Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and neighborhood bars. With a condo boom and a growing hipster population, Center City and many adjacent areas have been transformed by trendy tapas joints, indie music hangouts, gastropubs and martini bars. Old City, near Independence Hall -- where the nation's Fathers (like Benjamin Franklin, who believed "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy") did their Founding -- is a nightlife hub. South Street, the rowdier strip where "the hippest meet," as the Orlons sang, is also thick with bars. But worthy watering holes are all over, and a tour of the taprooms is a tour of the town. So let's tipple. -- Dan DeLuca
* We'll start deep in South Philly, home to Rocky Balboa and Donovan McNabb, at Chickie's n' Pete's. The humongous sports bar is where fans of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers and Flyers go to have their hopes dashed. That's 23 years without a championship and counting. Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" is beneath the din, and those huge dudes eating hard-shells look big enough to swallow you. Thankfully, they're satisfied with the 240-ounce "tower of beer," a bargain at $20 or more (depending on your brand). Microbrews -- or Yuengling lagers, from the oldest brewery in the United States, in Pottsville, Pa. -- start at $4; martinis, $7. 1526 Packer Ave., 215-218-0500.
* At Bob & Barbara's Lounge, a divine dive on South Street's gritty western strip, the racially mixed, straight and gay crowd of art students and old jazzheads seems pretty pleased, even before the Crowd Pleasers start proffering their soul-jazz blend. Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" is on the jukebox. The barman could make a martini -- "We don't have olives, but, um, I guess there's vermouth somewhere." But B&B's is a shrine to Pabst Blue Ribbon, so go for the special: $3 for a shot of Jim Beam and PBR chaser. Tasty. The Crowd Pleasers play Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and Lisa Lisa hosts Thursday drag shows. Microbrews and martinis start at $4. 1509 South St., 215-545-4511.
* With a pick in his mushroom-cloud Afro and hands on the wheels of steel, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, drummer for Philadelphia hip-hop band the Roots, is spinning Stevie Wonder at Fluid. The unmarked entrance to the cavelike club, with a design inspired by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, is just off South Street, around the corner from the Latest Dish restaurant. It's worth the search: The club is home to globe-trotting Philly DJs, such as Josh Wink and ?uestlove, who holds down Saturdays when in town. Microbrews start at $3; martinis, $6. 613 S. Fourth St., 215-629-3686.
* You can't go out in Philadelphia without confronting Stephen Starr. The restaurateur owns nine stylish Philly eateries, from the Rittenhouse Square steakhouse Barclay Prime (home of the $100 Kobe beef cheese steak) to the pan-Asian playground Pod in West Philadelphia, which looks like the set of Woody Allen's "Sleeper." It started at the Continental, a sleek martini bar in Old City. It has olives -- and light fixtures shaped like olives. A Buzz Aldrin is made with Tang and peach vodka, a Dean Martini comes with a Lucky Strike cigarette. I fortify myself with a mountainous salad ($9). Microbrews start at $5; martinis, $7.25. 138 Market St., 215-923-6069.
* A basement boite in the Bellevue, the Center City hotel just down Broad Street from where William Penn stands atop City Hall, Zanzibar Blue is the city's poshest jazz club. National names such as Kurt Elling play weekends, but on this rainy Tuesday, Laurin Talese is singing "Someone to Watch Over Me." The mahogany-paneled room is nearly full with African American professionals and French jazz buffs in for a pharmaceutical convention. A juicy pork chop ($19.95) goes down with a Laphroaig single malt ($10). Microbrews start at $4.25; martinis, $8. 200 S. Broad St., 215-732-4500.
* Up past the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Northern Liberties, the Standard Tap is the gastropub you wish were in your neighborhood. The jukebox plays the Smiths' "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," but we're not. We're happy with a hoppy Yards IPA from Philadelphia's most excellent small brewery. Choices abound on the blackboard menu, but we're going for the smelts. Those bony, lightly fried fish ($7) are calling me. The homey, multilevel bar is full of under-40s who have moved to the converted warehouse district, where a restaubar opens every other week, none as comforting as this one. Microbrews start at $4; martinis, $6. 901 N. Second St., 215-238-0630.
* Philadelphia is tapas mad, with NoLibs' seductive Bar Ferdinand joining the pricier Amada in nearby Old City, where your flamenco fix can be satisfied. At Ferdinand, a single blood-red rose hangs above every bar stool. Sizzling shrimp and Serrano ham go down with glasses of Spanish bierzo ($7) and rioja ($10), and, yes, that is Franz Ferdinand on the sound system. Microbrews start at $3; martinis, $6.50. 1030 N. Second St., 215-923-1313.
* North to Fishtown, where urban pioneers have a rallying point in Johnny Brenda's. The burgers are succulent, the pool table beckons, but we head upstairs to the snazzy band room, where the Favourite Sons are rocking out. We go for a Sly Fox Dry Stout for $4 and might have considered earplugs for $1. Microbrews start at $3; martinis, $7. 1201 N. Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684.
* Crossing into West Philadelphia leads us to the World Cafe Live (in the same building where the popular WXPN radio show "World Cafe" is produced). Upstairs, as singer-songwriters strum, there are lemon drop martinis ($10) if you're sour, chocolate ($11) if you're sweet. Down in the plush music hall, feast on such acts as Argentine songstress Juana Molina or California roots rocker Dave Alvin. The "Quiet Please" sign makes you want to scream -- this is a bar, isn't it? But the music is worth piping down for. Microbrews start at $4; martinis, $8. 3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400.
* It's late, and all this pub-crawling has left us spent -- and in the Devil's Pocket. The neighborhood hard by the Schuylkill River (that's SKOO-kul to you, pal) on Center City's southwest tip is where we find the Grace Tavern, where redemption, or at least a fulfilling oyster po' boy, awaits. Proprietor Fergus Carey also owns Center City's Fergie's and Monk's, which has a more prodigious beer selection. But the tin-ceilinged Grace is the place. A chess set and James Joyce's "Dubliners" sit on the windowsill, and pints of Troegs help old and new residents of the gentrifying 'hood chase worries away. Microbrews start at $3; martinis, $7. 2229 Grays Ferry Ave., 215-893-9580.