How to Navigate 15th Street’s Chain Restaurant Row

Guidance based mostly on alcohol.

15th Street in Center City has quite a few fantastic local bars: Good Dog, Jose Pistola’s, McGlinchey’s, Tops. But it’s also become the mecca for chain restaurants1 in Center City: Applebee’s, Fox & Hound, Buca di Beppo, Fado and the clumsily named Max Brenner Chocolate by the Bald Man are in between Walnut and Spruce on 15th, and we might soon be getting more.

A new building meant to house a Cheesecake Factory is “apparently moving forward”. Just south, “luxe steak-and-seafood brand Ocean Prime” is moving into the building at 15th and Sansom. (Also, a Uniqlo would be on the second floor! Let’s start a  movement to get a Joe Fresh.)

There’s not much chatter about the fancy-schmancy steakhouse moving into the old Roy’s spot in the building also occupied by Philadelphia Weekly. But the possibility of a Cheesecake Factory sparked the usual complaints in the Foobooz comments.

These are valid, of course. Restaurants with local owners are usually just better—Tony’s in Mayfair has better pizza than Pizza Hut—offer better service, keep the money in the area and give Philadelphia a unique feel. Nobody wants 15th Street to look like it could be in any city.

But chain restaurants are going to be here, and better a Cheesecake Factory than a CVS or a bank. (Note: There could also be a bank in this building. Oh well!) And what better place for uptight suburbanites to lightly dip their toe in the water of Center City than a chain restaurant! And if we’re going to do that, we might as well put them all in the same place, with convenient access to Suburban Station and the PATCO high-speed line.

The only issue, of course, is the possibility you’ll have to go to one with a friend from out of town. No worries! I’ve concocted a guide to Center City’s chain restaurants. If you’re going to a chain restaurant in Center City, your sole concern should be drinking as much as possible, so I’ve recommended the restaurants solely on their alcohol.

Applebee’s, 215 S. 15th Street
Owner: DineEquity, originally IHOP, which bought Applebee’s in 2007
Number of locations: 2,010
Not-so-randomly selected Yelp review: “Loud rap music was playing at a level that made conversation difficult. When I used the rest room, there was urine all over the toilet seat and floor, although that may have just occurred.”
Additional info: An Applebee’s in Ridley Township recently held a meeting of people openly carrying guns. (The DN’s Stephanie Farr: “One commenter going by the name ‘Leo’ said that he was boycotting the event because it’s at ‘Crapplebee’s.'”)

Like lots of chain restaurants, Applebee’s serves plenty of margaritas. I have to say, Applebee’s margaritas are in my top 500 margaritas I’ve ever had in Philadelphia. But there’s a reason this place is called Crapplebee’s.

Max Brenner Chocolate by the Bald Man, 1500 Walnut Street
Owner: Strauss Group Ltd., an Israeli food conglomerate
Number of locations: 4
Not-so-randomly selected Yelp review: “The atmosphere in this place is like a TGI Fridays run by a megalomaniac.”
Additional info: Did you know Max Brenner’s parent company supports the Israel Defense Forces? There were protests in Australia.

Max Brenner is expensive, yes, but it’s completely out of left field as far as chain restaurants go. A gourmet chocolate bar? Sure! There are lots of alcoholic chocolate drinks here, including the Satisfaction Guaranteed (peanut liqueur, caramel liqueur and milk chocolate) and Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. And, hey, there are only four of these in the United States!

Fadó Irish Pub, 1500 Locust Street
Owner: Fadó Pubs, Inc., “started in 1996 by a small group of Irish and Irish-American entrepreneurs”
Number of locations: 13
Not-so-randomly selected Yelp review: “Rather than tuning into the game, the manager turned the televisions off and suggested that we try socializing with the other patrons! Some nerve! Seeing no one but two drunk couples to my right, this did not seem like a very appealing option.”
Additional info: That Yelp review aside, this is a pleasant enough place to watch soccer in the morning. They put on the Man City games for us back when they weren’t very good.

Complex’s recent list of the 25 douchiest bars in Philadelphia somehow left out Fadó; at night this place turns into a complete mess. I’d avoid this place at night, but, hey: The beer and whiskey selection is expansive!

Buca di Beppo, 258 S. 15th Street
Owner: Planet Hollywood, I kid you not
Number of locations: 86
Not-so-randomly selected Yelp review: “If I [were] stoned it would have freaked me out big time.”
Mitigating factors: Tommy Lasorda lists a Buca di Beppo location among his favorite restaurants. He also lists the White House, so take it with a grain of salt.

This place has a big, overpriced wine list you could conceivably get drunk off of while scarfing down portions of lasagna more fit for Garfield. If you’re carb-loading here, remember that you should be doing so two nights before the race.

Fox & Hound, 1501 Spruce Street
Owner: Fox and Hound Restaurant Group, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas
Number of locations: 81
Not-so-randomly selected Yelp review: “I walked by here twice and it just looks like a place you wanna try out so I went in and saw a guacamole burger and decided to add it to my burger tour not only breaking my no chain restaurant rule but also breaking my one burger a week rule because I had already reviewed two so far this week.”
Mitigating factors: My buddy Dave once saw Rasheed Wallace here.

Hey, this bar did make Complex’s douchiest bars list! While there is no better place to watch sports than my couch, the No. 23 douchiest bar does have approximately 45,000 televisions. (Though Locust Rendezvous, just down the street, is a better sports bar.) The beer draft list is awful, but this place does have a decent bottled beer selection.

1 For the purposes of this article, “chain restaurant” is defined as “midpriced casual dining restaurant with central management serving alcohol.” Applebee’s and its ilk. Fast food places (e.g., Wendy’s) and fine dining restaurants (e.g., Morton’s) don’t count. You know it when you see it. Return to post.