"The bars contained in this book are the city's most colorful, character-filled dives. But what exactly makes a bar a dive? To me, dive bars are like pornography: hard to define, but you know one when you see it. And, while one person's dive may be another person's upscale establishment, there are a few basic characteristics that define a dive. The smell of stale air. A few hardscrabble regulars. Low lighting. Red light bulbs. Ripped and worn leather booths or barstools. Wood walls. Faux-wood walls. Photos of regulars past and present stapled to those walls. Nicotine-caked ceilings. Surly service. A vague sense someone might do you bodily harm. Cheap, stiff drinks." -Philadelphia's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Brotherly Love
One year. One liver. Nearly 100 bars. Philly Weekly's Brian McManus did a lot of drinking and diving in order to bring us this in-depth and amusing look into the world of Philly's dives. In the book you'll find ratings, photos, a list of bathrooms to stay away from, and more. We asked Brian to share a little more about his yearlong booze cruise through the dives less traveled. Cheers!
Q: Finally, a guide to Philly's most unsavory yet lovable bars! How did this come about?
A: Ig Publishing, a boutique publisher out of New York City, has been putting these guides out in other cities for five or so years. They've done editions of "Drinking and
Diving" in Seattle, Denver, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and have been looking to do one in Philly since the beginning. Typically, they work with whatever Village Voice paper is in the market they're putting the book out in. We don't have a Village Voice here, of course, so Ig top-dog Robert Lasner asked Village Voice Media head honch Andy Van De Voorde if he could recommend a writer here. I used to write a nightlife column for the Village Voice paper in Houston, so Andy recommended me. Robert and I talked, I sent
him some clips, and off we went. He knew I was the drunk for the job.
Q: You must have consumed a lot of booze over the course of this project. How'd
you get shit done?
A: It was tough. Real tough. It's a lot of research (read: drinking) and I
seemed to be up against some horrible deadline for about a year. I
absolutely wouldn't have gotten the book done had my wife not cracked the
whip. My liver still hasn't forgiven me.
Q: Is there any one bar that stands out to you?
A: There was a great place on Kensington and Alleghany called Jack's Famous Bar
that I really, really loved. It's been owned and operated by brothers Mel
and Joe Adelman since the early '60s. They bought it from their father, Al,
who bought it from titular Jack in 1945, but never bothered to change the
name. Behind the bar you'll find 400 dusty bottles of brown liquor that have
been on the wall since just after Prohibition. The clientele is pretty
colorful, too, and it's a great place to buy a scratch-off lottery ticket and
a $1.75 tub of potato salad.
Q: Tell us a story involving something inappropriate and funny happening at a
dive bar. Especially if it involved you doing something inappropriate and
A: A guy walked sheepishly into De Leo's Café (which isn't a café, by the way)
on the Roxborough/Manayunk cusp, and was immediately yelled at by nearly all
the regulars to GET THE FUCK OUT! They'd banned him. I asked the bartender
what he'd done, and he told me, "Last week he went into the women's restroom
and smeared his shit all over the walls." I looked at the women's restroom
door, and it still had an "Out of Service" sign on it.
Something inappropriate involving me? Let's see... There's the time I did
heroin in the bathroom at De Leo's Café.
Q: How does Philly's dive-bar scene compare with other cities? You've spent
quite a lot of time in Houston, among other places.
I'd put Philly dives against the dives in any major American city. And we'd
trounce them. I have little "dive bar crawls" broken down by neighborhood in
the book, and just in Center City alone there are nearly a dozen within
walking distance of one another, all of them world-class dives: Oscars,
McGlinchey's, Pen & Pencil, Locust Bar, Locust Rendezvous, Bob & Barbara's,
Dirty Franks, Tritone, Doobies, etc. There's not another city that can boast
they have the same, and I'd bet dollars to doughnuts it's the most tightly
packed concentration of top-notch dives in the country. Hear that? DOLLARS
Q: You're a drinker, an editor, a writer and a chef! Which one do you like
being the most?
I love drinking while editing. Then again, I drank while I cooked, too. I
haven't been a "chef" since '05, so there's a bit of misty-eyed nostalgia
attached to my time in kitchens. I do miss the never-ending parade of dick
jokes, I guess. But then again, it's nice to have weekends and holidays off.
I'd rather write than edit. But I do like working with other writers on
stories and collaborating with them to make their pieces better (hopefully),
so who knows? I need a drink.
Q: Is there anything you'd like to share with your readers?
Yes. But it's a secret. Meet me at Oscar's, buy me a shot, and I might tell
you. Oh, and I look nothing like I do in the author photo on the back of the book. That picture was taken when I was going through a very dark gay muskateer phase. It got ugly. There's a mustache involved.
I have a signing/reading/slideshow scheduled for April 6 at the Pen & Pencil.
Everyone is welcome to come. Books will be for sale at the event, and a
couple others we're planning. Stay tuned!
Philadelphia's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Brotherly Love is also available at Amazon.com
In the (according to friends, family and colleagues who’ve received advanced copies) excellent, informative and drop-dead hysterical Philadelphia’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Brotherly Love, I ventured into every corner of our city and cozied up to more than 100 of the finest dives in search of a definitive answer to the question: What makes a dive bar a dive?
PW's Year of Beer: Allagash White