Where Bartenders Drink in Philadelphia
No one knows a city's bars like the talented men and women who work behind them. So we're going straight to the source, asking bartenders about their own favorite drinking establishments.
Philadelphia may get overshadowed by certain bigger cities to its north, but it's got a thriving drinks scene, with high-end cocktail bars, excellent beer destinations, and endlessly awesome dive bars for a different sort of experience.
Here are their recommendations. Where do you drink in Philadelphia?
Phoebe Esmon of Emmanuelle
Where do you love to drink in Philadelphia?
In our neighborhood, our go-to is Loco Pez for tacos and tequila or the 700 Club. In Old City, we tend to frequent the Khyber, and Fork is always very good. In Center City, we like Petruce, The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co, VernickVernick and Tequilas. In South Philly, Southwark is a favorite.
Where do you get a serious cocktail?
Everyone knows that The Franklin is a great place for creative and innovative cocktails. Tequilas is also a great place: there's a new cocktail on their list called 'Mi Chelada Ahumada', which is jalapeño-infused Siembra Azul blanco, lime, cane syrup, and Berber Vienna Beer, served on rocks in a bibiscus salt-rimmed glass. I think about that one even when I'm not there.
Oscar's, between 15th and 16th on Sansom Street, is my favorite dive in Philly.
Maria Polise of Ela
Where do you get a serious cocktail in Philadelphia?
The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company. Some of the most knowledgeable bartenders in the city work there and they have products that most other bars don't carry. I usually pick something with ingredients with which I'm unfamiliar and try to learn something. For beer I go to the Khyber Pass Pub and sit with Johnny Medlinsky. If there's something you want to know about beer, he has your answer.
Where do you go for local characters and history?
Southwark is my Cheers. It's a great mix of neighborhood and industry folks. Late night, the bar is often in one big conversation.
Monday nights at Standard Tap are a favorite of mine. Max of the local band Black Landlord presides. He's friendly, entertaining, and always has great music playing. Plus, they serve a full menu until 1 a.m.
Steve Wildy of the Vetri Family Restaurants
Serious cocktail pick:
The cocktail scene has blown up in Philly over the last few years, which means there are at least 10 to 20 spots making serious, world-class drinks. Service is typically great at all these spots but I have to say that Hop Sing Laundromat sets itself apart for me, especially when I'm in the mood for a splash of theater alongside my Negroni.
I'm a sucker for any drink that makes me think about its ingredients in a novel way, and a lot of the times at Hop Sing it's a "less is more" approach. The Henry "Box" Brown cocktail is just aged rum (Don Q Gran Anejo) with fresh pressed red grape juice. Just two really good ingredients that seem underused in general, and combined together they meld beautifully into a slightly sweet, slightly tannic, serious yet thirst-quenching drink. Some other favorites include: Emmanuelle, Vernick, The Franklin, and the Ranstead Room.
I'm happy with a beer almost anywhere in Philly, as I think our bar scene has the country's best beer lists, but you'll find me at Memphis Taproom a lot. It's down the block from our house, serves great veggie dishes, has some real characters on both sides of the bar, and possibly the city's absolute best beer selection. Whether it's rare vintage lambic, super fresh local IPA, or any one of their exclusive collaboration brews, I'm happy to have it in my hand when I'm here. Other favorites include: José Pistola's, Monk's, Kraftwork, Strangelove's, Tria Taproom.
My neighborhood is in need of a good wine bar, so until Marc Vetri lets me open one I'm happy to trek to Center City to visit Tria, which was probably a bi-weekly stop for my wife and I through our early, carefree years living off Rittenhouse Square. Serious, yet approachable, with a hyper-educated staff and a penchant for things you won't see on every list in the city. I'll always cherish the education I got while tasting as many different glasses of wine as possible next to another of my great loves: good cheese.
Stephen Menei of Liberte Lounge
Southwark on S. 4th Street. is a classic place for serious cocktails. You won't find fresh-cracked quail eggs or shaved tree bark in these drinks; they only make classics. Don't be afraid to ask the staff to dig into their expansive repertoire—they'll be happy to show you an experience you won't forget, all with a smile. These bartenders are some of the nicest in the city.
Beer or wine:
A great place to go for beer is Kraftwork in Fishtown. 24 rotating taps from all over the world but specializing in American craft beers. This is an industry favorite as they have a late-night happy hour from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday to Thursday. The happy hour features 12 select draft beers at half price.
There are some incredible hidden gems. Like Black Sheep in Center City. This houses one of the rarest Irish whiskey collections in the city, which is a feat unto itself. However, you'll be pleasantly surprised that a serving will not make your pockets light. Irish-owned, this bar gives you the authentic liquid at an extremely rare price that's on par with what you'd pay in the store (if you could ever find half of what is on the back bar).
Vincent Stipo of Vernick Food & Drink
Favorite serious cocktail bar:
When I need a serious cocktail, Franklin Mortgage & Investment is my spot. It's in the neighborhood, and also happens to be one of the best cocktail bars in the country. They never fail to impress, technique and quality are always spot on, and oh, by the way, they have no problem pouring you a shot of Old Grandad Bonded to help you relax after a long day behind the stick.
