All photos by Michael Alan Goldberg. Above, Dirty Franks
This week, the city of Philadelphia finds itself under siege, as droves of Democratic National Convention attendees, journalists, protesters, and plain-ole gawkers file into town to have their voices heard and their votes counted. Some 50,000 Dems and delegates will pile into the Wells Fargo and Philadelphia Convention Centers, filling some 80,000 hotel rooms. And if it's anything at all like the Republican convention held last week in Cleveland, it'll likely be a giant shit-show.
If the first night of the convention is any indication, it's certainly headed that way. Hot on the heels of the Wikileaks DNC email debacle and the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz, angry #BernieorBust Bros are out protesting about what they believe was a rigged primary. Some were so pipin' mad they booed Elizabeth Warren from the floor of the convention last night, suggesting that the culture of the infamous Philly Boo has already infected their blood.
Meanwhile, Trump is stoking the political fire 140 characters at a time via Twitter, the heat is adding to the heat, and the media has already begun to complain about the convention's logistics—bad WiFi, media tents with shit air conditioning, and punishing walks to and from Wells Fargo.
In short, all of Philly needs a drink right now. And so, using a little help from some in-the-know locals, I've put this handy guide together about where to do just that. Below is a centrally located collection of tried and true Philly bar spots (a topic I happen to know a fair amount about) that convention-goers may find themselves nearby. You'll find local haunts that serve up great (and, as is the Philly way, cheap) drinks, so DNCers and the people who have showed up to shout abuse at them can cool off for a bit.
For people new to Philly and in for the DNC hoping to get a taste of what the city can offer, Michael Klein, a restaurant columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer who also produces the food section of Philly.com says, "We still like our dive bars, despite the so-called craft cocktail bars with their $15 drinks. I'd recommend what I call the 'Locusts.'" He's referring, of course, to old standbys Locust Bar and Locust Rendezvous. The former is a dive located next to Jefferson Hospital (just a stone's throw from the convention center), which features dirt cheap drinks and "amazing food from a soul-food cook who makes a mean wing." Locust Rendezvous, a timeworn tap on Locust Street across from the Academy of Music known as the "Vous," makes a mean Reuben, he says, and (if you're feeling truly ambitious) often has weird shot specials for next to nothing. Both feature a diverse crowd of hardscrabble Philly characters who will bend your ear and teach you a thing or two about the city.
McGillin's Old Ale House
The beer at McGillin's has been flowing since 1860, 11 years before the first brick was even laid at city hall, which is just a short walk away. It just celebrated its 155th birthday in 2015 and is the oldest continuously operating bar in Philly. When it first opened its doors way back when, it was called the Bell in Hand, and newspaper articles about the place's long, long history dot the walls of this mammoth hall, which has a couple floors and packs 'em in on both. (Original owner William McGillin used to live upstairs with his wife and 13 children). MiGillin's survived prohibition, the place happily tells you, so it should should have no problem handling the thousands of Dems disillusioned with the process at this week's DNC, who will no doubt swarm this joint for its generous weekday food and drink specials. MSNBC's Morning Joe is broadcasting from there each morning during the convention, and it has already had some Big Time Pennsylvania Pols on set. Both Anderson Cooper and George Stephanopoulos have been spotted at the 12th Street Gym nearby, so there's a chance they may end up at McGillin's at some point, too, when and if things get so crazy that they decide cheap beer makes for better medicine this week than the treadmill.
Oscar's Tavern. Photo by Michael Alan Goldberg
"The best thing about Philly's drinking culture is its dive bars," says born-and-bred Philadelphian Molly Eichel, an assistant features editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The best way to learn about a neighborhood is to go into a corner bar and start talking to locals. You immediately get a feel for how different each part of the city is based on those who sit on barstools for much of the night (and potentially day)."
To that point, Eichel recommends Center City titans Oscar's Tavern and McGlinchey's, both of which remain unchanged despite rapid growth all around them. A few notes about both: Oscar's has great, friendly service. McGlinchey's (almost proudly) does not. You can still smoke in McGlinchey's, but not in Oscar's. Both serve cheap food, and Oscar's is home to the famous 23-ounce "lager" (how they order beer in Philly), which will cost you under $4 and goes down a bit too easily. Oscar's also proudly serves a 23-ounce Long Island Iced Tea that will have you seeing double about midway down, but you'll finish it anyway. McGlinchey's, quite famously, has tiny/wet/horrific bathrooms, which is somehow part of its charm.
"If you walk into a Center City dive," says Eichel, "you get to see the wide range of Philly's population sitting at one bar, and it's why I love Philadelphia."
Ray's Happy Birthday Bar. Photo by Michael Alan Goldberg
Ray's Happy Birthday Bar and Friendly Lounge
Chances are if you're visiting Philly for an extended period of time (like, say, for the DNC), you'll eventually find yourself at the Pat's and Geno's cheesesteak nexus on East Passyunk in South Philly—Democrats choose Pats, btw. Just a block north is one of the best dive bars in the city, Ray's Happy Birthday Bar. The place opens at seven in the morning, and yes, people actually show up when the doors are unlocked. A popular saying here is, "You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning." Smoking is permitted here, too.
As for Friendly Lounge just up the block, brothers Dominick and Marco took it over in 1971 when their mother died. For a short time, they brought back the go-go dancers who once made the place a hot spot. They abandoned that not long after, but a pin-up photo behind the bar is a quiet nod to yesteryear. Friendly famously has one of the best jukeboxes in the city, and a big-time singalong is prone to break out at any given moment if there are enough people in the place.
Bob and Barbara's
You'd be hard pressed to find more Pabst Blue Ribbon memorabilia gathered in one place than at Bob and Barbara's, whose walls and shelves act as an unofficial PBR museum. The old PBR ads, posters, bottles, and cans are an interesting snapshot of the brand before its hipster highjacking, preserving a time when a can of the brew was more of a working-class reward. Bob and Barbara's famously invented what's now called the "citywide special"—a shot of bottom shelf whiskey and a PBR for a low, low price. Lots of good music is played here, both live and on the juke, and the bar often features other cool events like drunken spelling bees and drag shows. Worth a drop by for the stuff on the walls alone.
Dirty Franks is a legendary dive in the heart of Center City. It has no sign, but instead features a mural of famous Franks—Zappa, -enstein, old Philly mayor and noted racist Frank Rizzo, old blue eyes and noted racist Frank Sinatra—on both of its outside corner walls. Inside the bar is a crazy mix of artists, journalists, and everything in between—"aspiring writers, starving artists, the political, apolitical and the apoplectic, drunkards and recovering drunkards, the bright and the dim, those who want to root for or jeer the home team, comics and fancies, musicians and dancers, the reserved and the verbose," as its own website puts it. The "citywide special" here has its own twist, a pony of either High Life or Rolling Rock and a kamikaze shot. This place is a sanctuary.
Of course, not everyone loves dives, even if they are a true window into the soul of Philly. With that in mind, Eichel recommends a few rooftop views at Skygarten, XIX, and "wonky politics aside," the Bok Bar (formerly Le Bok Fin).
Erica Palan, a Philly native and (deep breath) senior editor of audience development and social media at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, recommends Bank and Bourbon, the bar at the Loews hotel on Market Street. "They make one of my favorite Manhattans in the city," she says. "Their extensive whiskey list is killer." She also recommends a quick jaunt to Chinatown just four short blocks away for soup dumplings at Dim Sum Garden or beef pho at Pho Cali, "both places where you're likely to run into journalists."
Be cool, Philly. Be. Cool.
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