Sure, Philly has its historic sites and its cheesesteaks, but if you really want to know this city and its people, you have to spend time in the top Philadelphia bars—a must when you’re looking for authentic things to do in Philadelphia. Begin your booze-filled romp with happy hour. Philadelphia bartenders will be eagerly waiting to shake you up a cheap cocktail to get your night started. How the night unfolds from there… well that depends on where you go. From cocktail dens to wine bars, lounges and Philadelphia nightclubs, we steer you in the right direction with this catering-to-all-tastes collection of some of the best bars in Philadelphia.
Best bars in Philadelphia
A glowing neon sign invites guests into Writer’s Block Rehab, a slick new addition to the stretch of nightlife hotspots along (or just off) the ever-expanding Midtown Village business corridor. Dreamed up by industrial engineer Ram Krishnan, the wordsmith-inspired cocktail lounge offers bar seating on the first and third levels, but head to the second floor “Library” for a more comfortable, lounge-type experience. The menu boasts an impressive selection of wine and beer, and creative cocktails like a turmeric pisco sour ($14) and arugula martini ($14).
When Chad Williams and his wife Hanna took over this beloved Rittenhouse institution, Philadelphia foodies were curious to say the least. After an elegant revamp of the two-story space and a complete menu redux, the bar is as bustling as ever and Williams’ refined take on American fare has won legions of fast fans among critics and locals alike.
Bob and Barbara’s Lounge has been a South Philly institution since the late ’60s. Go on a Friday or Saturday night to listen to the Hammond B-3 organ combo playing "Liquor Drinking Music” or a Thursday night to sit in the front row for Philly’s longest running drag show. Be sure to grab a “Citywide Special” before the night is out. They say the legendary Philly drink—a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jim Beam for $3—originated here.
Other than the ornate iron door, there’s no sign that lets you know that this speakeasy-type bar exists in the middle of Chinatown. Ring the bell and ask to be let in, but make sure you’re dressed appropriately. It’s cash-only and there are no cell phones allowed inside, but rumor has it they serve the best Pisco sour in town.
Taking over his grandfather’s members-only South Philly social club, Zeppoli chef Joey Baladino has reimagined the space into an intimate Italian-American enclave. To keep things in the family, a limited number of memberships are available at the door each evening. Once you’re in, order a well-mixed negroni and don’t miss the stuffed artichokes, spaghetti with crabs and housemade spumoni.
With the nicest front-door greeters in town and bartenders who are more than happy to explain the esoteric ingredients that pepper their extensive cocktail menu, this subterranean Rittenhouse speakeasy feels like the fanciest neighborhood bar—just with seriously inventive drinks. Candlelit tables, corner booths and low ceilings make for a cozy atmosphere that’ll have you ordering another round. But be forewarned: These delicious cocktails are boozy AF.
Billing itself as “Italian influenced, American executed and completely Fishtown,” Wm. Mulherin’s Sons is a cozy spot decorated in wood and leather that is below a hotel also run by the owners. Spend the night in one of the four beautiful guest rooms and then treat yourself to the decidedly Philly “Spicy Jawn” pizza for brunch.
Dirty Franks, which opened in November 1933 (just a month before Prohibition was repealed), is the dive bar to end all dive bars. Join the classic Philly bar scene in this low-ceilinged, raucous joint, which is also a stop on a Mural Arts Philadelphia walking tour—thanks to its illustrated outdoor wall full of well-known Franks such as Sinatra, Avalon and even Aretha Franklin.
Whether you prefer your scotch straight or have a hankering for an old-fashioned, the brown liquor selection at the Library Bar is top-notch. Nestled within the Rittenhouse Hotel, the Library Bar exudes the kind of quiet sexiness that you want in a luxe hotel bar experience. And yes, bibliophiles can browse the bar’s small library, so don’t be scared to show up alone for a stiff nightcap and a leisurely read by the front-room fire.
According to Monk’s, the only reason why you’re not a fan of beer is because you haven’t found the right one yet—so let Monk’s help you. Browse through the “Belgian Beer Bible” and choose from over 25 varieties on tap and over 200 bottles from all over the world. Pair your beer with some mussels and frites and you’ll be sure to have a jolly good time.
In a narrow alleyway off of 13th Street in the Gayborhood lies this gem that’s just loaded with character. You’ll see that as soon as you walk in the door, as you look over the dimly lit dining room that’s decorated with vintage artwork—mostly of the female-focused, soft-porn variety—frilly lamps and even taxidermy fish. Grab a table for dinner or sit around the bar for a selection of beer—available on draft or in a bottle or can—wine and cocktails. The food menu features upscale bar fare that ranges from skirt steak and shrimp scampi to chicken wings and burgers. Upstairs, a performance space hosts a variety of shows throughout the month—from burlesque and drag shows to dance parties presided over by a solid lineup of local DJs.
