Philadelphia's Best Dive Bars

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 29 | Posted Apr. 6, 2011

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Unmistakable, inarguable, quintessential.

You run into sick puppies like that at some of these places. In the year-plus of my life I lost to this thing, I met a guy who’d come to Gil’s Good Time Tavern (5956 Chester Ave.) in West Philly, fresh from his mother’s funeral. Despite his loss, his friends took much pride in breaking his balls after he thought of buying a bootleg DVD of The Blind Side from a guy who came in with a duffel full of them. Yeah, you lost your mom. But, you. Are. Also. A. Pussy.

I saw two mixed-race couples getting their serious PDA on at dives. At Fireside Tavern (2701 S. Marshall St.), a large black man with a medium-sized white woman took that honor. At Old Philadelphia Bar, a toothpick of a white guy jammed his long tongue into the mouth of an obese black woman. Both of them were missing a couple teeth.

At DiNic’s Tavern (1528 Snyder Ave.) the men’s bathroom door was ripped from its hinges. Patrons needing to drop chocolate anchor would tell the bartender, who would then yell warnings at you whenever anyone else would walk back to use the facility.

These places are instant story generators. You won’t see this kinda shit at XIX.

The best anecdote I heard that truly defines the character of dives came from booze writer Dan Dunn just over a month ago. Dunn is a native Philadelphian who now makes his living in Los Angeles as Playboy’ s drink columnist. In his new memoir, Living Loaded, he tells tales of when he was a kid, and his father used to plunk him down at a bar called P&J’s Tavern in the Great Northeast section of Summerdale. He learned the dive-y ropes at a young age.

Anyway, there’s a bar in Venice, Calif. called Hinano Café that Dunn loves and visits often. Jim Morrison of the Doors etched his name in the bar in the ’60s, and it remains there still today; faded over the years. Dunn told the owner Maryellen she needs to put a piece of Lucite or something over Morrison’s name, so it’s protected and not lost forever.

“What for?” Maryellen shot back nonchalantly.

That’s what makes dives great—in them, you’re no more important than the person next to you. There are no VIPs, no velvet ropes. You ain’t special, so shut the fuck up and finish your drink.

Dives are the Philadelphia of bars, essentially.

What follows is a quick look at a few of the 96 bars “reviewed” in Philadelphia’s Best Dive Bars .


69th and Market sts.
Dive Bar Rating: 5

The most interesting thing about Cheers in Upper Darby isn’t the bar itself, but it’s owner, 70-year-old Robert Herdelin. He’s been called a slumlord by Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, and his bar a “nuisance,” “the worst in the area,” a “pit” and a “shoot ’em up joint for drugs and weapons.” It was raided by police in March of last year, and they walked away with arrests of two known drug dealers and a few underaged drinkers. A week before the raid, a shoot-out between two other drug dealers took place in the restroom of Cheers, leaving one dead from four gunshots, one of which was taken in the back.

Herdelin is nonplussed about this. What’s he supposed to do, check everyone’s pockets for drugs and guns when they walk through the door? He estimates he throws out a drug dealer a week on average already. It’s not his fault the neighborhood has fallen to shit. He lives just above the bar in a tiny, cramped one-bedroom apartment, and has for mostly all of the 27 years he’s owned the bar below it. He’s seen the neighborhood crumble first-hand.

Now here’s the kicker: Herdelin is a millionaire. He owns several big-deal hoity-toity rental properties in various spots on the Jersey Shore, one of which he’s even rented to Oprah for a cool $16,000 a week. That he chooses to live where he does, picking fistfights with drug dealers in a neighborhood he’s already written off and says he’ll soon leave, speaks to his peculiar nature and also the fact that he’s an unabashed spendthrift. It’s why Cheers looks like it might fall down at any moment and why the door to the bathroom stall doesn’t get fixed right away. He would rather hold onto the cash.

Cheers is located, as you may know, just up the street from the Tower Theatre, a venerable venue that’s seen acts as diverse as Willie Nelson, Erykah Badu, David Bowie and Radiohead on its stage. Cheers’ clientele on any given night will generally reflect the crowd that made the trek out to see whoever’s name is on the marquee a half-block up. Not only is it one of the only bars within walking distance of the venue, it’s the only one that has pictures behind the bar of its 70-year-old owner wearing a Speedo flexing his pecks.

Herdelin is one crazy loon—a crazy loon who just slapped Chitwood with a $1.7 million libel lawsuit. If he wins, you best believe he’ll keep the money in a shoebox under his mattress.

Cookie’s Tavern

 2654 Alder St.
Dive Bar Rating: 3

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Comments 1 - 29 of 29
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1. john david said... on Apr 6, 2011 at 08:29AM

“In your article you have the address for Gil's Good Time Tavern as 5956 Chester Ave in Fishtown. No such address in Fishtown.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 6, 2011 at 08:34AM

“Wasn't this published before? Am I having bad flashbacks?”