The Bard's. A little Irish pub on our block modestly serving good brews, and one of the better Guinness pours in town. Mike Coll is the quintessential barman, anticipating what you need, and always there to lend an ear. And I think he'll let you win a game of darts here and there if he knows you need the boost.
Tiny third-floor spot inside an old, but still operating theater. Quig's is open 'til 3 a.m. and it's a members only spot. It is comprised of industry professionals and working actors just looking for a solid bartender and good company. Their special is unbeatable: can of PBR and a shot of whiskey, $4.
Keith Raimondi of Townsend
Where do you love to drink in Philadelphia?
I love to go see George over at Petruce, and also enjoy getting cocktails at 1 Tippling Place. Miles and Dan do a great job over there and the owner Anne is awesome. With George, I get a Gibson. He has a friend that pickles onions and they are perfect.
Beer or wine:
Tria is always awesome for both. You an get a lot of really great wines by the glass that change often. Lauren Harris at Townsend really delivers on her wines and the passion behind her choices is infectious. Tim Kweeder at Petruce has some of the most interesting and funky natural wines you can find.
Beer-wise, we are fortunate to live in a great city; it's hard not to find great beer around. I like Devil's Den and Alla Spina, really beer-focused spots that do a lot of interesting stuff in bottles and draft.
Favorite dive bar:
I don't generally have a "dive bar" because I always think that sounds terrible for the place. That being said, I always make terrible decisions at the Green Room—it's right by my house and has handsome pours of whiskey. No frills, and a lot of my friends are there; I always wake up in monster regret!
David Tang of Continental Restaurant & Martini Bar
Where do you drink in Philadelphia?
If I want to impress a date I would go to Ela, if I'm going to meet some friends from out of town then we will go visit the The Good King Tavern and if I'm looking for a place to relax or catch the Phills game then the New Wave.
You have to visit us during Philadelphia Beer Week. It's when all the beer nerds from all of America come visit for a week and geek out while getting drunk on their own beer. Heading South on Passayunk, I would visit Garage and hit up their wide canned beer selection. When it is nice out, Frankford Hall is hard to avoid with their beer garden and German beer selection.
It is hard not to enjoy a Philly Special at Bob and Barbara's on a Friday night. Oscar's is a good place to go to avoid the mainstream crowds in Center City. You will find the pulse of this blue-collared city at this 'dive bar.'
Don Galvano of Pub & Kitchen
Serious cocktail spot:
I really like Zahav. Although the bar is small they always make an awesome drink. One of my favorite cocktails is the Desert Rose, it's amazing.
Beer and wine:
I enjoy stopping by my local bar Grace Tavern for a beer. It's right around the corner from my house and they always have a well balanced list of beers to choose from. For wine, I like Le Chéri. They have an awesome selection of wines by the bottle that are very moderately priced. I can't wait to go in when the weather is nice to sit on the back patio with some rosé.
Scenery with your drink?
My favorite place for scenery is Parc. You are sure to have good food, drink and people watching as you look out onto Rittenhouse Square.
I love McGillin's Olde Ale House; the building has so much character. It just feels like a place that you should drink at.
Derek Abrams of Stratus Rooftop Lounge at Hotel Monaco
Favorite Philly bar:
My favorite bar would be a.bar in Rittenhouse Square. They have a great raw bar, and I normally drink a Bulleit Rye Manhattan made with Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth. Michael the lead bartender handcrafts some great cocktails there.
Beer and wine:
Beer and wine spot is Parc. I love to sit outside and have a charcuterie board with a nice glass of white wine. It's right on Rittenhouse Square, and it makes for awesome people watching.
Dive bar pick:
Favorite dive is without a doubt Drinker's Pub. Every now and again you need to unwind and have a few Jamesons and wash them down with a PBR pounder.
Terence Lewis of Lolita, Barbuzzo, Jamonera and Little Nonna's
Favorite cocktail bars:
Vernick is one of the city's best kitchens but they really have a nice craft cocktail program as well. The Good King Tavern is one that's off most peoples radar, but the food is as serious as anywhere else in the city; they have a great Loire dominated wine list. And I've really enjoyed the cocktails.
Where you go for bar games?
The Bards on Walnut has nice craft beers and easily the best place to catch a game of darts. There are always people shooting so I like to stop in when I feel like playing. Michael behind the bar is also one of the better guys in the city.
Gordana Kostovski of Volver
Where do you love to drink in Philadelphia?
I go to Townsend on East Passyunk. The sommelier, Lauren Harris, always has a wonderful wine and beer selection. I never have to decide; she just has it ready for me. They have a Laphroaig 10-year cocktail that is perfect for spring into summer. I don't drink Scotch generally, but was offered a taste of the cocktail recently and I am hooked.
Vernick has a wonderful cocktail program. They have a wonderful tequila drink called Blue Heat. True to the tequila but with some definite heat. Dangerously delicious.
I really enjoy Fountain Porter for beer. They have a wonderful range of beer including seasonal offerings. Their fries are always amazing.
Everyone needs one. I am quite fond of Doobies.