Anyway, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the best bars in Philly, because: if you're gonna get your drink on, why not do it in the best way possible? The only problem is: determining the best bars is tricky. And also subjective. And so: (because it's the winter, and I have nothing else to do) I decided to research this topic, and see what the prevailing opinion might be. Read on to learn about my discoveries!
Now in order to accurately research any topic, it's important to have a multiplicity of voices. (I learned this from my job of publishing "literature reviews.") To accomplish this, I have selected 3 disparate groups of sources that altogether, I hope, will help me solve this mystery. The 3 source groups I chose are: 1) experts; 2) non-experts and 3) myself (somewhere in between the two.)
First, let's go to the experts, by which I mean: alternative weekly employees, who arguably spend more time drinking away their sorrows than any other employee group (with the possible exception of starving artists, who use it mostly for inspiration.)
In 2008, Philly Weekly, in what I believe is STILL their most-read story to date, broke it down slow, with this comprehensive list of what they believe are the 50 best bars in the city. Let's take a look at the top 15:
1. Grace Tavern
2. North 3rd
3. Good Dog
4. Sugar Mom's
6. Standard Tap
7. Royal Tavern
8. For Pete's Sake
10. Raven Lounge
11. Bob & Barbara's
13. Dawson Street Pub
14. Dark Horse
15. Silk City
Not a bad list. I've never been to Grace Tavern, McMenamin's, Southwark or Dawson Street (hey, a girl can only go where her feet can take her) but the rest of them are pretty cool. But are they the best bars in the city? I dunno. North 3rd/Standard Tap/Royal Tavern always seemed a bit overpriced to me (you know, "gastropubs" for fake scenesters with Mom + Dad's credit card to blow on $13 shrimp quesadillas) but I'll admit they have great food. Sugar Mom's is rightfully awesome, and seeing it on here reminds me how I want to go there soon. Bob + Barb's has some sort of beloved legend attached to it, but is really just a regular place, regularly filled with weird people. (Sometimes we can hear them from our balcony!) Oscar's probably made the list because it's right next to the PW offices. And in general, this list seems to have a certain hipster idealism to it, which sorta implies these bars are the COOLEST bars in Philly, rather than the "best," necessarily.
B+B's: only 20 feet from my house! (photo by Inna S.)
But vaguely hipsterish is what Philly Weekly does, and you can't fault them for that. And so I decided to get a second opinion from a decidedly uncool group of opinion-holders: Yelp-ers. Yes, that's right. Using my extremely advanced interneting skills, I did a search for the best bars in Philly, as rated by Yelp users. I omitted anything outside the city proper (that means you, Roxoborough and Manayunk) and anything with less than 10 reviews.
Here are the top 15 results:
1. The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co
2. Mahogany On Walnut
3. Tria (12th and Spruce)
4. Tria (18th and Locust)
5. Sassafras International Cafe
6. Memphis Taproom
8. Le Bar Lyonnais
10. North Bowl
12. Bob & Barbara's
13. Good Dog Bar and Restaurant
14. Standard Tap
15. South Philadelphia Taproom
Overlap? Only 3: Bob+ Barb's, Good Dog, and Standard Tap.
Once again, the top spot eludes me: I've never been to the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (the name seems a bit too Mad Men for my taste), nor Mahagony on Walnut, which appears to be a cigar bar, so I'm not even sure it counts. It's also interesting to note that despite the amount of time Yelp fans spend in front of their computers writing reviews...they actually have quite the refined taste. Tria definitely markets itself as a sophisticated wine + cheese type of joint (my old roommate, who is pretty much the classiest lady I know, worked there; my be-jeaned and be-hoodied boyfriend detests it) and Le Bar Lyonnais is attached to the most expensive restaurant in town.
Then of course you have North Bowl, which again, almost doesn't count (are people really loving it for the DRINKS?) and the B+Bs/Good Dog/Standard Tap triumvirate which is...whatever it is. (Maybe I'm just unenthused since I live within a quarter-mile of 2 of the 3).
A really sweet shot of North Bowl from above. From VisitPhilly.
So there you have it: the "expert" and "non-expert" opinions. And still no closer to finding out what's what! Which means: it must be time to move on to my 3rd and final source...myself. Here are the bars yours truly spends the most time trolling about:
1. Johnny Brenda's (for show, show, shows! Plus killer local beer selection)
2. The Khyber (close to work, $1 beers, $3 tater tots!)
3. National Mechanics (close to work, $6 burgers!!, ambiance, quizzo)
4. Kung Fu Necktie (more shows, ambiance, now with pool table!)
5. The Misconduct Tavern (close to home, never crowded, killer burger!)
6. Good Dog (admittedly awesome, but you have to time it right)
7. Bob & Barbara's (you'd think we'd go here more, but damn, the weekend crowds blow)
8. Dock Street (would be higher, if it weren't so damn far away)
9. World Cafe Live (I actually think their taps taste like poop, but drink from them anyway when I'm hanging at shows here)
10. Locust Rendezvous (tiny lil neighborhood dive with completely ridiculous specials)
Do you see a pattern emerging? The pattern clearly is: bars close to my home/work/other work, with cheap beer/good burgers. Other bars I really like but never go to based on distance: the Royal Tavern, the P.O.P.E., Local 44, all those cool places at the Piazza. I'm not taking the subway somewhere just to get a beer (I make an exception for Dock Street because I have mad friendz in West Phillz.)
So: for the grand conclusion (don't you just love this part?): when we compare all 3 lists (I think this is how the academics do it), we're left with 2 places: Bob + Barbara's and Good Dog. And honestly...I don't think either is the best bar in the city. Bob + Barbara's is a lil bit too gimmicky to be a fave; they have cover charges Friday and Saturday nights, drag shows (with even higher covers!) on Thursday night and just way too many annoying art students playing Trivial Pursuit really loudly the rest of the time. And Good Dog...is pretty sweet but it's always so crowded. And sometimes the waitresses are snotty. And would it kill them to have a damn beer under $4?
Have you ever had the Good Dog burger? It is exquisite. Just looking at
this makes me crave one. Mmmmm. (Photo by Robin Lee)
this makes me crave one. Mmmmm. (Photo by Robin Lee)
So what is the best bar in the city? Damned if I know. But maybe we're not SUPPOSED to know, or else everyone in the city would only go there, and every place else would go out of business. And then, that awesome place would get super crowded and not be as good anymore and...oh, I don't know. But I think I need a drink.