Let Us Now Praise Philly Dive Bars

A photographic ode to nine classic watering holes.

It seems like every weekend there’s a new craft-beer bar opening in the spot where some smoky old watering hole used to be, or a freshly buffed-up pub transforming a neglected neighborhood corner. The trend is emblematic of a larger — and largely positive — transformation in which gritty, faded, forgotten Old Philly is being reincarnated into bright and sprightly New Philly. Fair enough. But change — even good change — has always made Philadelphians dig our heels in and cling just a little harder to the unchanging. Who can blame us? Last year brought the probable end of Little Pete’s and the inauspicious opening of a Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes Old Philly should win. Which is why it’s time now to pay tribute to some of the stalwarts. The holdouts that have evaded the reign of the $20 bar burger. Those scrappy, dark taprooms where no barkeep has ever worn a bowtie, where nobody asks for extra bitters, where you can show up at 12 noon or 12 midnight and enjoy the High Life (or a Citywide Special). We spotlight the bars we passionately hope never get remade into coolly polished pubs. Because change is good, and so is craft beer, but nothing replaces the timeless draw of the dive.

Photography by Gene Smirnov

Tattooed Mom

530 South Street
Established 1997


259 South 15th Street
Established 1937

Donna’s Bar

2732 East Allegheny Avenue
Established 1981


229 South 45th Street
Established 2001

Bob and Barbara’s

1509 South Street
Established 1968

Atlantis: The Lost Bar

2442 Frankford Avenue
Established 2004


2201 Lombard Street
Established 1976

Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar

1200 East Passyunk Avenue
Established 1938

Dirty Frank’s

347 South 13th Street
Established 1933

Published as “Let Us Now Praise Philly Dive Bars” in the February 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.