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3. skatenlayton said... on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:46PM

“Real Funny! I'd love to go see a three hundred pole dancer that can swallow a long neck.”

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4. pete hoge said... on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:00PM

“After 20 years of drinking, and landing in a psych unit
for 6 days because of alcoholic psychosis, I don't think
alcohol and drugs or the dive bars they are sold in are
cool anymore.

Still I enjoyed the article because it means Philly still
has some dirt under the rock., and resembles a real
live city from a Bukowski piece.”

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5. Jon said... on Apr 7, 2011 at 01:52PM

“Because of the original Owner Daddy Wag's and it's Marine Corps afilliation; I love this place. "Semper Fi". Cookies is a Marines place to go.
Cookies is Tun Tavern of the day. May the tradition continue on.”

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6. Darlene said... on Apr 7, 2011 at 03:56PM

“WOW! You call yourself a professional? I call you a disgrace! It is one thing to talk and joke about a "smoke-choked bar" or someones manicured, diamond nails. But to make fun of someones disability is disgusting to say the least. This man that you are making a joke of is someones father, someones husband, someones brother, someones friend, someones son! Did you consider the feelings that may have been hurt by your heartless comments? Why don't you sit back for a minute and think about someone you love and think about how you'd feel if some asshole hurt that person. It wouldn't feel so good would it? Michael (or "Big Mike" as you called him) is a very close friend to me and I am sickened by this article. You talk about how he is a "hulk of a man" and you came up with a lot to say about him but the truth is, you don't know ANYTHING! You don't know that he has a hulk of a heart and would do anything for anyone. In my opinion and in the opinion of everyone who REALLY knows Michael, your next article should be an apology!”

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7. Brian McManus said... on Apr 8, 2011 at 09:24AM

“@Darlene. I do want to apologize to those offended. There was certainly no disrespect intended toward Michael. I've been to Cookie's a few times, and he's been everything you describe here: he's very sweet, and seems like a hell of a guy. If that got lost in my blurb of the place (which I like quite a bit) then, yes, I'm sorry about that.”

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8. Maggie said... on Apr 8, 2011 at 09:32AM

“Heredelin is a skinflint, not a spendthrift.
5956 Chester Ave. is in Southwest Philadelphia.”

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9. Peggy said... on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:29AM

“Is this guy nuts nothing of what he is saying is true . How is it that someone can right this stuff and not have the facts. As Darlene said you are a DISGRACE !! What you said about the 15 th Round and Billy and the other bars is not true at all. I would like to know who it was that approve these articles !!”

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10. Anonymous said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:07PM

“Where the RICHIE ANTIPUNA article ?????????? Does anyone know ??? We want to read that article instead.”

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11. Kim Downey said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:12PM

“I'm a proud member of the KENZO PRIDE page on Facebook that was created and is ran by Richie Antipuna. I'm wondering where the article you recently wrote about him and Kenzo movement is? Richie is making a difference in so many peoples lives and WE THE PEOPLE OF KENZO PRIDE would really like to read this article. Thank you.”

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12. Coleen said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:20PM

“I would like to know where the article is form RICHIE ANTIPUNA and The KENSINGTON PRIDE page????? I believe i read this article before!! Don't u think ppl should be told about all the good Richie and his site ( Kenzo pride) are doing? I'm a PROUD KENZO and their are alot of other PROUD KENZO'S on the page!! RICHIE KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, We your fellow KENZO's Love the difference your making in our lives!! Why don't this paper provide a real story of someone trying to make a difference for everyone??”

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13. Kenzo Pride said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:24PM

“Hey I heard there was a great article by Tara - she wrote a story with Richard Antipuna and The Kensingston Pride Facebook page. I would like to know where this story is. I am interesting in seeing what Kensington is really about instead of listening to all the bad publications someone finally stepped up and showed the True Colors of KENZO PRIDE !!! CHECK IT OUT !!!!!!!!”

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14. Mary Bowen said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:25PM

“I am one of the many proud members of the Kenzo Pride site on Facebook which is ran by a thoughtful, dedicated, and awesome friend Richard Antipuna. I was wondering where his article is, Here is a man who is willing to step up to the plate and make a difference for his fellow man and woman. I do not want to read about a dive bar when there should be an article about someone who is doing more good for our neighborhood. That is what your readers really want! Thank you”

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15. Kenzo Pride said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:30PM

“Why dont I see any Kensington Bars on this site? I heard Kensington was makign a difference and everyone was showing that its not as bad as everyone says. There is a great site on Facebook "Kenzo Pride" check it out it shows what Kenzos are really about. Also Richard Antipuna has an article on here that sheds light on the truth behind the streets of Kensington. Everyone should read it !!!

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16. KENZO PRIDE said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:36PM


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17. angie said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:41PM

“I would like to know where the article is from RICHIE ANTIPUNA and The KENSINGTON PRIDE page....

