Maybe you can’t take a beach vacation right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a new approach to city sippin’.
1. Drink like a Southerner.
Our summer seems to have morphed from a run-of-the-mill season into an endless string of heat waves; going by the temperature, it’s starting to feel a lot like the South around these here parts. Fortunately, local establishments seem to be taking note, offering an expanding array of classic, thirst-quenching Southern-style cocktails. Perhaps most notable is the Grown Folks Ice Tea at Ms. Tootsie’s (1312 South St.), an award-winning tropical brew comprised of a whopping 13 top-secret ingredients as well as five different liquors. Over at Warmdaddy’s (1400 Columbus Blvd.), it’s all about their Daddy Long Legg’s Lemonade, a more mature version of the country-style lemonade your mamma used to make, and a tastier alternative to your standard Long Island. As for the ultimate Southern beverage—that’s the Mint Julep, for those readers who’ve never drank their way through a Kentucky Derby party—arguably the best in town can be found at The Twisted Tail (509 S. Second St.) and Khyber Pass Pub (56 S. Second St.), which is the only bar serving it up slushy-style. Should you be in the mood for a down-home cocktail of a less traditional variety, try the tangy Kentucky Orange Blossom at Watkins Drinkery (1712 S. 10th St.) or Bar Ferdinand’s (1030 N. Second St.) peach-and-homemade-lemonade-infused Summer Shandy.
2. Drink cocktails that invoke the neighborhood you're in.
Certainly beats going on one of those lame walking tours, right? Add some additional excitement to your happy hour and set out on a booze-fueled journey of the city. Making this much easier, many local watering holes have actually devised neighborhood-centric cocktails. For example: In Center City, instead of a stereotypical dirty martini, opt for a cocktail that’s a bit more innovative yet equally urbane, like Village Whiskey’s (118 S. 20th St.) Sansom Street Sangria, a mix of white whiskey, red wine, orange Curaçao, spiced sugar, fruits and lemon. When drinking in South Philly, the ideal cocktail should reflect the neighborhood’s diversity and tough exterior; adding a super-sweet touch of lime and agave nectar to a potent blend of tequila and triple sec, SoWe’s (918 S. 22nd St.) Broad Street Bully embodies this duality quite perfectly. In Old City, why not reconnect with the charming cobblestone streets and choose a libation the Founding Fathers would approve of? With a no-frills combo of Bluecoat gin and St. Germain and a classy touch of orange blossom water, the Philadelphia Flower at Philadelphia Bar and Restaurant (120 Market St.) nails it. Finally, let’s face it: Only in the Gayborhood can you order a hot pink, sexually suggestive cocktail without eliciting snickers. So go for it.
3. Find new picturesque places to drink outside.
OK, so we all know that Parc has a lovely view. But really, once you’ve spent any significant portion of your adult life in town, how much more can you marvel at Rittenhouse Square? If you insist on being in the vicinity, head a few doors down to Rittenhouse Tavern (251 S. 18th St.), where you can admire the view from atop its hidden garden patio without any pedestrians cramping your style. Meanwhile, there are other places not so far away where you can enjoy the scenery—both geographical and human—along with your beverage. Should you prefer a waterfront view, Morgan’s Pier (221 N. Columbus Blvd.) certainly gives every other local beer garden a run for their money, offering locals a laid-back atmosphere to drink al fresco right on the Delaware River. As for secluded, picturesque spots, there’s the ever-enchanting Talula’s Garden (210 W. Washington Sq.); RAW Sushi & Sake Lounge’s (1225 Sansom St.) uber-modern private courtyard; and the open-air, graffiti-covered bar tucked conspicuously behind Sampan (124 S. 13th St.).
4. Go for the gold!
You’re not an Olympian. But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer Team USA this summer—you can still be a vicarious part of the 2012 London Games by watching and drinking! From your bar stool! In Philadelphia! Start off, logically enough, at the London Grill (2301 Fairmount Ave.), where everyone who drinks a pint of Wells or Young’s during the Olympics, starting on Fri., July 27, will be entered in a beer-themed prize drawing. Meanwhile, down in South Philly, the Devil’s Den (1148 S. 11th St.) may not have prizes to win, but it will be offering a broader spectrum of Olympic drink specials—$1-off draft specials every night July 27–Aug. 12, rotating through craft favorites including Allagash, Dogfish Head, Iron Hill, Tröegs and more. And on Aug. 5, Tir Na Nog (1600 Arch St.) will be offering various drink specials and buffet appetizers to accompany the televised screening of the 100-meter sprint. The event is sponsored by Puma, who’ll be giving away prize pairs of sneakers—which sounds suspiciously like trying to rope us into the opposite of relaxing with a drink, but hey.
