Fishtown Dive Bars Are Upping Their Food Game

Can dive bars have legitimately good food? In Fishtown, yes.

dive bars

Dinner at Murph’s Bar, a Fishtown dive bar, includes house-made pasta and racks of lamb | Photo by Ted Nghiem

Fishtown is a neighborhood perpetually in flux but with one constant: Food is now its biggest attraction. And that goes beyond Beddia and Suraya. Culinary entrepreneurs are setting up shop in the kitchens of well-established neighborhood bars, and in this arrangement, everyone wins: The beer is still cheap and the Citywide Specials aren’t going anywhere, but the food is restaurant-quality good — reminiscent of Philly’s gastropub boom back in the early 2000s. Here are three no-frills Fishtown watering holes with kitchens that are, all of a sudden, full of frills.


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The Galley at Starboard Side Tavern

2500 East Norris Street

The Galley, Jake Bukowski’s regular-hours pop-up, is Polish food untethered by Polish culinary traditions. So, yes, there are handmade pierogi, but they’re stuffed like a taco (with chorizo and potato, lime crema and cotija cheese), or like crab rangoon, or like a loaded baked potato. You get the idea. The chef, who has worked at Heffe Tacos and Moonshine in Pennsport, also does apps and sandwiches, plus catering and delivery on Caviar. Runs Wednesday through Sunday. Cash only.


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Spicy Time Thai at Les & Doreen’s Happy Tap

1301 East Susquehanna Avenue

Brian Hood, a digital-ad guy who became enamored with L.A.’s Thai street-food scene, has brought his obsession to the tiny kitchen of this neighborhood bar under the Spicy Time Thai moniker. (It’s available every Saturday evening from 5:30 to 11.) Munch on his sharp papaya salads, grilled chicken skewers and pad see ew between karaoke sets. Cash only.


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Murph’s Bar

202 East Girard Avenue

It’s not that Francesco Bellastelli’s pastas at Murph’s Bar are good by Irish-pub standards. It’s that Francesco Bellastelli’s pastas — the pudgy gnocchi, the hand-rolled garganelli, the seafood manicotti — are great by Philly standards. (Which makes sense; he’s Italian, after all.) You can find the chef here every night but Tuesday, and he technically rents the kitchen from the Murph’s owners, so you’ll have to pay for food separately. Cash only.

Published as “The Rise of the Downscale Gastropub” in the March 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.