The main level of Double Knot functions as a cozy café, but Philly’s sushi connoisseurs know to expect more than coffee and pastries at this Midtown Village outpost. Downstairs, a dimly lit dining room serves a Japanese menu complete with sushi, sashimi, meaty entrees and creative sides. Specialties include the crowd-pleasing edamame dumplings, a Philly-inspired duck scrapple bao bun and the signature Big Eye Tuna roll. Behind the bar, unique cocktails incorporate Japanese components like yuzu, Japanese plums and cherry blossoms.
What Knock lacks in lively atmosphere it makes up for with an intrepid team of bartenders who put heart and soul into their classic cocktail creations. The Makers Manhattan is a particular winner, a lightly spicy, booze-forward concoction that finds balance with just the right amount of sweet vermouth. Abutting the bar area is a fine dining area serving a mix of pub grub and upscale New American fare. Weekend brunches are especially fun. Grab a table outside when it’s warm to enjoy some prime people-watching from behind your shades.
You’d never suspect the city’s best rooftop view exists on top of a former high school in a quiet Southeast Philadelphia neighborhood, but lo and behold, Bok Bar offers just that. Drinks are limited to beer and wine, but the beer options are plentiful and there are more non-alcoholic options available than is typical of any other rooftop bar—including kombucha. The rooftop is also, by way of being atop a school building, enormous. Mosey on over if you just need a place to enjoy a beer and breathe. Keep in mind, though, this place is only open in the summer and fall.
Way back in 1938, proprietor Anthony “Ray” Capozzoli greeted everyone who crossed the threshold of Ray’s with a booming “Happy Birthday!”—hence the current moniker. Take your birthday shot (complete with a candle tucked into a clever holder) at the long oak bar and enjoy live music, including a popular open mic night on the first and third Tuesday of each month and karaoke every Friday.
This tiny spot on South Second Street churns out stellar Japanese cuisine that ranges from preparations of unexpected elements like pork jowl and chicken gizzard to standby favorites like yellowtail and mackerel. The drink menu boasts 13 varieties of Japanese whiskey, including an array of cult faves from Nikka and the Bill Murray–approved Suntory along with a well-rounded lineup of barrel-aged beauties from the U.S. and Scotland. Tucked behind the main dining room, a ten-seat bar focuses exclusively on sushi from Chef Jesse Ito. Open until 2am, the Bella Vista hotspot also draws a solid late-night crowd.
This funky bar—spacious and complete with graffiti and lots of makeshift seating—is a must for beer lovers. Catch drafts half-off every day, twice a day—from 5 to 7pm and then again from 10 to 11pm—with a lax vibe and billiards, to boot. If you’re vegetarian, you’ll want to pop by on Mondays, when the bar menu’s veggie-heavy items are half price from noon to 10pm.
It's Oktoberfest all year round at Frankford Hall, where you can munch on Bavarian pretzels and bratwurst while browsing through a huge selection of German and American beers on tap, bottles, cans and beer cocktails (yes, beer sangria is a thing). Sit inside among the exposed brick and open windows or gather out back with a bunch of friends at the long wooden tables.
A stalwart bar, music club and restaurant just off the always-busy 13th Street corridor, Time hosts live local musicians every night it’s open, their jazz/rock/experimental sounds floating out onto Sansom Street through big picture windows that open onto the sidewalk. There’s also an under-the-radar second-floor lounge that plays host to DJs and unorthodox bookings like poetry and erotic fiction readings.
Exposed brick walls juxtaposed with modern finishings characterizes this hip distilling company, which is housed in a former factory in Fishtown. The claim to fame here is that Philadelphia Distilling is the first post-Prohibition distillery in this city. They’re behind creations such as Bluecoat American Dry Gin, Vieux Carré Absinthe and Penn 1681 Vodka—all of which can be found in state liquor stores and in many of the best bars in Philadelphia. Or you can just sidle up to the bar at Philadelphia Distilling and have one of their mixologists whip you up a cocktail in the very place where these spirits were born. You’ll also find a restaurant serving contemporary American fare, an outdoor patio and tours and tastings shuffling off on Thursdays and Fridays at 6pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2, 4 and 6pm.
The Trestle Inn hosts go-go shows straight out of the 1960s and 70s. Open Wednesday though Saturday, this watering hole has been a haven for a colorful assortment of patrons ranging from circus performers to traveling salesmen for more than one hundred years. If you can’t choose between the seemingly unlimited selection of whiskey and rye, opt for a flight and sample several varieties.
For locally produced draft beers served up in a simple and friendly atmosphere, head to Standard Tap in Northern Liberties. There are at least 20 beers on tap every day and although the décor of this tri-level space (which includes a rooftop deck) is simple, the offerings keep customers coming back.
An instantly recognizable beacon situated at one of the busiest intersections in the city, Johnny Brenda’s has become synonymous with the slow-and-steady growth of Fishtown as a citywide commercial and artistic draw. Partners Paul Kimport and William Reed, owners of the nearby Standard Tap, took over the longstanding neighborhood bar in 2003, infusing new life into the space over the course of a decade-plus. Up front still has that comfy tavern vibe, with local draft beers and billiards. But the rest of the space offers multiple options, from a small dining room in the back to the balcony-equipped music venue upstairs that’s championed by local and touring artists for its intimate layout.
