First Look: Society Hill Society

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Halfway through April, Society Hill Society opened quietly in the space that formerly housed the The Artful Dodger at Second and Pine. Perhaps you didn’t notice the change because Society Hill Society, or SHS, appears as though it has never not been there.


A cozy spot full of wooden booths and a U-shaped copper bar, Society Hill Society has the potential to be the new favorite neighborhood spot for the Bella Vista and, uh, Society Hill set. Start your meal with a pull from the one tap in the restaurant, Pilsner Urquell, or one of head bartender Paul MacDonald’s cocktails. Then, dive in to chef Yun Fuentes’ menu of updated colonial classics.

The menu draws on the idea of the tavern--a neighborhood gathering place serving uncomplicated food--so the menu is peppered with dishes that aim to evoke Philadelphia’s regional foods from long ago.

To that effect, there’s snapper (as in turtle) soup on the menu. Bar snacks include deviled red beet eggs, oysters (naturally), chicken pot pie croquettes, and the cutest little pierogi (truffled ones with onion jam) that you ever did see. The local flavor tie-ins continue with a duck scrapple salad, a side of foraged mushrooms, and a beautifully executed, barely Pennsylvania Dutch entree of crispy pork belly with dumplings and ham consommé.

Though they’ve clearly done their research, they seem to falter slightly when it comes to seasonality and local sourcing. Even now, at least a week before the arrival of the first local peach to their neighbor, the Sunday morning Headhouse farmer’s market, and their three course, sixty dollar Summer Supper “seasonally inspired multi-course menu” boasts a chilled peach soup, while rather stiffly announcing: “stone fruits are now in season.”

Still, there’s plenty of great flavors, beautiful plates, and potential for the cozy restaurant to become a neighborhood favorite, especially as a brunch destination for those farmer’s market shoppers who will need to take a break from grocery-hauling once peach season actually starts.

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Society Hill Society [f8b8z]

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  • Cmonalready

    a hipster version of City Tavern funded by the shadiest ad guy in Philly. Next…

  • PhillyJawn

    @Cmonalready Did you actually eat the food and drink and experience the atmosphere or are you just trolling? The food is delicious and based on some original PA Dutch cooking (e.g. deviled eggs & shoe-fly pie), the cocktails are some of the best in the city (though pricey), and the ambiance is way more “Philly Tavern” than say Steven Starr’s Dandelion is an English Pub. Oh, and so the owner’s an ad guy? Who cares.

    • Cmonalready

      how long have you worked at QCM?

      • PhillyJawn

        For God’s sake – you are what makes Philly miserable.

    • Benji Franklin

      @PhillyJawn, So I guess a real “Philly Tavern” would tell someone who wants a draught beer to get lost? If you were interested at all in Philadelphia history, you would know that beer has always been a huge part of tavern culture. George Washington would have laughed his way out the door if he arrived at your bar and you told him he could drink from a promotional Pilsner Urquell tap or he could take his thirst elsewhere. I don’t care for Dandelion, but at least it serves authentic British brews (on draught). Who owns the place doesn’t really matter. The problem is that this is not a “Philly Tavern” by any stretch of the imagination.

  • http://batman-news.com PPABootsquadVinnie

    One of the first places I ever drank in Philadelphia. Lots of fun, always a good place to start. I’ll miss that stuffed bear head, with necktie, on the wall over the bathroom.

  • theJOJ

    i live about 50 yards away, the space is amazing but i wish it’s menu was more in line with my tastes…i’ve been there about 5x so far, and almost always shift to the other 3-4 places around Headhouse soon after, with better craft beer selection (1 tap??) and less pretentious words in its menu…clearly i should have frequented the Dodgie more often, hope they’re successful though, as they seem to be doing well so far

  • Disappointed

    Ugh, so pretentious – from the name throughout the entire menu. The service there is the only thing slower than how long it took them to paint the outside (five months – FIVE MONTHS to paint trim) and you cannot get a cocktail for less than $13 after waiting more than 15 minutes for one. Not to mention that they are not friendly to the neighbors at all. Thanks for ripping out all the taps, closing off the end of the bar, putting in turned tables without a community feel and making what was once a friendly neighborhood establishment as stiff as possible. Hopefully once the novelty wears off and the kids spending daddy’s money find a new place to spend it, this place will shutter and something more aligned with the neighborhood values will replace it.

