Top Shelf: Trendy
123 South 18th Street, 215-972-8742; also at 1137 Spruce Street, 215-629-9200; triacafe.com
This friendly, narrow space, with its joyfully random iTunes soundtrack, used to be an ice-cream shop. That was what the neighborhood craved. But the frequent traffic jam at Tria’s door (and at its second lively location in a former laundromat near Washington Square) is delicious evidence of Center City’s expanding tastes (and disposable incomes). Albarino, grüner veltliner, valpolicella: Tria’s informative, irreverent menu has made these obscure grapes — and artisan beers — approachable and modern, while taking the snobbishness out of oversize wine glasses.
Pub on Passyunk East (a.k.a. “Pope”)
1501 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-755-5125
If you’re immediately (or even mildly) offended by the nickname of this corner bar, you probably don’t belong here. Pope peddles $4 microbrew pints to the first wave of South Philly gentrifiers, a group that would shun any sort of gentrification classification but, for the most part, didn’t grow up around the corner. (See their precisely worn-in Vans, post-punk eye shadow and carefully untended beards for confirmation.) Why do these youthful patrons — in former years dubbed “hipsters” — come to this dimly lit joint, with shiny black stools in front and mismatched café tables in back? Well, they like good, cheap beer (Blue Point No Apologies, Mannequin’s Piss and Victory Prima Pils). They want to listen to their friends in the bands with albums on the jukebox. They could be hungry. But, for the most part, they live nearby, and are lazy (yours truly included).
205 South 18th Street, 215-732-6622
The granddaddy of Rittenhouse Square boîtes is filled with grandaddies. Rich grandaddies! (At least, they say they’re rich.) There are also porn stars (okay, possible porn stars), trophy wives (or wannabe trophy wives) and suave divorcés … or dudes who pretend to be divorced. You get the idea. The point is, it seems like everyone at Rouge is in character. Like they’re all participating in some hilariously fun, quasi-disturbing show, Cirque du Soliel without the acrobatics. And it’s like that all the time. How is this possible? It’s partly that the open windows and can’t-avoid-walking-through-it sidewalk seating draw in an exhibitionist clientele. But it’s also the tiny space itself — just by being there, you become part of the cast.
2 Logan Square, 215-587-9040, publichousephilly.com
Public House is absolutely nothing like the ye-olde-English public houses it was named for. Vast and shiny, with American flags everywhere, it’s completely, almost defiantly characterless, like it was airlifted from a mall in San Antonio and plopped down at 18th and Arch. That said, in the 21st century, bars like this are necessary — in fact, when Public House opened in 2005, we who lived in Center City were grateful: Finally, a place for young professionals (and tons of lawyers) to go and stop clogging up the rest of the bars. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but eventually, like a nation under longtime colonial rule, Center City dwellers came to live in relative peace alongside the strange invaders. We’ve even grown to appreciate some of their customs. After all, it’s sometimes nice to have a beer and a burger in a place where the air-conditioning works and you know the chef washes his hands.