Dollar-priced oysters could sound suspect anywhere else, but not at Oyster House. The Rittenhouse restaurant is a go-to in Center City for seafood all-around, but a sort of “old faithful” for oysters, especially. For happy hour (Mon–Fri 5–7pm and Sat 9–11pm), they're paired with drinks that make sense with oyster flavors—mostly shooters, like a mini-sized Bloody Mary called “The New Englander.” But if that’s not your thing, don’t fret: They also feature a $3 draft beer menu.
The Dolphin’s glowing neon-lit wall is highly Instagrammable, if that’s your thing, but chances are you’re here for the low-key South Philly dive bar vibe—at least until the DJs come in. The Dolphin is open Wednesdays through Saturdays only, and has a great 10pm happy hour with $1 well drinks and Tecates.
Zahav’s happy hour knocks $4 off every cocktail and offers up $3 beer and wine. It’s an excellent choice if you want to try what can be one of Philly’s hardest-to-get-into—and priciest—dining options on the cheap. Have a Z&T, Zahav’s take on the classic gin and tonic made with za’atar-infused gin, byrrh, fresh citrus juices and dolan blanc, with a side of the restaurant’s award-winning hummus (which is half off during happy hour!).
The team behind Oyster House opened Mission Taqueria upstairs from their original outpost in 2016. With a prime Rittenhouse Square location, the bar and eatery draws energetic lunch, happy hour and dinner crowds who flock here for tacos and margaritas. Like the food, the décor here is eclectic, incorporating a combination of heavy elements like cinder blocks and neon wall art with light wood, hanging plants and an open-kitchen design.
Situated on a quiet alley off Walnut Street, the Bike Stop is the Gayborhood’s horny, chaps-wearing older brother. Porn blaring on big screens welcomes guests into the gay leather bar’s punky main floor, as leather-clad dudes mingle in dark corners about the room. Upstairs, the crowd congregates around a pool table for games and more drinks from a bar selling beer and cheap cocktails.
Situated on busy 2nd Street in Northern Liberties, Bourbon and Branch offers a restaurant downstairs and an adorable upstairs bar with live music and a vast selection of whiskey, beer and inventive mixed drinks. Catch the weekday happy hour, from 5 to 7pm, for half-priced drafts and a $5 old fashioned.
The accolades for Bud & Marilyn’s don’t end at its fried chicken and cheese curds (both of which go for $3 during happy hour, by the way). Stop by the happening Gayborhood restaurant during happy hours—Monday to Friday from 5 to 7pm—to score yummy drinks like a Frosé (a slushy made out of rosé) for $6, or guzzle the restaurant’s exclusive Yards-brewed “Bud’s Best Pale Ale” for just $4 on draft. For late-night crowds, happy hour kicks in again at 10pm to close Monday through Saturday.
Tavern on Camac, situated on a quiet cobblestoned side street in the Gayborhood, is most known for its sleek piano lounge, which draws seasoned songbirds and—and the occasional theater major from nearby University of the Arts—for hours of boozy showtune sing-alongs. But you don’t have to have pipes like Judy to have fun here. The upstairs dance floor, compact as it may be, is a particular favorite on weekends for nightlifers looking for an alternative to the meat market that is Woody’s.
The TVs are up high for easy viewing, and there are always drink specials during Flyers games, but this converted auto body shop is not mainly a sports bar. People come to party, shoot pool, play skeeball and drink beer. Lots of it. They’ve got more than 300 kinds of beer, all of it in cans, lined up in fridges behind the bar. And if you don’t like whatever fancy new food cart has rolled into the Garage on a given day, Pat’s and Geno’s are right outside the door.
Tria Taproom prides itself on having no televisions and providing no entertainment, preferring its guests to focus on the atmosphere, the wine and the small plates of classy light fare. Gather around a high-top table with your friends and chat over a glass of bordeaux and an imported cheese board.
If you’re looking for a friendly neighborhood bar, stop into the Bishop’s Collar, where they serve “salvation by the pint” by way of a good beer selection, a hip crowd and lots of regulars. Find a seat on one of the church pews, old Veterans Stadium chairs or outdoor tables lining the sidewalk.
Located in the Italian Market in South Philly, Connie’s Ric Rac offers an impressive lineup of performances—from live music from local bands to comedy. While it bills itself as a “performance venue that serves drinks, not a bar with a stage,” the spot’s beverage selection is still impressively loaded with 50 different craft beers.
This Mexified craft beer bar and restaurant is a go-to neighborhood hangout, thanks in part to cheap happy hour deals (Mon–Fri 4–6pm), delicious margaritas and inventive Mexican food. The menu features mouthwatering versions of Mexican favorites like ceviche, guacamole, nachos, and tacos filled with deliciousness from land and sea. On weekends, the eatery offers South of the Border brunch options like chilaquiles and juevos rancheros. Along with Sancho Pistola’s, its sister spot in Fishtown, this is also a chill place to watch the Phillies on game day with a beer and some braised short rib tacos.