The 2016 Foobooz 50 Best Bars of Philadelphia
BEST BARS IN PHILLY
Because Philly is one of the greatest drinking cities on Earth, it’s also home to an unusually high concentration of experts in the elbow-bending arts. This year we’ve again turned to the best of them and asked where they go when there’s drinking to be done. We tallied their votes and cast our own to bring you this: our always controversial, always surprising (and absolutely accurate) ranking of the 50 best bars in the region. So let’s get drinking, shall we? And we can start at …
★ = A bar that’s been on all eight 50 Best Bars lists
❊ = New this year or back on the list after an absence
- Fountain Porter, East Passyunk
You should know this, but if you don’t already know, Fountain Porter has one of the best burgers in Philly. Five bucks, every day. No bells and whistles. Just a salty little burger that’s awesome and cheap and always, you know, there. But that’s not why it deserves the top spot on our list. It deserves this spot because everything else Fountain Porter does—from the tight, smart tap list to the refreshingly simple menu of meats, cheeses and pickles to the daily happy hours and 4 p.m. weekday opening time and clean, comforting space—is done with that same eye toward stripped-down simplicity and appreciation of what people want from their neighborhood bar. For a certain segment of South Philly, this is the only bar that matters. For the rest of us, it’s still the place we’d prefer to be almost any night of the week.
- American Sardine Bar, Point Breeze
You only have to spend a night at the friendly side of the long, polished bar here to get why American Sardine Bar is the best in Philly. It’s warm and welcoming, loud but convivial. They’ve got a great beer selection, bartenders who know you better the longer you sit, tasty sandwiches coming from the kitchen, frequent specials to keep things interesting. All that, and then there’s also the backyard that’s just as inviting and twice as cool as yours is ever going to be.
- Johnny Brenda’s, Fishtown ★
This Swiss Army Knife of a bar offers great local beer, surprisingly good food, powerful mixed drinks, and a schedule full of live music that will make you cooler just by listening. No matter what you need to make your night complete, the odds are good that Johnny Brenda’s has it.
- Pub & Kitchen, Grad Hospital ★
From the beer selection to the cocktails, the kitchen and the floor, this destination gastropub is run better than any neighborhood bar.
- Jose Pistola’s, Center City
Tacos and beer are like best friends. And Jose Pistola’s is where your two best friends are always hanging out.
- A.Bar, Rittenhouse
Some of the most creative cocktails in the city have come from this bar (see: Muppet Hug). Some of the oddest moments, too (like Georges Perrier trying to educate a young sommelier from a restaurant which was not his own). It is a small place. Intimate to put it politely, but really just cramped when any more than half the seats are taken. But it’s also the kind of place where it’s worth staking out a seat early and holding it down as the pre-dinner crowds roll in. The bartenders will take good care of you. The Rittenhouse Square people-watching is fantastic. And the cocktails are both wonderfully named (Love In Idleness, Ill Met By Moonlight, or Calm, Collected Oaxacan) and some of the most original you’ll find anywhere in the city.
- Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, Fishtown ❊
The bar at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons is as beautiful as everything else at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons: a long, highly polished stretch of dark wood, shelf-backed and crowded with friends and neighbors and strangers all drawn in by the unusual gravity of the place. It became a Fishtown staple the minute it opened—for pizzas and pasta, sure, but also for the chance to sit on one of the padded stools and have set before you great beers picked by a knowledgeable staff, or classic cocktails done with just enough style and creativity to seem fresh without smudging the line and becoming cloying, awful or twee. It’s a bar that’s fancy without caring about fanciness, casual without shouting about it.
- Hop Sing Laundromat, Chinatown
It’s got a well that would put any lesser bar out of business in a month, a liquor selection unparalleled by any local joint, and it has been named one of the best bars on earth by Conde Nast Traveler. (But we loved it before it was cool.)
- Khyber Pass Pub, Old City ★
Where else can you get a po’boy, debris fries, and a Belgian tripel on draft? Only at the Khyber, which has long held its place as one of Philly’s most comfortable, most versatile and most dependably loved bars.
- Garage, East Passyunk
With all types of canned beer in the coolers, rotating food vendors and a very liberal BYO food policy, the Garage is serving the community exactly what the community wants it to.
- Monk’s Cafe, Rittenhouse ★
Tom Peters’s Philadelphia love song to Belgian beer bars has won so many awards that adding another to the pile seems a little ridiculous. Still, if you’re serious about your beer, this is one of those places you just can’t miss. From approachable Chimay Red (on draft) to rarities like Mahr’s Ungespundets Keller, there’s always something on tap here worth bragging about.
- Townsend, East Passyunk
There are those among us who can’t imagine dinner out at a nice restaurant without stopping first at the bar. And Townsend, with its beautiful woody and welcoming space, is exactly the kind of place we’re dreaming of.
