A Good-Time South Philly Bar

By Sharon Margolis
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Jan. 18, 2011

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At McCusker’s Tavern, a family owned South Philly pub hidden in plain view on the corner of 17th and Shunk, everyone’s a regular, no matter how often they show up.

Clouds of smoke billow up defiantly from black ashtrays as the Stones grind classic rock nostalgia into the air, and cans of Miller Lite fill the narrow counter space.

“Like my dad always said, it’s like Cheers,” says Doug McCusker, wearing gauges in his ear and a Social Distortion sweatshirt. “We got a lot of Cliff Clavins here.” John McCusker first opened the neighborhood watering hole as a sports bar back in 1968. His sons, Doug and Ryan, have been slinging beers (four on draught, no specials) to the kids they grew up with for the past thirteen years.

Since taking over, Ryan says from behind the bar, they’ve followed the Tattooed Mom’s model of cheap beer plus pop-culture savvy—installing a vintage Ms. Pac Man machine, and papering the walls with posters from nearly every Pearl Jam show ever to play the Spectrum. Bottles of Yuengling go for $2.75.

The folks who gather around for conversation, the essential small talk of the neighborhood, haven’t changed much over time. Their easy friendliness seems old and natural, deeply ingrained into the very floors of the dimly lit corner space over 40-some years.

“She a newbie?” asks Joe to my right. A food and beverage manager at St. Charles Seminary up the street, Joe launches into an intensely detailed descrpition of the eight tapas dishes he ordered at Amada earlier that night, which he reads from meticulous notes he kept. He writes everything down, he says. “My life is made of paper.”

Joe introduces me to Dave, a long-time fixture at the bar who moved in upstairs 10 years ago. There’s a limit to their inclusiveness, he warns.

“Guys who don’t fit in don’t come back,” Dave says, mentioning a man who wandered in a few weeks ago looking for a little something to numb his gums. “This ain’t that kind of place.”

When another dark-haired Joe stumbles in at 10 minutes past last call, Doug greets him with a hug and a slap to the face. This Joe opens with a story about meeting a Bulgarian hooker in Prague who, after declining her business, wept briefly on his shoulder before sending him scurring down an alleyway when cop sirens began wailing.

There’s no shortage of unusual cats lounging in the comfortable everydayness of this landmark pub—but they’re family, so they must be all right.

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COMMENTS

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1. Mary Canarie said... on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:24PM

“you gotta look for Mo, this is her favorite joint”

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2. Proud in Prague said... on Jan 20, 2011 at 12:51PM

“I travel to Prague often just to get away. One night I had no money for a cab home, so I solicited services in an alley way. I wonder if Dark Haired "Joe" was the one I let get away!!”

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3. cuskies regular said... on Jan 24, 2011 at 02:43PM

“great article! NOT! this writer scraped a stupid drunkin story off the outter layer of this bar. the history of this bar goes back 100 years... their hard working, ice man grandfather bought this bar....there are 3 generations of fmailies drinking in this place. The 2 sons are great musicians and have a great following of patrons...the conversation of sports with old man john and music knowledge of guests is ridiculous!! Where did she lears how to write a story? Daily news!!!? TJ Rocks!”

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4. Anonymous said... on May 19, 2013 at 12:53PM

“Sounds like a bunch of Irish drunks with no lives and a very sad existence in my opinion. But what do I know I'm the one looking for a bar to drink at this weekend while I'm in philly. Do I see what McCuskers has in store for me???”

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