Philadelphia has history, world-class museums and theaters, a phenomenal music scene, shopping districts to satisfy every style, and celebrated restaurants. The city has also emerged as one of the leading food cities in the country—shining at the 2017 James Beard Awards by taking three of the top honors—and it’s getting better all the time.The city’s bar scene completes Philadelphia’s abundance of riches. From the legendary Citywide Special (a cheap shot and a beer) to classic cocktails crafted in Center City lounges, libations flow in every neighborhood of the City of Brotherly Love.
South Philly still retains much of its Italian immigrant flavor. Along East Passyunk Avenue (the locals pronounce it “Pashyunk”) a new crop of bars and restaurants is sprinkled between old shops where you can get custom clothing alterations or your sofa reupholstered.
Start at the far end of Passyunk at Pistola’s Del Sur, a Mexican restaurant with a diverse tequila and mezcal list. Try The Stitch, a smoky/tart cocktail with mezcal, Campari, grapefruit shrub, agave, and bitters. Or, dare to drink the spicy El Diablo Margarita made with serrano pepper and cilantro.Stroll across the street and up a block to Stogie Joe’s Tavern with its Cheers-like atmosphere, for weekly beer bucket specials—five craft beers in an ice-cold bucket—or choose a local beer from the rotating drafts. Make sure there’s cash in your wallet for this corner bar.
Head another block or so to Barcelona Wine Bar and choose from 40 wines by the glass. In the summer, grab a table on the large outside patio and enjoy tapas with a glass of Spanish albariño or Portuguese vinho verde.
Cross the street and head to The Bottle Shop, a craft beer and wine takeout store where you can drink what you buy. There’s no table service, but you can pay at the register and grab a table to enjoy one of their 500+ beers by the bottle or can, six beers on tap, or a bottle of wine with food that you bring yourself.Vegans and vegetarians appreciate Triangle Tavern, where they can enjoy about half of the menu’s offerings with a variety of bottled or draft beers, draft wine, classic cocktails or their signature adult water ice, a boozy take on the South Philadelphia frozen treat.
Finally, walk the few blocks to an 80-year-old gem, Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar. If it happens to be your birthday, you’ll get a free shot, be serenaded by everyone at the bar, and have your photo posted on Facebook. The bar, one of the few left in the city where you can still smoke a cigarette inside, opens at 7 a.m.; the barstools are often filled by 7:10 by regulars, but newcomers are always welcome.
The very walkable Center City is Philly’s downtown area. It starts at historic Old City with its cobblestone streets, and continues through Midtown and Rittenhouse Square, ending at the Schuylkill River. It’ll be tough not to stop every few steps to take in some history.Start with your choice of more than 120 wines by the glass at Old City’s Panorama Wine Bar in the Penn’s View Hotel. The bar holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest Cruvinet (a wine preservation system that holds 120 open bottles). Panorama’s wine flight menu is impressive, with 28 expertly curated flights from around the world. Consider going local, though, with the Freedom Flight – PA Wine Revolution with five wines from the local Penns Woods Winery.
Walk a few blocks to Khyber Pass Pub, where the back bar was crafted by German woodworkers and used in the 1876 Centennial Celebration. The pub is known for its 22 rotating beer taps and plenty of craft bottles, as well as its selection of whiskey and Scotch. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to order the smoky-sweet, fresh popped, bacon grease popcorn to accompany it.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest continuously operating tavern in the city, is continuously crowded, but there’s always room for a few more at this historic, two-story bar. There are 30 beers on tap, many of them local. If you’re lucky, you’ll be served by John Doyle, a Philadelphia icon who’s been tending bar at McGillan’s for upwards of 40 years. Make sure to fill out a free McGillan’s postcard, give it to your server or bartender, and they’ll mail it for you.Graffiti Bar is both an outdoor bar and a modern-day speakeasy. Open all-year long, it relies on plenty of heat lamps in the colder weather. An open secret, look for a neon sign that says Graffiti Bar that points to an alley next to Sampan on 13th Street in Midtown. Share a Scorpion Bowl cocktail, served in a fish bowl made with your choice of tequila, vodka or whiskey.
Finish in Rittenhouse Square with a cocktail at The Dandelion. With a bar downstairs, a bar upstairs, and a cozy seating area with a fireplace on the floor in between, this British pub by James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Star serves classic and seasonal cocktails. Try the English pub’s Pimm’s Deluxe made with Pimm’s, locally distilled Bluecoat gin, lemon, and cucumber.
Northern Liberties/Fishtown/KensingtonYou’ll need a car to hit the diversity of first-rate places to drink in the stretch of neighborhoods that run north along the Delaware River.
Start in Northern Liberties, just north of Center City, where Urban Village Brewing Company offers a true taste of Pennsylvania libations. The brewpub serves its own beers, of course, but its bar menu also includes local wines (and only local wines) plus cocktails made exclusively with spirits distilled in the state.Move on to Standard Tap, a neighborhood bar that some consider America’s first gastropub. All beer is on tap, and it’s almost exclusively local. The menu is created to complement the beer. You can’t go wrong with the burger.
From Northern Liberties, head north to Fishtown and stop at Kensington Quarters, where beverage manager Tim Kweeder has created one of the city’s most respected drink menus. The well-crafted seasonally changing cocktails, eight taps dedicated strictly to local beer, and six wines on tap are joined by bottles of wine focused on smaller winegrowers who farm organically, sustainably, and biodynamically.
Keep heading north until you hit Kensington, and stop at the cozy Peacock Room inside Philadelphia Brewing Co. to enjoy the beer or Commonwealth Cider made right on the premises. Try the Prosecco-like traditional dry cider by the fireplace in the colder weather or outside at the picnic-y square across the street.Next, make your way to Martha, a neighborhood bar that’s dedicated to all things fermented and pickled. Local food and drink is paramount at Martha. This truly weird and unique place offers an enormous selection of beer, wine, and spirits from around the region. The Martha Mule is made with Keystone vodka and a jalapeño/lime/ginger cordial for extra kick.
The Manayunk neighborhood is named for a Native American word that literally means “where we go to drink.” This hilly section of the city, along the Schuylkill River, lives up to its name—especially along Main Street.Start at The Goat’s Beard, a restaurant and bar dedicated to domestic wines and locally sourced beer. (Have you picked up by now that local is significant in Philly?) But where the bar really shines is with its whiskey menu with more than 75 brown spirits. Have one on the rocks and then head up the hill to your next destination.
Right up the block is SOMO, with a calm vibe, pop culture-named cocktails (a Rusty Griswold, anyone?) and a menu of “saki-tails.” Try the Lychee-tini with nigori sake and lychee juice.End the crawl just a little farther up the hill at Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar, a standard in Manayunk for more than 30 years. Order a brick oven pizza, choose a bottle of wine to share, and grab a seat by the large French windows. The view of Main Street provides optimum people watching as you rest up from your day of bar crawling through Philadelphia.