The 50 Best Bars in Philadelphia
The era of the stuffy bar is finally coming to an end, and the pendulum is swinging back the other way: to bars that are easier, breezier and, honestly, just plain enjoyable.
Smart, boozy, but way less stodgy
Preserved graffiti, potted ferns, lovely views, a small-plates menu, and a cocktail program that leans heavily on smartly reconsidered classics, all in a single new addition to the Bok Building. 1901 South 9th Street, East Passyunk.
The former Root went through a transformation recently, from a full-fledged wine bar to a full-fledged cocktail bar (and a new name). Seasonally changing menus by barman Aaron Deary, tasty snacks from the kitchen, and a quiet, grown-up atmosphere push it straight to the top of the city’s best cocktail joints. 1206 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown.
Hop Sing Laundromat
Always divisive, Hop Sing lives on its reputation almost as much as it does on its deep stock of liquor. But through serious research, alchemy, and a freakish talent for flavor combinations, owner Lê and his crew have created some of the best cocktails in the entire city behind their unmarked door. 1029 Race Street, Chinatown.
Nick Elmi thinks poached new potatoes and anchovies should be happy- hour snacks; that caviar service is a perfectly reasonable thing for a neighborhood bar to offer; and that a cocktail doesn’t need annoying ingredients to be great. 1615 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.
The Ranstead Room has always had the vibe of a place that survived Prohibition by buying off the G-men with hookers and Cuban rum, got redecorated once in 1968, then operated in near-silence for 45 years before being taken over by refugee bartenders who love bitters and Cynar. 2013 Ranstead Street, Center City.
The Rip’s staff takes great pride in their cocktail craftsmanship. And thank God they do, because without them, Ardmore would still be thirsting for a place that can shake up a decent daiquiri, let alone a great one. 29 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore.
Where the Neighbors Go
Watering holes for locals who know
Bright, weird, cluttered, occasionally sticky — the place looks like a craft store exploded inside, but it’s full of cool people, great beer, fun food, and unusual cocktails that all defy logical description. 530 South Street, Queen Village.
Teresa’s Next Door
Twenty-eight taps with interesting brews, a curated wine list (and shop!), lots of whiskeys, and tenders who know the difference between mixing with Schweppes and Fever-Tree — add it all up (it’s a really comfortable place to drink, too) and you get a 2018 James Beard semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program. That Teresa’s didn’t win was a crime. 126 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne.
Like a church where beer nerds worship, Monk’s is a love letter to Belgian beers, mussels and frites, potato salad and pub culture. 264 South 16th Street, Rittenhouse.
When you’re dreaming about a perfect neighborhood bar, Fountain Porter is what you’re imagining. The prices are cheap, the staff is friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and the $5 burger is one of the best in the city. 1601 South 10th Street, East Passyunk.
Pickering Creek Inn
It’s a town stalwart, but one with great craft beer, live music, solid wings, half-price drafts at happy hour, and $2.50 Yuenglings during the weekly “Karaoke Shitshow.” 37 East Bridge Street, Phoenixville.
After 15 years, JB’s has become an iconic part of the Philly scene. What’s remarkable is that a place that’s already a triple threat (live music, local beer on tap, and a menu better than anyone has a right to expect) keeps improving, year after year. 1201 North Frankford Avenue, Fishtown.
Tavern on Camac
It’s good to have a place like Tavern on Camac in your pocket. It draws a big, loud, fun crowd; pours the drinks strong; and shakes the dust from the rafters with show tunes, Broadway standards and pop hits. There’s also dancing upstairs, for those after a more raucous night. 243 South Camac Street, Midtown Village.
Good Dog Bar
After a thorough renovation last year, Good Dog brought on a new chef, installed a new menu (that still respects the crowd favorites), and found a new energy. But the bar didn’t forget how to mix a classic, the taps are ever full of local beers, and you can still get the legendary burger stuffed with Roquefort cheese. 224 South 15th Street, Center City.
Blue Comet Bar & Grill
A retro ’60s feel, burgers on the menu, some nice beers on tap. The happy-hour deals are good, they serve $6 martinis all day long, and the house cocktails are all named for classic pop, soul and rock hits from back in the day. 106 South Easton Road, Glenside.