- Pub on Passyunk East, East Passyunk ★
Cozy nooks, tasty beer and a pleasant staff. Who needs more than that?
- Martha, Kensington ❊
We’ve all experienced the local food/local drink bar by now—Philly pretty much invented the locavore gastropub. But at Martha, created by industry pro Jon Medlinsky, it’s all new again. The menu is a curated list of Philadelphia’s best meats and pickles, and its crowning achievement is reinventing the hoagie as a must-try offering. The beers and ciders are all expertly chosen from our rich local landscape, and the spirits, too, are local—and often mixed into delicious draft cocktails.
- Forest & Main, Ambler
If you care about beer, this is where you come. If you care a lot about beer, you’ve been here already—to this small house in Ambler which has been turned into a mad scientist’s laboratory for wild experiments in the art of brewing and fermenting. They’ve made a thousand beers here and rarely repeat. On any given night, you might find the best beer of your life and know that it is the best only on this night, at this moment, and gone when the keg runs dry. Not all of Forest & Main’s brews are mind-blowing, but none of them are less than unique. And since the crew who make them do so in the basement, they can often be found on the upper floors as well, wandering around and happy to talk about (almost) anything going on downstairs.
- Tria Taproom, Rittenhouse
Cork dorks and beer nerds unite at this sexy bar for an all-draft experience.
- Standard Tap, Northern Liberties ★
Seeing the burger and potpie on the chalkboard is like seeing old friends. And you’re also happy to see that Standard Tap is still taking care of itself, because that deck? It looks better than ever.
- Locust Rendezvous, Center City
The prices of the weekly specials are from another time, while the numerous TVs are as modern as they get. Together, they make for one of Philly’s great sports bars.
- Fergie’s Pub, Midtown Village
Twenty one years in, we can’t imagine a city without Fergie’s — or, more importantly, without owner and archetypal drinking man Fergus “Fergie” Carey himself.
- The Industry, Pennsport
What started as essentially a bar for Philly restaurant workers has become one of the best places in town for serious beer drinkers and dedicated fans of consistently interesting pub food.
- Fiume, West Philly
This tiny, cash-only whiskey-and-beer bar with no phone is set atop an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly — and is what every so-called “speakeasy” should aspire to be.
- Bob & Barbara’s, Grad Hospital ★
The place that made the Citywide famous is still the place where the Citywide is famous. A dive bar with all the class, characters and comfort that title implies. Let’s hope it never changes.
- Dirty Franks, Midtown Village ❊
In a city that is increasingly fretting about losing its rough edges, a night at Dirty Frank’s can calm those fears.
- Double Knot, Midtown Village ❊
The bar upstairs is where you wait for entrance, for permission to go to the candlelit downstairs dining room(s) everyone raves about, but that’s selling it short, because the upstairs bar at Double Knot is, all by itself, a destination. The menu is excellent. The happy hour is raucous. The punch is dangerously easy to drink and will put you on the floor if you’re not careful. But one of the biggest draws here is simply being here, ordering a Singapore Slip and seeing for yourself how cool Philly can be when Philly feels like being cool.
- Brauhaus Schmitz, Bella Vista
This bar makes it its mission to present all the best beers that Germany has to offer — including many that almost never see release on American soil. Even without these rarities, drawing from the best that Germany has to offer still means a lot of great beer.
- Devil’s Den, East Passyunk
Just one thing to remember while you’re enjoying Philly’s best craft-beer happy hour: Don’t forget to eat.
- Frankford Hall, Fishtown ❊
In this Year of the Beer Garden (because what has this past year been if not that?), it’s appropriate that one of the early adopters—this massive indoor/outdoor space with its picnic tables, multiple bars, big beers, bratwurst and ping-pong—has a place on this list. With five years behind it, Frankford Hall is still going strong and remains one of the best places in the city to drink in the sunshine.
- Southwark, Queen Village ❊
It may be under new ownership but the bar is still as comfortable as ever and the drinks are still spot on.
- Loco Pez, Fishtown
Another place to go when you need tacos and beer — in that order, and maybe repeated four or five times. Comfortable, welcoming, and only dive-y in a deliberate sort of way, it’s got cheap American and Mexican beers and 25 kinds of tequila behind the bar.
- Sancho Pistola’s, Fishtown
If you go too hard after these killer margaritas, you might miss just how good the food is. And that would be a shame, because the food here is almost as good as what’s coming from behind the bar.
- Teresa’s Next Door, Wayne ❊
This beer bar always has a superbly curated beer list. Lucky for whisk(e)y drinkers, the staff takes that commitment to spirits list as well.
