Better Than Best: Philly Bars

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Sassafras, 48 S. Second St. 215.925.2317.

Best Place To Make An Ass Out Of Yourself And Pay Through The Nose For It

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.

Best Music In A Bar

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.

Best Bar in the Middle of Nowhere

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.

Most Committed Old School Cocktail Master

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.

Best Place to Share the Dancefloor with Philly Pop Royalty

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.

Best Place To Avoid Everyone You Know

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.

Best Place That Still Allows Smoking and Also Has Fin Du Monde For Under $7

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Lynn Hoffman said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 07:47AM

“Good Hefeweizen, Batman! You compiled a list of Better-than-Best bars in the city and left out Monk's. That's like putting together a list of art venues and leaving out Philadelphia Museum of Art, or cheesesteak joints and neglecting Vincenzo's. Maybe you think everybody knows about it-and maybe everybody does, but this is the bar that half of your list is trying to emulate.
While we're at it, how about venturing out of Center City by more than a few blocks and trying Earth Bread Brewery or McMenamin's in Mt. Airy? Earth has a particularly radical idea: it's a brewpub where the beer is wonderful. I wonder how they thought of it.

Lynn Hoffman”

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2. SB said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 01:08PM

“"On top of that, he’s quick to offer a sample before you commit to a whole pint unlike some other owners in our city. (We’re looking at you Peters and Hartranft.)"


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3. hmmm said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 01:21PM

“Besides the strip clubs of Pennsport and the "is that even considered a fucking bar" aka Connie's Ric Rac, South of Washington Ave. is once again ignored by PW. I'm surprised (not really).”

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4. Cameldroppings said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 08:46AM

“Attn Hartranft's,
Your unwillingness to offer a diminutive 1/2 oz. taste before purchasing the FIRST pint has cost you several customers, myself included. Since your beers are in the $5-$6 range, this taste would cost you 16--19 cents. This exorbitant amount however, would be quickly recovered with the patron's first purchased pint (nobody gets a taste then walks out) and your customers wouldn't feel as if they were drinking at a beer vending machine.”

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5. jibberdin said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 11:23AM

“oh Bike Stop, how I love thee.
A throwback to the gay leather cruise spots of the early 80's?
NOPE, this place is an original.

not polished, and no martinis but oh daddy what a good place to find yourself on the weekends.
keep it up boys.

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6. rascal b schuylkillian said... on Feb 26, 2010 at 12:54PM

“I once ate a cheesesteak, drank a flying fish, and watched a girl with a taint peircing dance on the bar. a great place to spend the day if you ditch work.”

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7. Pete LaVerghetta said... on Mar 1, 2010 at 10:49AM

“List articles are doomed. Three Monkeys? The Grey Lodge is reason enough to visit NE Philly, and Scoats or staff will gladly give you a sample of whatever you'd like to taste.”

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8. TR said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 08:03PM

“For those who find themselves in Chestnut Hill on a weekend night for whatever reason, finding something to do can be difficult. After all, the whole neighborhood shuts down around 9. Of course, McMenamin's and Earth are fine destinations, but I've got to recommend Towey's Tavern, near the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Mermaid Lane. Beer is cheap, the pitchers are big (during football season, they have $6 pitchers on Monday nights) and you can smoke there. Pretty awesome to find an honest-to-God dive right in the middle of Chestnut Hill, of all places.”

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9. PhillyClass said... on Mar 12, 2010 at 12:58PM

“Ritter is a genius and true visionary -- where would Philly be without him.”


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