American Sardine Bar
ASB is the kind of place that’s always just there for you. Whatever you need — a couple beers, brunch, a vegan cheesesteak, a friendly bartender, a freaking sardine sandwich, a shot of whiskey with a whiskey chaser — you can find it here. Then there are the dozen-odd taps, the deep can list, the backyard patio … 1800 Federal Street, Point Breeze.
Philly bars aren’t exactly impervious to the pressures of new bar trends. Standard Tap remains unflappable, sticking to what it does best (local, quality products; great service) but never resting on its laurels. 901 North 2nd Street, Northern Liberties.
Not Just Drinking
For singing, dancing and playing
Yes, it has great Ethiopian and Eritrean food. Yes, it has a bar. But on Tuesday nights, Dahlak is also a destination for West Philly karaoke fans looking to get loud. 4708 Baltimore Avenue, University City.
It’s a 12,000-square-foot ping-pong club and bar with a pub menu, scratch-and-sniff wallpaper, a manifesto (something about uniting the world through table tennis), and drinks named the Topspin, the Backspin and the Fishtown Throwdown. Sure, it’s a chain out of New York. But it’s still a fantastic night out. 211 South 15th Street, Center City.
Bob & Barbara’s
This near-legendary city dive bar is also a place for karaoke (Sunday nights), regular Thursday-night drag shows, and live jazz and “liquor-drinkin’ music” on Fridays and Saturdays. 1509 South Street, Grad Hospital.
Go here because the bartender will remember your name. Because the beer is cold and the cocktails are fast. And because there’s an entire locker filled with board games for you and all your friends. 2201 Lombard Street, Fitler Square.
If you (like everyone) like pickles, local booze, kombucha, charcuterie and bocce ball, then you (like everyone) will love Martha. 2113 East York Street, Kensington.
No reservations necessary
On Oloroso’s best days, the bar smells entirely of sherry, giant shrimp and pigs’ heads are scattered everywhere, and everyone’s teeth are stained red from sangria. Nice, right? 1121 Walnut Street, Midtown Village.
Friday Saturday Sunday
Chad and Hanna Williams turned this longtime institution into a New American powerhouse with a fantastic drinking space downstairs. Black-and-white tile, a marble bar top, and an ever-changing list of cleverly named and brilliantly mixed cocktails. 261 South 21st Street, Rittenhouse.
The restaurant itself is amazing at all hours of the day. It seems almost unfair that the bar is so good, too — spiking its list with Middle Eastern flavors (za’atar, saffron sugar, orange-blossom water) in a way that could have felt stunt-ish but instead comes off like genius. 1528 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown.
There’s shrimp and grits, blue crab toasts, and fried chicken touched with honey in the dining room; brown liquor at the bar; and live jazz almost every night. For those who need it, it’s a hit of Southern comfort right in the middle of Philly. 600 North Broad Street, Spring Garden.
Palizzi Social Club
If you can get in (it’s members-only), and if you can get a seat at the bar, there are moments here that feel like pure Hollywood magic — like you’re a bit player in some kooky Rat Pack romp. It’s a bar that lives in Technicolor and serves Italian cocktails full of grappa, Galliano, prosecco and over-proof rye. 1408 South 12th Street, East Passyunk.
Dark and loud and crowded and fun. There’s no bar in the city right now better for camping out in on a gray day, drinking Gibsons and eating plates of duck meatballs and rabbit terrine. 52 South 2nd Street, Old City.
Farm & Fisherman Tavern
You wanna drink local in the ’burbs? Josh Lawler has expanded his farm-to-table aspirations and put together bars that are stocked wide and deep with excellent beers, good wines, four different ciders, lots of whiskey, and seasonally inspired lists of cocktails that lean heavy on locally produced spirits. 575 Horsham Road and 1442 Marlton Pike East, Horsham and Cherry Hill.
Good King Tavern
You come here for simple French things done really well: perfect bar food, all the natural wine you could ever dream of, and a focused cocktail list that never quits. 614 South 7th Street, Bella Vista.
Dives and Taverns
A Philly specialty
It is, and will always be, the same windowless, sin-colored bunker with the same cheap beer, the same crowd of regulars, and the same one-and-a-half-cheesesteak deal. 1524 Sansom Street, Center City.