- Grey Lodge, Northeast Philly ★
Michael “Scoats” Scotese has crafted an institution in Mayfair. Twenty years into its run, his bar is responsible for the awakenings of probably thousands of craft-beer enthusiasts—many of whom are still regulars. The bar stays relevant through fun events like “Friday the Firkinteenth” but is just as likely to win new fans on any quiet night with its take on the cheesesteak and a freshly drawn pint.
- Good King Tavern, Bella Vista
Very good, affordable wines, excellent cocktails, and wonderful French food. It’s good to be the King.
- Fette Sau, Fishtown ❊
Stephen Starr’s barbecue joint on Frankford Avenue has become a respite from the area’s nightlife. Here, linger over burnt ends, beans and brown liquor.
- Varga Bar, Washington Square West ★
Behind the pinup girls, strange name and black-and-white tile (which drives some people crazy) sits one of the most consistently beloved bars in the city. Those who name it among their favorites do so because of the wonderfully curated beer list, well-trained staff, excellent bar snacks and finely wrought classic cocktails.
- ITV, East Passyunk ❊
Nick Elmi—the guy from Laurel, the guy who won Top Chef—opened a bar. He did it right next door to Laurel (which is all fancy and serious), and he did it because he wanted something that was other. So ITV, which is dim and sexy and lighthearted, serves small plates like biscuits with honey-chive butter or hay-stuffed poussin, and pays some serious attention to the (mostly) French bottles and glasses on its wine list, but also offers a half dozen taps pouring craft beer and cider, a handful of specialty cocktails, and a can and bottle list to keep everyone happy.
- Olde Bar, Old City
Jose Garces took over the old Bookbinders space and opened a modern bar that knows its history. From the manhattans to the turtle soup, this place serves the kinds of cocktails and food that would’ve made your grandfather feel right at home.
- Oyster House, Center City
The raw bar is solid and the punches will knock you out, but the best thing about this place is that in a city full of whiskey bars, it’s a serious gin joint with the cocktail menu to prove it.
- Oscar’s, Center City ❊
You know what? If you don’t like Oscar’s, we can’t be friends.
- Good Dog Bar, Center City ❊
After bafflingly dropping off the Foobooz 50 Best Bars list in 2015, the Center City mainstay is back where it should be.
- Cantina Los Caballitos, East Passyunk ❊
Also back after a year off the list, this East Passyunk Mexican joint returns on the strength of its margaritas and awesome outdoor space.
- Kraftwork, Fishtown
This is a well-designed bar. From the industrial-strength bar stools to the 24 beers on tap, Kraftwork is built Fishtown strong.
- Grace Tavern, Grad Hospital ★
Perfect for when last call is one burger, one shot and one beer.
- Lloyd, Fishtown ❊
The Fishtown bar is a destination for whiskey drinkers on a budget. Even moreso during the bar’s generous 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. happy hour.
- Bar Hygge, Fairmount ❊
Brewer Tom Baker has a cult following for his never repeated brews. The addition of solid food and solid cocktails makes this the destination bar and restaurant that this neighborhood has been missing.
- Bok Bar, East Passyunk ❊
The DJ captured the vibe exactly: “you are a fairy tale, don’t you want to stay, you are a fairy tale, I hope that you don’t run away.” That’s the feeling you get when you’re at Bok Bar, situated on top of an old school building in deep South Philadelphia. Even with the young and attractive crowd that flocks here, the city itself is the star; from the tightly packed row homes below, the Acme sign winking in the foreground and the growing skylines of University and Center Cities twinkling in the distance. There is something ethereal about this space. The delicate hopes of a resurgent city resting on the broad but battered shoulders of its industrial past. All of that is present at Bok—both the dreams and reality—staring at each other under the stars.
- Bonnie’s Capistrano Bar, East Passyunk ❊
Bonnie’s is a throwback, what with the smoking, the $3 lagers, the $7 happy-hour pitchers. But it’s clearly also a familial haunt for the regulars, young and old alike. And unlike many neighborhood joints, this one has adeptly welcomed the new neighbors without upsetting the old guard.
- Local 44, University City ❊
Better than new, Local 44 is broken in. Comfortable like an old leather baseball glove, this bar just fits with way better food than should be coming out of the tiny kitchen and the always expertly picked beer list.
- Neuf, Bella Vista ❊
Come early or stay late at Joncarl Lachman’s French-North African restaurant in the Italian Market, and you’ll experience the best of this curving bar—those moments when all it takes is a couple olives, some good bread and a cocktail to make you feel truly transported to somewhere other than 9th and Carpenter. Plus, on those nights that Lachman himself is on the floor, you’ll get to see one of the city’s great hosts in action, spreading fun, drinks and happiness wherever he goes.
- Ashton Cigar Bar, Center City ❊
Even if you aren’t a cigar smoker, there are plenty of reasons to like this large, sexy and classy bar which also appeals to drinkers of all stripes. And if you are a cigar smoker, you probably already know all of this.