  • Barry McHale

    I give these guys credit for renovating a space that needed it (and doing so beautifully), but I’ll go ahead and say it: the concept is otherwise terrible and I hope it goes out of business as soon as possible, so that something better can take over the property. This used to be a gathering spot for the community, and now it’s an alienating place serving cocktails apparently designed for elderly women, and a menu that belongs in a Brooklyn hipster bistro, not a corner bar in Philadelphia. It is as far from a “neighborhood tavern” as you could possibly imagine. They foolishly ripped out the tap system and didn’t replace it, so that they now essentially have zero draft beer (no, Pilsner Urquell with different “pours” doesn’t even count as one). Instead, they serve “punches” and lame cocktails for $15 apiece. There are no TVs, and the atmosphere, while nice-looking, is cold, stiff, and uninviting. The food is beyond pretentious and grossly overpriced. The bartender is condescending. The name of the place, which I think is intended to be pompous, is really more stupid than pompous. It needs to shut down so we can get some other folks in there who will restore this to the real corner neighborhood bar that it’s supposed to be (and always was before). In the meantime, don’t support this place. Go to one of the dozens of great restaurants around the city for dinner, and go to a real “corner tavern” for drinks.

    • Sarcastic

      Oh man no TV’s ?!? How will people be able to eat out without being able to watch TV ? And really only one tap ? Old lady drinks ? Food that isn’t wings or nachos ? How dare they create something different ! They probably should have consulted you before they opened. Maybe you should just stick with Chickie’s and Pete’s, probably more your speed and I bet all of your bros will be there anyway.

      • Barry McHale

        Haha. @Sarcastic, this is exactly the simplistic attitude that is evident as soon as you walk in the door there. It’s as if they believe there can be no middle ground between a lousy sports or dive bar, on the one hand; and on the other hand, a comfortable, classy neighborhood hangout where you can have a draft beer and possibly watch the game with friends. It’s not a black-and-white issue. It’s not a choice between alienating the entire segment of the neighborhood and city that likes draft beer and catching a baseball game, and opening a bro bar with wings and pizza. In other words, there are plenty of people who would never go to Paddy Whacks, for example, but would gladly go to this place if it had even 3-4 taps rather than none, a single TV, and less of the ridiculous faux-sophistication that is being attempted in the menu and cocktail list. A good example is Pub & Kitchen: it replaced an old dive bar and converted it into something much nicer, with real food, higher-end beer and liquor, but without overdoing it on the kind of stuffiness and needless pageantry that surrounds “Society Hill Society.” It has 1-2 small TVs, tastefully placed near the bar, that do nothing to undermine the overall atmosphere and aesthetic. It attracts the demographic that you would think “Society Hill Society” would covet: young, relatively affluent neighborhood residents looking to unwind and spend a bunch of money on a laid-back dinner and drinks, not an overly formal, prix-fixe “supper” (classic old person word) and a Pilsner Urquell (acceptable but totally dull beer). Instead, you’re catering to senior citizens, tourists, and other people who will not come back regularly. The concept here is just wrong for the space. You can disagree if you want, but it’s fairly ridiculous to claim that anyone who doesn’t like it must necessarily be a bro on the prowl for cheesesteaks and nachos. Talk about a lack of sophistication.

    • realtorman

      First for the truth, the place looks great and gets super reviews on open table (those are people that actually go out to dinner, try food and comment) Second if you look up the state filings and all other documentation you will see that the place is owned by 3 people none of which is in the ad business. As to the corner bar/dive bar community place: the Artful Dodger had all those attributes you folks are asking for and could not stay in business (please see Philadelphia Municipal Court filings) and see how much they owed. Apparently the corner bar concept did not work or you haters just did not spend any money. The reality is the people in this business took a chance most of us don’t have the balls to do the same and put there money up. The reality is that the area Society Hill wanted a place like this – maybe not everyone but obviously a large amount of the people in the area wanted a place like this. Is it a shame to want some nice places in this area or are we stuck with beer and fried cheese? A good area should have lots of choices. By the way, I sell real estate in the area and this is the type of place that makes the area attractive to the new folks buying in SH.

      • Disappointed

        Oh, are you the guy who cold-called me and couldn’t pronounce my name? If you know the neighborhood so well, tell us, why are there no neighbors IN this place?

        Despite it being poorly managed by previous owners, the Artful Dodger was always busy and was a neighborhood destination for all ages. The people in there had a lot of disposable income, even if they did not always appear as such. (That, by the way, is the opposite of pretentious.) It was inclusive. This… the opposite.

      • Barry McHale

        @realtorman, This is exactly the false distinction I was talking about. I live in the neighborhood and own real estate here. I don’t want fried cheese or wings. I would never go to a bar and order a Coors Light. I want high-quality, craft beer on tap, and I’m willing to pay for it. I would also gladly pay $25-$30 (or more) for an entree that that is well-prepared and interesting, and isn’t way too cute for its own good with ingredients like “foie gras vinaigrette.” Does that fit into your schema of a bar either being “nice,” having no beer at all and serving things like “smoked creme fraiche with trout roe,” or being a crummy dive with fried cheese and beer? The way you present it is such a childish oversimplification. And who anointed you the person who gets to decide what the people in the neighborhood want and call it “reality?” Just because you’ve deemed it appropriate to add this place to the sales pitch you give to prospective buyers when you’re peddling tacky condos in Society Hill Towers does not make it a “reality” that the people who already live here wanted this.