Anyplace that’s survived to 2018 with “Lounge” in its name must have something special going for it. At the Del, it’s the easy bartenders and a crowd that’s just there for the juke, the pool tables, some cheap drinks, and a little conversation. Plus, the back patio is nice when the nights start turning cooler. 304 West Chelten Avenue, Germantown.
You know, just your average everyday chilled-out neighborhood joint with a Pearl Jam theme. 2601 South 17th Street, South Philly.
Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar
Sometimes you just need a friendly place to get a shot and a beer at 7 a.m. 1200 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.
When you use “dive bar” as a term of endearment, Franks is the kind of place you’re talking about. 347 South 13th Street, Midtown Village.
At the Source
Beer, cider and booze — made right in the back
A gorgeous space with windows that look right into the heart of the distilling operation. You can get a tour if you like, or just hang out, drink a couple G&Ts, and have a snack. 25 East Allen Street, Northern Liberties.
Forest & Main
These guys make some amazing beer. They don’t ever repeat themselves, which is rather remarkable. And with a recent expansion into the space next door, they now offer cocktails, live music, room for larger groups, and a short, tight menu of bar snacks and small plates. 55-61 North Main Street, Ambler.
Hale & True
For a long time, these folks were schlepping their cider door-to-door and from event to event. But now, they’ve got their own taproom where they can show off their straight-from-the-orchard PA ciders (plus some local beers and spirits) and a short menu of snacks done in collaboration with Good King Tavern. 613 South 7th Street, Bella Vista.
A psychedelic vibe combined with a straightforward menu, house sours on tap, and lots of choices to-go make this a winner among the locals. 1 North Main Street, Phoenixville.
Neshaminy Creek’s brewpub has limited-run and seasonal beers on tap, along with meads, ciders and brews from other local breweries. The kitchen does a locally sourced farm-to-table menu. And the space is big, bright, comfortable and casual. 208 York Road, Jenkintown.
In its 33 years, the West Philly brewpub has never been anything but wonderful. Tried and true. And now, with its new(ish) cannery and lounge pouring great cocktails and drafts, its whole brand is, somehow, fresh and exciting again. 701 South 50th Street, West Philly.
You know that dream you have about finding some hidden, weird, amazing little secret place down an alley in a neighborhood you don’t usually visit? This is that place — a microbrewery and tiny tasting room doing some of the most fascinating beers you’ll ever try. 1700 North Palethorp Street, Kensington.
Where real fans go on game day
Toll Man Joe’s
Wings, burgers, beers, and sports on the TV: This place (named for Joe “Toll Man” Paul, 2000 Wing Bowl champion) understands that Philadelphians don’t need much more than that when it comes to watching the game with a bunch of friends and strangers. 26 East Oregon Avenue, South Philly.
Dozens of taps, and big flat-screens behind the bar. Plus, the menu reaches beyond the standard wings and fried food to offer tacos, shumai, fish-ball skewers and more — appropriate for the only sports bar in Chinatown. 101 North 11th Street, Chinatown.
Stats on 17th
More than 20 TVs, a projection system, room enough for 450 people, and two bars and a kitchen ready to handle those kinds of crowds. 111 South 17th Street, Rittenhouse.
Union Jack’s Olde Glory Pub
Beer and chicken wings, a TV hanging behind the bar … the big difference here is that the focus is on soccer and rugby matches. 2750 Limekiln Pike, Glenside.
It’s tiny. It’s half-hidden in a space above Abyssinia. But if you’re a serious beer nerd or dedicated whiskey drinker, you already know all about Fiume. 229 South 45th Street, University City.
Whether you’re sipping an Eagle Rare, working your way through a Jack and Wendy (Four Roses, sweet vermouth, lemon and apricot), or throwing down with the house Citywide (the Lloyd — a High Life and a shot of Old Grand-Dad), Lloyd is the place for brown spirits. 529 East Girard Avenue, Fishtown.
The biggest problem with this place is that it’s crowded. The second problem: It ain’t cheap. But if it’s expensive and still drawing a big crowd, imagine what that says about the whiskey selection, cocktails and menu. 118 South 20th Street, Rittenhouse.
The place has a whiskey bible. Looking for something unusual? Go here first. 4201 Main Street, Manayunk.
Published as “Best Bars 2018: Drink Here Now” in the November 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.