New bars open all the time in Philadelphia - some underground mezcal cave or horse-themed beer stable probably just opened around the corner from wherever you’re currently located. But there’s no better place to drink than a classic.
So we compiled a list of our favorites - the places we find ourselves returning to over and again. Some are older than others, but they’re the standbys that we can rely on for a number of different occasions. They are the places that make this city great. In other words: the Greatest Hits.
If you live in Philly, you should drink at them all. If you’re visiting, check out as many as you can. Some spots are cocktail bars, some are dives, others have live music, and then there are a few that fall somewhere in-between. All of them are essential Philadelphia watering holes.
Looking for a restaurant version of the Greatest Hits List? We have that too.
Let’s play a game. We’re going to say a word, and you say the first place that comes to mind. Ready? Speakeasy. If The Ranstead Room isn’t one of the first thoughts that popped into your head, you haven’t lived in Philly long enough. It’s dark, underground (below El Rey in Rittenhouse to be specific), and they make great, strong cocktails. Plus, like pretty much every speakeasy ever, it’s prohibition-themed, with tufted red leather couches and jazz music playing in the background. Order whatever your favorite classic cocktail is, or go for the Bartender’s Choice. Either way, it’ll take a few minutes to make and be one of the best drinks you’ve had in a long time.
It’s hard to imagine that a place could succeed at being both a really cool cocktail bar and a casual, almost divey beer bar, but that’s exactly what Fiume does. This tiny spot above an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly specializes in both rare beers and whiskey, and feels more like you’re drinking in a friend’s apartment where they happen to make some of the best cocktails in the entire city. If that’s still not enough to convince you why this place deserves to be a Greatest Hit, they also have live bluegrass on Thursday nights.
When you think of the perfect first date spot, ITV is probably exactly what you imagine. Candles on all the tables and string lights hung up over the bar? Check. A long list of good wines? Yup. Small, shareable plates that actually taste good? Of course. Unsurprisingly, about 90% of the people here on any given night is staring soul-searchingly into someone else’s eyes. And even if you have plans to go somewhere else after for a one-two punch, it’s more likely that you’ll end up spending the rest of your night here ordering “just one more drink” until close.
Monk’s is the best beer bar in the city, period. People come to Philadelphia from all over the country to drink here and, while that seems a bit dramatic, they do have a pretty great selection of rotating taps and over 200 bottled beers at any time. Plus, not that this list is about food, per se, but their Belgian-leaning menu is better than most other beer bars in the city, and the duck salad sandwich is exactly what you want after a few IPAs.
Here’s the thing about Hop Sing. The guy that works the door - well, he’s kind of an assh*le. And if you’re not wearing the right shoes or you itch your nose with your left hand instead of your right hand, he may just tell you to step out of line and walk away. It’s made us swear off the whole place more than once. But once you get past him, Hop Sing is one of the coolest and most unique bars in Philadelphia. The walls are covered in velvety red wallpaper and there are candelabras on every table that look like they’re about to jump to life a la Beauty And The Beast. Then there are the cocktails, which always have ingredients like Vietnamese coffee and flower-infused gin that seem like they’d make no sense together but, like Andy and April in Parks And Rec, end up creating something weirdly incredible.
McGillin’s is on our Greatest Hits list for one reason - it’s the entire city’s favorite place to day drink. There are rows of long picnic tables, big TVs playing whatever game is currently on, and no matter what time of year it is, you’ll see big groups cheers-ing each other with pints of whatever’s on draft - usually starting at around noon on the weekends. They also have two fireplaces, so it’s especially useful in the winter, when all of the outdoor beer gardens are closed, but you still need a place to drink while there’s daylight left.
Doobie’s Bar is a magical place. At first glance, it looks like any other dive bar in the city, but this cash-only spot in Fitler Square has some sort of weird power that turns any regular night into the kind you’ll be hearing different accounts of for the next month. Maybe it’s because of how perfectly retro it is, or maybe it’s because, like Eric Foreman’s basement in That ’70s Show, it’s the only meeting point that makes sense no matter what kind of night you want to have. Regardless of who you come here with, you’ll either end your night arguing over whether “jilp” is a real word in Scrabble, or standing on a chair loudly singing the words to an AC/DC song from the jukebox.
Assembly is the coolest rooftop bar in Philadelphia. It has pretty much everything you could want from a place where you go to drink outside on top of a building - from good cocktails and a great view of downtown to semi-circle couches that you can throw your belongings across to save seats for friends who may never show up. There’s also an indoor portion of the bar that’s open in the winter, and when it’s warm enough they’ll just turn the fire pits outside on full blast so you can pretend the groundhog either did or did not see its shadow - whichever means the winter is almost over.
Just like how Philadelphia is the birthplace of America and Silicon Valley is the birthplace of the technology that’s stripped us of our last bit of personal privacy, this place is the birthplace of the Citywide. While lots of other bars have replicated it since Bob & Barbara’s invented it in the ’90s, no one does it cheaper (or better) than they do. Also, the live music and Thursday night drag shows make it an objectively fun place to hang out, so that doesn’t hurt either.
Tattooed Mom should really be categorized as a museum - one that just happens to have a bar inside it. The walls, top to bottom, are covered in years of stickers, spray paint, and sharpie, and it would take an exhaustive “I Spy” search to pick out all of the different murals by both famous and local street artists. It’s so quintessentially South Street in the way that pretty much anything goes - whether that’s craft night on Sundays, drinks with cotton candy and pop rocks, or literally just scrawling whatever you want onto their walls without any concern for being thrown out.
You don’t go to Tavern On Camac to start your night. You go to Tavern On Camac when you’ve already been to a couple of bars and are ready to shut it down at a combo piano bar/dance club. This place has been around forever and was originally one of the first gay bars in the area, but now it’s full of everyone from college students scream-singing songs from Mulan to retired couples who want to pretend they’re back in the ’70s.
You may think that the idea of hearing the “Happy Birthday” song more than 10 times in a night sounds annoying, or even unbearable. And in an Applebee’s, Chili’s, or pretty much any other restaurant where they have the entire staff come to your table with a huge gong and sing to you, you would be correct. At Ray’s, though, it’s somehow the opposite. By the time you get to the fifth serenade, you’ll be a few shots in and it'll feel like it’s two weeks before Christmas and Mariah Carey’s version of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" just came on over the loudspeaker. You just can’t help but sing along.
Despite the name, you probably shouldn’t show up to Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. to take out a loan on your house or start saving for your future child’s college tuition. If you’re looking for a shorter-term investment, like a $16 cocktail with a date, however, “The Franklin Bar” is probably your best option. The speakeasy-style bar is so dark that it’s hard to read the menu without holding the candle on your table to it like it’s the Middle Ages. But that makes it all the better for setting the mood on your third date with someone you met in the PECO Primate Reserve at the zoo last month.