        • realtorman

          I just saw the menu and the prices range from $5 for bar snacks to $23 for an entree. This is less than many of the surrounding bars. So it clearly is on the cheap side for food. As for the concept I think it looks great and offers something the area does not have. You can walk to the twisted tale, xotil, Nola or Stella if you want a different experience. Quit your complaining its not “your” corner bar. By the way you could have rented it or you could sit and write troll-like emails hating on people and their hard work. By the way, I was told that the owners all live in Society Hill

  • DaveS

    I love this place. Service is friendly, food is very good, drinks are awesome. Owners very attentive. A very welcome addition to the neighborhood.

  • Brandon Thomas

    Not sure why everyone is hating on this place… It’s quite beautiful inside and very welcoming. Yes the local Head House tasting menu is expensive but everything is served ala carte. Cocktails take time, but so do cocktails at PDT, Hop Sing, a.Bar or any other restaurant with a good progressive cocktail program. Every plate we had from Yun was spot-on and very tasty… creative as well. Not every bar in Philly needs a huge draft selection and a TV. Cheers to two ex-Garces guys wanting to elevate dining in this area.

    • Ray Jay Johnson

      People are mad because the place thumbs its nose at what a lot of the neighborhood wants. There are a ton of pretentious restaurants we can go to when we feel like that kind of experience. Serpico is around the corner. Ela is down the street. Zahav is a block away. All of them are great, and walkable. The bar on the corner is where you want to go to relax before or after one of those places, not where you want to go to have a $60 snail and foie gras tasting menu jammed down your throat, with no draft beer to wash it down. This location did not need a wannabe-haughty steampunk lounge; it just needed a nicer corner bar with an upgraded menu and drink list. It’s a shame that this is what it became instead.

      • JR

        I wouldn’t call Zahav or Serpico pretentious at all, but that is a whole different discussion.
        The dining market in this area is so over saturated with corner bar type places that have updated menus and nice beer lists. I frequent them and do enjoy them, but what is so bad about something different ? Sometimes we need a break from watching the Phillies suck and fancy buffalo wings. It is nice to actually talk with people over dinner and not be distracted by a TV.
        I have yet to eat at Society Hill Society, but I will judge it on the food and drink, not because people don’t like that it is not a traditional corner bar.

        • Ray Jay Johnson

          These are all subjective questions and to each his own, but when a lot of people who live nearby are saying loud and clear that what is going on in there is disappointing and wrong for the neighborhood, it might be worth paying attention to. Or, just keep the punch and Pilsner Urquell flowing, tell half your potential patrons to go screw, and make do with a half-empty bar that clears out completely by 10:00 each night.

          • PLCBfree

            Pilsner Urquell is apparently one of QCM’s clients so go figure. This place is really all about the “neighborhood” — if by neighborhood you mean Union Leaguers posing as “the workin’ man.”

  • Duncan Harrelson

    I agree with the neighborhood haters. This place is an epic fail. Sad waste of a gorgeous space and prime location.

  • Blrbfrwn

    First, yes, Philly ad man Steven Grasse is one of the investors. Yes, Pilsner Urquell is a client of his. The people who are behind Society Hill Society INTENDED it to be the way it is. They didn’t want to have any of the bridge and tunnel or south street or “urban” types coming over and making it low class. It was built a certain way to price out “undesirable” patrons. So far they seem to be doing alright. When I walk by it is usually pretty busy. I agree it would be better with some draft beers and more typical bar food (don’t care about the tv). But haters gonna hate.

    • urbantypist

      cool casual racism. Must be a member of the “Society”.

    • Hill Society Hill

      You can price poor and “urban” people out (f that’s what you want to do, and I’m not saying its an honorable goal), simply by charging high prices. Believe it or not, rich people drink beer too, at least in this city. People will pay $10 for a draft beer, if it’s an interesting one. Beer is woven into the fabric of Philadelphia culture. Has been for years. It is shocking that a group of aspiring restaurant owners could utterly fail to recognize this fact, As shocking as the fact that they made no effort to take the pulse of the neighborhood before imposing this moronic concept on us.

  • Frederick Worthington III

    The design of the logo is wrong. In a monogram, the middle letter is actually the last initial and the two on either side are the first and second initials, respectively. Ignorant.