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18. Kenzo Pride 8 said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 09:44PM

“Hey Where is the Richard Antipuna article at????? I want to read about a man who is making a difference, people want to read about things that matter and Richie matters. Never have I seen anyone who is willing to go the distance to make a change and stand up for people. It is nice to see good things being told about Kensington rather than all the negativity its getting. I speak not only for myself but for my many fellow Pride members when I say that is an article truly worth reading.
thank you”

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19. Aleafia Davalos said... on Apr 19, 2011 at 10:12PM

“I wanna read about the Richie Antipuna article!!! He is doing a wonderful thing with the page and it should be recognized! I am a PROUD KENZO PRIDE MEMBER!!!”

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20. melissa vanhorn said... on Apr 20, 2011 at 01:21AM

““Where is the RICHIE ANTIPUNA article ?????????? KENZO PRIDE 100%”

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21. steve lee said... on Apr 20, 2011 at 11:47AM

“Just read the article, search some more. As for Jack's famous being a dive???? Never went in there, went up the street to Hoff's Hut, or to a couple other truly Dive Bars, Kellis''s and the infamous Bubble Club now and then when it was very late!”

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22. Jim Russo said... on May 4, 2011 at 08:08AM

“The edification and current "mystique" of neighborhood drinking establishments now defined as dive bars is nothing but another disposable hipster trend for any dufus who has read too much Bukowski. Such social thrill-seeking cretins swathed in scarves, knit caps and tight-ass jeans riding vintage bikes will eventually peddle away to the next meta-trend in recreational slumming...bowling, haunting all night diners, whatever... Another example of the generational philosophical tenant that something means everything and nothing at the same time and the perverse desire of those who inhabit a virtual/cyber universe to experience the "authentic."”

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23. Anonymous said... on Jun 24, 2012 at 12:03PM

“FYI Big Mike is a lifetime Megan's Law offender!!! Now there the truth Darlene!”

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24. scott alexander said... on Sep 10, 2012 at 01:55PM

“hi,, this message is for, marion who runs the bar cookies south philly, or whoever sees this message,, i lost a small dog[ chihuahua], a few months ago,in south philly ,howard st 2614 south,,, some1 gave me a tip that some guy was at cookies bar, few months ago, seen a chihuahua, grabbed him, and said that he would holdon to him, if the person who owns him doesnt come forward,, please help me, he could be a regular customer at cookies,, can you put this info on your door and in the bar[i dont live there in philly] have family there,,they lost the dog,, pleaseput this info on the door, ill try to get a photo also to you there,, hes a small chihuahua,, dark brown, long nose [snout , beak], short hair, little pointy ears, curly tail,, name is rocko,,was lost in this area close to your location,, please we miss him,, any1 sees this message,, who goes to cookies,, put this info there,,there is a reward,, my ph-518-645-0483,,please call me with any info,,thank you scott”

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25. Anonymous said... on Sep 5, 2014 at 04:29PM

“Clark Deleon is the king of the dive bars. He practically lived in one and wrote about it for years and got paid for it. Google 'the pain of Clark DeLeon' and you can read where it got him. He even wrote about his bartender so many times that when his bartender open up his own place, Clark used his column to promote that. Why would a columnist give so much free publicity to a dive bar? Was it for free drinks? Or for the right to be the biggest jerk in the place and not get thrown out of there?

He admits that his editors heard enough of him. But he imagines that most of the Inquirer readers enjoyed it.

When most dads have a day with their kid, they take their kid to the park or the play ground, but not Clark. He takes his pre-school little girl to the bar to soak up the second hand smoke and watch the drinkers get smashed. And tells her that it's a "cherry store". And then he preaches to the newspaper readers about what a great guy he is.”

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26. Anonymous said... on Dec 20, 2014 at 11:46AM

“Biggest jerk in the place in an understatement. Somebody brought me in that place a few times and each time he had two goons guarding his back while he went from table to table shouting at people to give him ideas to write about. Everybody saw and heard it, you couldn't not hear it. But the bartender wouldn't flag him.

It looked like a school cafeteria shakedown except he wasn't taking anything physical from people, only ideas. And then he'd scream at them because the ideas weren't good enough. And throw hissy fits at them.

I wouldn't go back in there anymore because I was expecting it to become a major crime scene.

And then he claimed the job sucked. Earth to Clark: it wasn't the job that sucked.”

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27. PoppyDi said... on Mar 7, 2015 at 06:41AM

“The municpallities should check all of his Rentals between phila, Upperdarby, Newjersey, love ladies, and Brigantine for more dirt and in inhabitable living condtions.....”

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28. Anonymous said... on Jul 7, 2015 at 01:13PM

“One of the goons backing up Deleon in the bar goes by his initials TJ and claims he was a boxer. And it's possible because he's got that brain damaged look from too many fights.

Maybe the reason Clark started bringing the little girl to the bar was because the goons weren't available to protect him and he knew he was over due for some paybacks. Then he could hold the little kid up in front of him like a shield, the same way the MOVE guy did after the confrontation with the cops on Osage Ave.”

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29. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2015 at 06:56PM

“Where was the bubble club located? Street location pls. ..”


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