch Club

Art | 235 S. Camac Street
Mingle with like-minded types (whether you’re a creator or appreciator) at the Philadelphia Sketch Club. Nude models pose for studio sessions on Monday and Wednesday nights, while members ($150 a year) have monthly speaker dinners and use of the fantastic historic townhouse, which has a billiards room and library.

  • Denise Rambo

    Those aren’t just any drag queens at Gay Bingo … they’re the BVDs! (Bingo Verifying Divas)