5. OMG, BRAIN FREEZE!
On those particularly sweltering days when your loins long endlessly for the shore, a mere drink on the rocks just isn’t going to cut it. Fortunately, regardless of what sort of beverage you have a hankering for, chances are there’s a place serving it in frozen form. Should you be craving something that’ll cool you off, satisfy your sweet tooth and get you tipsy simultaneously, the Adult Milkshakes at P.Y.T. (1050 Hancock St.) will definitely do the trick. The hard part is choosing between the Birthday Cake Shake, Bananas John Foster and the Cereal Killer. For a cocktail that reeks of summer, The Adobe Café (1919 E. Passyunk Ave.) happens to have eight tropical rum-based frozen specialties. Depending just how fucked up you want to get, this includes the Adobe Brain Freeze, which contains three types of rum blended with mango and topped with Bacardi 151. Last, but certainly not least, there’s the good ol’ margarita, and as everyone in this city with taste buds knows, nothing beats the Blood Orange Margarita at El Vez (121 S. 13th St.) or the Watermelon Margarita at Cantina Los Caballitos (1651 Passyunk Ave.) and Cantina Dos Segundos (931 N. Second St.). Fun fact: Both contain more alcohol when frozen than on the rocks.
6. Drink like you're on cable television...
Once upon a time, by which we mean two and a half years ago, the American retail/media complex became obsessed with trying to “help” us all drink (and dress) in aesthetic harmony with the cast of Mad Men. Why, then, has there been no push to follow suit with the hottest cable drama of the current season, the grungy fantasy epic Game of Thrones? Dwarf-sized hero Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage, is often seen swilling Dornish wine with his three squares a day. He uses that wine—sweet, spiced, from mugs and animal skins—as a way to jump-start conversation and impress women; well, fair enough, that’s how it’s often done in the mundane world, too. So, this summer—which, unlike the summer in Westeros, hasn’t lasted a whole decade, though it sure does feel like it—chill out with the sort of sweet wines Tyrion likes. Such as a Moscato, a Madeira, or best of all a Riesling—currently being celebrated as part of the nationwide “Summer of Riesling” campaign, and about to be showcased Aug. 7 at McCrossen’s Tavern (529 N. 20th St.), whose “Smackdown!” event lets you drink and judge 10 different Rieslings for $30.
7. …...or like you're up there in IMAX.
This year hasn’t just been the summer of heat waves, it’s been the summer of superheroes. And while Spider-Man, of course, is too young to drink, his Marvel compadres in the Avengers have no such obstacles. So why not work your way around town on an Avengers drinking tour? Start with the easy one, as three movies’ worth of Iron Man have made perfectly clear that Tony Stark prefers scotch—so make your way to Village Whiskey (118 S. 18th St.) for a Laphroaig, or Time (1315 Sansom St.) for a Glenmorangie. The Black Widow, it seems safe to guess, is a woman who can handle her vodka, so head next to Continental (1801 Chestnut St. or 138 Market St.) for your choice of the Moscow Mule or the Astronaut (though she’d no doubt prefer it were called the Cosmonaut). Thor? Easy: mead drinker. Head to Tria (18th and Sansom sts.) to sample the herb-infused Makana Iqhilika honey mead. And Captain America—well, while he’s no straight-edge, he’s certainly the designated driver in this bunch. So, seeing as how he’s a man adrift in the 21st century from his native 1940s Brooklyn, your final stop needs to be the Franklin Fountain (116 Market St.) for a good old-fashioned New York Egg Cream.
8. Drink whatever drink sounds the coolest.
Obviously, you never want to ignore a drink’s actual ingredients, but if something sounds like liquid coolness, it’s probably a decent bet. Or, at least a fun one. (You know, sorta like with racehorses.) The Trestle Inn (11th and Callowhill sts.) takes a mysterious approach with its signature creations, hooking patrons in with sexy, albeit vague descriptions and such enticing names as Cheap Trick, Diablo Cody and Velvet Jones, “the drink four out of five pimps prefer.” Then there’s Rum Bar (2005 Walnut St.), which definitely deserves credit for having not only an expansive drink menu, but one that may just cause you to drool on yourself: Its “Tiki Tiki” category alone boasts eight massive concoctions, each one more elaborate and mouth-watering than the next. For example, the Abyss, a bottomless fishbowl of exotic fruit juices and liquor that can only be explored by a minimum of two people. Still, at the end of the day, the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (112 S. 18th St.) may be the only joint in town where the skillfully crafted libations are even more badass than they sound. And with names like Pirate Slave, Cowboy Killer and Restraining Order, that’s one hell of a feat.
9. Drink adventurously. Wisely, but adventurously.
Sure, on paper, the combination of Miller High Life, pickle juice and Old Faithful BBQ Sauce might sound like something that would be served during interrogations at Gitmo. At Percy Street Barbecue (900 South St.) however, it’s known as Hillbilly Gatorade. And if you like pickles, it’s actually not that bad. So before you go making a stank face at every peculiar cocktail you come across, consult with a bartender and find out what it’s all about. For instance, if you asked any of the bartenders at The Dandelion (124 S. 18th St.), they’d be quick to tell you that the egg inside their frothy, cinnamon sprinkled Summer Beer Flip is barely detectable. In fact, it compliments the mix of rum, pilsner and apricot marmalade quite nicely. For the particularly bold boozehounds, there’s Tattooed Mom’s (530 South St.) new signature Mexico City Lunch Box, a hefty blend of Espolon tequila and Art in the Age’s Rhuby spirit with a splash of lime and a kick of hot sauce.
10. Make it youself, lazypants.
Kids aren’t necessarily the only people who want or need nonalcoholic mixed drinks, though. Mothers-to-be, teetotalers permanent or temporary—there are plenty of adults who don’t want to get tipsy but also don’t want to miss out on the vibe of their social circle.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014