Sassafras, 48 S. Second St. 215.925.2317. sassafrasbar.com
Rent a cozy private room at Chinatown’s horrible singing emporium, Yakitori Boy . Have a bite to eat from what they call their Japas menu, Japanese small plates that are delivered to the room. Once you’ve mustered up enough courage to pick out a song (most likely after two or 10 Sapporos), time will start to fly by. The business-minded karaoke people here will let you stay waaaaay past your allotted time with the meter running and simply slip you the check when you’ve blown out your vocal cords singing “Unchained Melody.” Goodbye rent money, hello hangover.
Yakitori Boy, 211 N. 11th St. 215.923.8088. yakitoriboy-japas.com
Some things can’t be trusted to the general public, namely All-Star voting and picking music in a bar. If old-fashioned jukeboxes were an exercise in limited self-government, then Internet jukeboxes are musical anarchy. And what do people do with their newfound freedom? Must ... play ... Weezer/Pearl Jam/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Coldplay/Dave Matthews. Or they get in Johnny Cash vs. Lil’ Wayne pissing matches. Or put on an album’s worth of Lords of Acid at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Better the benign dictatorship of the 700 Club , where Tracy Stanton and an assorted crew have been pouring drinks and spinning vinyl for more than a decade. No “Sweet Caroline,” plenty of Black Keys, Sam Cooke, Django Rheinhart, Lou Donaldson; that’s atmosphere. Now if the 700 folks could just stage a coup at WXPN.
700 Club, 700 N. Second St. 215.413.3181.
In The Death and Life of Great American Cities , urbanist Jane Jacobs wrote of the problem of border vacuums, areas where borders inhibit cross traffic so much that development can be seriously imperiled. Take a look at a satellite shot just north of Center City and you’ll see a pair of borders: the Vine Street Expressway and the old Reading Railroad viaduct. It’s so close to Center City, yet feels like the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, things aren’t all bad: There’s a great little bar, The Institute , just north of Spring Garden at 12th Street. The beer selection is usually fantastic, there are a couple of flat-screen TVs and a decent amount of street parking. Yeah, it’s north of Spring Garden. Whatever, you chicken. Try going North for a chance and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by one of Philly’s better beer bars.
The Institute, 549 N. 12th St. 215.765.8515. institutebar.com
Channeling one of his heroes, 19th century flame throwing celebrity bartender Jerry “The Professor” Thomas, Christian Gaal artfully and gracefully heads up the bar staff at Rittenhouse Village restaurant Noble American Cookery with the zeal and eccentricity of Hunter S. Thompson (another one of his heroes). His craftsman touch with olde tyme cocktails like the sazerak is matched by his taste in clothes (he’s most commonly adorned in waistcoasts and sleeve garters). A committed raconteur, his gift for gab and flare for the dramatics only heightens the experience of patronizing the barroom of this alcohol alchemist.
Noble American Cookery, 2025 Sansom St. 215.568.7000. noblecookery.com
Talking about the Barbary as a hip, young dance destination is redundant. It’s in every corny advertorial neighborhood guide you can get your hands on. On weekends, Michael Madonna Prince is $8 to get in, and if you show up at 11 p.m. you’ll wait in a 50-foot line for an hour. Lame. However, owner John Redden does a good job keeping the fun going on weeknights with regular parties like Tigerbeats (Mondays) and Bouffant Bangout (Wednesdays). On these cover-less nights you own the floor and you may even find yourself rubbing elbows with Philly favorites Amanda Blank and Spank Rock’s Naeem Juwan. Surprise surprise, you can buy them both a beer and talk about their records; they’re down. The dirty little beer and whiskey joint probably won’t attract any Hollywood celebs (hello, this is Philly) but we have our own local sweethearts and ours can out drink those scrawny L.A. bitches any day.
Barbary, 951 Frankford Ave. 215.634.7400. myspace.com/thenewbarbary
People say Philly’s really just a small town, and they’re right. Does that make it warm and cozy or claustrophobic? That depends on how many exes, stalkers and former business partners are in the barroom. To paraphrase the Cheers theme song, sometimes you want to go where no one knows your name. That means heading to a hotel bar. Why not make it the bar at the Sofitel ? They pour a great cocktail, there’s mixed nuts on the table (cashews!) and the waitresses wear these fetching black dresses. It’s like taking a mini-vacation from your life.
Sofitel, 120 S. 17th St. 215.569.8300. sofitel.com