We’re at the six-month mark of this Philly jawnt, and I still find myself intrigued and energized. The city’s distinct and diverse neighborhoods offer varied sights and experiences from block to block. For a completionist like yours truly, the sundry little worlds of Philadelphia motivate me to run through as much of the town as possible, every day. This includes Philly’s endless list of dive and dive-ish bars, which seem to soak up the energy and color of their respective neighborhoods and serve it back to you in manageable portions of chatter and beer (my previous Philly tours here and here). Before spring came and made drinking a fun, social experience, I wanted to get a bit more icy evening barhopping in. So, I hit four spots from deep South Philly to the heart of the city. Let’s get to it.
Grumpy’s. Tucked into a warren of tightly packed rowhouses that evoke community and claustrophobia, Grumpy’s Bar is the real deal. Like, time-warp-your-ass-into-1973-South Philly real deal. Big cigars, an indestructible pool table, and out of market NHL games hit you in the face as you sidle up to well-worn bar. Not surprisingly, Grumpy’s has been a South Philly staple since the 60s, with entire generations growing up at the place. Cash on the bar for Labatt’s (always a treat) and PBR in a chilled glass, which tastes like manna when sipped with cigarette smoke. Grumpy’s is pure nostalgia, a rollicking, colorful, and hazy testament to a brass-tacks neighborhood. My words can’t quite convey Grumpy’s unique vibe, so I’d encourage you to experience it for yourself and hunt for Grumpy’s beacon-like sign. It’s a bit of a metaphor for the city: smokey and intimidating at first, but worth the effort to get to know it.
Good Dog Bar. I visited the Good Dog during the height of pre-Super Bowl mania (sorry Birds), and the place was electric with returning Philly transplants anxious to experience the energy. The Good Dog Bar is well positioned in Center City, a fun area that does lack a bit in non-showy, relaxed bars. A long line of black and white dog pictures runs down the back of the oaky bar, lending barrels of cuteness to the otherwise demure place. Beer selection was very impressive and the bartenders were solid Philly stock, handing out fast citywides with a nod. If you’re looking for a brief escape from urban commerce, glitz, and energy, the Good Dog is a relaxing refuge.
Locust Rendezvous. Similar to its neighbor the Good Dog, Rendezvous–a no frills sports bar–seems a little out of place downtown. There’s no glitz or mystery to this spot – if you want cheap alcohol, good company, and an unrelenting barrage of sportsball, you can’t do much better than Rendezvous. Customers parted ways not with a goodbye, but with “Go Birds.” I also enjoyed the decor including a little front alcove plastered with antique beer signs and a TV that plays monster movies. It felt right. Food was surprisingly solid if you like chicken fingers and fries with your whiskey, which I do. I leaned against the wall at an unhealthy angle and lost an hour watching college hoops. Can’t ask for much more in life.
Paddy’s Old City Pub. Old City is a great little borough with a non-stop buffet of colonial-era sites, high-end brownstones, and design shops. Not many bars though! So, Paddy’s bright, neon-front is a welcome sight when dodging tourists and reading a hundred historic plaques on Ben Franklin. Paddy’s hosts lots of travelers and college kids looking for that wacky “Always Sunny” vibe. The decor is up-front, tons of liquor bottles, T-shirts, and Philly memorabilia. I watched a 76ers game and observed a Drexel student down three shots in 10 minutes. Go Dragons!