Philadelphia's Best Dive Bars

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

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Poor guy. He’s barely peered his head in the door before being admonished with a loud, angry chorus of “Nooooo!” from the bartender, the six or so daytime drinkers scattered around the rectangular bar and the four guys playing pool, unmistakable scorn on their faces.

“You’re flagged, motherfucker!” says a man who’s violently pointing a pool cue.

“Motherfucker, you’re flagged,” the bartender screams, shooing him with a yet-to-be-opened can of Miller Lite.

Then, in unison, all of them: “FLAGGED!”

Poor Guy blinks slowly, absorbs the blow and withdraws back into the sunlight outside, heartbroken.

I’m at DeLeo’s Cafe (405 Dupont St.) on the Manayunk/Roxbourgh cusp, where they don’t take kindly to strangers. Regulars here gaze upon nonregulars with suspicion, some even physically recoiling in the presence of newcomers, hovering nervously around their drinks and waiting uncomfortably for the intruder to leave so they can go back to being themselves. Others take the opposite tack, turning the Asshole up to 11, puffing their chests and cursing loudly with gusto.

It’s called DeLeo’s Cafe, but it’s not a restaurant. DeLeo’s is unmistakably, inarguably and quintessentially a dive bar.

But what is a dive, and what makes DeLeo’s one?

I’ve been having this conversation—what makes a dive a dive—a lot over the last year and a half while working on a guide book of Philadelphia dives. 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 that very question.

And here it is: In truth, dive bars are like obscenity—you know it when you see it. One man’s dive is another man’s fancy night out or neighborhood hang. That’s just the nature of this beast.

But generally, it’s agreed, a few characteristics define dives: 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 the walls; nicotine-caked ceilings; surly service; a vague sense someone in the bar might do you bodily harm, and without actual cause; cheap, stiff drinks; jukeboxes oozing music to help mend a broken heart or break it all the more; and, the piéce de résistance: something odd, out of place or downright illegal—a dog sitting on a barstool, a baby on the bar, an old man playing tonsil hockey with a tranny in a booth, a drunk sobbing loudly to no one but himself—the type of shit that would get you kicked outta some place proper. Places that, if the owner dared raise the price of beer a nickel, they’d hear a dime’s worth of grief from his customers.

 Some dives exhibit all or most of these traits. Some only exhibit a few. That being the case, there’s a rating system in the book, on a sliding scale of one to five.

1 - One toothless old man at the bar.

2 - One toothless old man under the bar.

3 - One toothless old man behind the bar.

4 - Leave your valuables at home.

5 - Drink and be merry, for tonight you shall die.

DeLeo’s, for instance, is a five-star, no-doubt dive. There’s a distinct B.O. funk in the air that suits it perfectly. In the last few years, it’s been written up for fruit-fly infestation, roach infestation, mouse infestation and spider infestation. Also, for not cleaning utensils properly, which seems redundant, as they’ve also been cited for not having a proper sink for sanitation.

Poor Guy from earlier who wasn’t allowed entrance to DeLeo’s was flagged for smearing his own shit all over the women’s restroom walls and floor a couple weeks prior. When I walked out of the joint, I noticed the women’s room still had an “Out of Service” sign on the door.

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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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