Let Us Now Praise Philly Dive Bars

It seems like every weekend there’s a new craft-beer bar opening in the spot where some smoky old watering hole used to be, or a freshly buffed-up pub transforming a neglected neighborhood corner. The trend is emblematic of a larger — and largely positive — transformation in which gritty, faded, forgotten Old Philly is being reincarnated into bright and sprightly New Philly. Fair enough. But change — even good change — has always made Philadelphians dig our heels in and cling just a little harder to the unchanging. Who can blame us? Last year brought the probable end of Little Pete’s and the inauspicious opening of a Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes Old Philly should win. Which is why it’s time now to pay tribute to some of the stalwarts. The holdouts that have evaded the reign of the $20 bar burger. Those scrappy, dark taprooms where no barkeep has ever worn a bowtie, where nobody asks for extra bitters, where you can show up at 12 noon or 12 midnight and enjoy the High Life (or a Citywide Special). We spotlight the bars we passionately hope never get remade into coolly polished pubs. Because change is good, and so is craft beer, but nothing replaces the timeless draw of the dive.

Photography by Gene Smirnov

Tattooed Mom


530 South Street
Established 1997



259 South 15th Street
Established 1937

Donna’s Bar


2732 East Allegheny Avenue
Established 1981



229 South 45th Street
Established 2001

Bob and Barbara’s




1509 South Street
Established 1968

Atlantis: The Lost Bar


2442 Frankford Avenue
Established 2004



2201 Lombard Street
Established 1976

Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar





1200 East Passyunk Avenue
Established 1938

Dirty Frank’s


347 South 13th Street
Established 1933

Published as “Let Us Now Praise Philly Dive Bars” in the February 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Bad Bar People #1: The Jukebox Violator

A Budweiser swilling (and Budweiser/Phillies t-shirt wearing!) jukebox violator.

A Budweiser swilling (and Budweiser/Phillies t-shirt wearing!) jukebox violator.

We give you the latest Foobooz series: Bad Bar People, in which we’ll bring you the worst customers, bartenders, and other contributors to dreadful drinking experiences. Enjoy.

The worst thing to happen to the bar scene over the last decade has got to be whipped cream vodka. But the second worst thing is undoubtedly those you-can-play-virtually-anything TouchTunes jukeboxes and the people who use them to make everyone else miserable. These evolutionary mistakes make up the inaugural category of Bad Bar People: The Jukebox Violator. Read more »

60 Second Critic: Boot & Saddle


There are few things that get a young man like me as excited as loud rock-and-roll and fine booze—especially in combination. Fortunately, South Broad Street’s Boot & Saddle nails that exacta. Reopened after nearly 20 years of dormancy by the folks behind overnight success Union Transfer, B&S hosts live shows that are loud but also pristinely clear, an unusual quality in a rock club of this size. (Boot & Saddle holds 150 in the performance area, which is sectioned off from the always-crowded bar.) On the downside, there’s virtually no seating, which after a few of the strong cocktails or high-ABV beers might get a bit old. But in a town lacking well-equipped small music venues where you can see up-and-coming acts that aren’t all over the radio, Boot & Saddle is a godsend.

Grade: A-

Sugar Mom’s Has Closed

sugar moms 400

“You have reached the number of a business that has closed.” That’s what you’ll hear if you call the phone number for Sugar Mom’s, the storied Old City bar at 225 Church Street. Read more »

Best of Philly: McGlinchey’s, the Best Dive of Them All

McGlinchey's - Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

Classic Best of Philly: The Eternal Draw of McGlinchey’s

I remember the first time I went to McGlinchey’s, the notoriously divey (and smoky) dive bar on 15th Street. It was just after my 21st birthday (I’m 39 now, egad!), and I had heard that the beers were some of the cheapest in the city, which is all I needed to know.

Given that these were the days before Philadelphia was Beer Town U.S.A., I ordered a Rolling Rock. Within minutes, I managed to get screamed at by the prickly bartender and have a beer spilled on me. On a later visit, a blond bartender pegged me in the eye with an ice cube, and a girl puked on my shoe. Little has changed.

More on McGlinchey’s » 

The Foobooz Top 50 Bars for 2012

We’ve done it again. Foobooz has polled a panel of writers, bloggers, noted drinker types and others whose opinions we respect to assemble our list of  Philadelphia’s Top 50 Bars for 2012 ranked 1 through 50.

We’re once again impressed with the way the list has turned out. There is a bar or three for every occasion, whether it be fraternizing with a dozen friends, reconnecting with a digital buddy from the 80s or looking for a new companion.

For each of the top bars in Philadelphia we provide some praise, a pro’s tip or a quote from one of our panelists. Check out the list and tell us what you think in the comments or on Twitter via our #50BarsPHL hashtag.

Best Bars in Philadelphia 2012 [Foobooz]

The Foobooz Top 50 Bars for 2011

For the third straight year we’ve polled a panel of writers, bloggers, Twitterers and others who play a part in Philadelphia’s bar scene for the Foobooz Top 50 Bars in Philadelphia list. As curators, we like this list. It has a bar for every occasion and spans the spectrum from cocktail lounge to dive an back again.

New this year we offer a Foobooz tip for each bar on the list. Hopefully these make your visits even better. Check out the list and tell us what you think.

Foobooz Top 50 Bars [f8b8z]

Some Statistics About the List »

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