Best Philadelphia nightclubs
When developers turned an old Spaghetti Warehouse into a 1,200-capacity music venue in 2011, they filled a live music void in Philly. Union Transfer is where you’ll go to see touring bands like Beach House, Dinosaur Jr. and Kurt Vile when they’re in town. The beers aren’t dive-bar cheap, but they’re close, ranging from about $6 to $8 tops, and while you can’t take plastic cups into the pit, there’s a second-floor standing-room balcony that gives you an almost bird’s eye view of the stage. There, you can sip freely. Parents: If you’re taking your kid to see some new-fangled band you know nothing about, there’s a chill lobby bar where you can sit with a drink and other parents and watch the show on TV. Go ahead, order a soft pretzel while you’re at it.
An ode to San Francisco’s legendary club where bands like the Doors, the Dead and Zeppelin got their start, the Fillmore is the Fishtown neighborhood’s newly minted, large-scale music venue. Booked through Live Nation, you’ll see mostly national touring acts play this space, like LCD Soundsystem, 2 Chainz and Broken Social Scene. Upstairs is the Foundry, an intimate venue that hosts smaller shows from indie touring bands and locals, alike. When you’re ready for your post-show fuel-up, skip the Fillmore’s Wolfgang Punk-catered menu of mac-and-cheese “bombs” and reuben eggrolls, and head down the street to Johnny Brenda’s instead.
This modest, 200-capacity venue is booked by the same team as Union Transfer and features shows of a similar curation caliber, like local indie rock, hip-hop, psych and singer-songwriter acts. While it’s rare for a venue to be an equally impressive restaurant, the Boot most certainly is. With American pub food like fried pickles, cauliflower and corn dogs, and a rotating list of substantial full-plate specials, you can’t go wrong. They’re always switching up their cocktail specialties, but their housemade margarita always hits the spot
Walk into the unassuming corner “whiskey & go-go” bar and you’ll feel transported in time. This two-room dancehall and speakeasy screams flapper. Whiskey is, of course, the drink of choice here, with bourbon, rye, scotch and sours all with a price tag that's less than $12. The food menu is light, essentially mixed beer nuts, popcorn, pickles and olives, but you wouldn’t want to fill up on snacks before shaking alongside the go-go girls, anyway. Expect soul music—and a lot of it—to serve as the regularly scheduled soundtrack.
The Dolphin’s glowing neon-lit wall is highly Instagrammable, if that’s your thing, but chances are you’re here for the music (and the modest $5 cover). With one of Philly’s most eclectic mix of DJs and dance nights, you will find something you like at this South Philly institution—from “Danceteria,” a Friday night mix of music from Philly mixers Jayo and Ed Christof that blends Hall & Oates into house to “Club Congress,” a disco-heavy night with a diverse crowd and LGBTQ following. There’s also DJ Sweat Daddy’s “Lean Back” 2000s rap party—compelling you to remember all the words to every DMX hit you ever saw on your MTV box—and much, much more. The Dolphin is open Wednesdays through Saturdays only, and has a great 10pm happy hour with $1 well drinks and Tecates.
This is about as straightforward of a concert venue as they come. The venue, originally at 22nd and Arch streets, has welcomed legends like Bowie and Jay Z. Today, the E-Factory is known for booking some of the greatest rock, hip-hop and electronic shows the city has to offer (think Lil Yachty and Odesza). Given the history of this place, which opened its doors in the late ‘60s, it’s no surprise that it has a revival-esque philosophy on shows, too: Digable Planets, UB40 and Sevendust are all recent guests.
As one of the Fishtown neighborhood’s oldest bars and music venues, this iconic, dimly lit Philly space has history written all over it. Originally a “shot and a beer” bar when it opened in the late-‘60s, JB’s, as it’s lovingly referred to by locals, now hosts shows from indie artists across the spectrum, including the War On Drugs, Sampha, Angel Olsen and vinyl nights with an eclectic mix of DJs, including hip-hop legend Rich Medina. If you’re looking for dinner and a show, don’t skip out on the fresh oysters and fried chicken sandwiches served at the venue’s downstairs gastropub.
In 2015, the owners of North Bowl—a hip, retro bowling alley and bar in Northern Liberties—opened up their second location in South Philly. The two-story venue boasts 26 lanes, a roof deck, video games, live DJ sets, multiple bars and a food menu featuring what many consider to be the best tater tots in the city (get them wit wiz!). For a deal, check out South Bowl’s $3 Friday games, which start at 3pm and go all night.
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.
Many Philadelphians fight over who invented the “Citywide Special,” but as one such Philadelphian, I’ll tell you with confidence that it was this place. Every night you can sit at the beat-up bar and order a shot of Jim Beam and a 16-ounce can of PBR for $3 and marvel at the walls, adorned with more Pabst Blue Ribbon memorabilia than you ever thought existed. Every Friday night, you can hang out while listening to the dive’s resident jazz band, the Crowd Pleasers, play their “liquor drinking music.” The room is always packed, the shots are always pouring and the bathrooms always smell a little strange.
Nested under an apartment building in the Callowhill section of the city is a wide-open basement with two stages. The first is a smaller affair that’s mostly used for comedy, poetry and open mic nights. The second is a larger platform in the main room that invites stage dives and banter from punk and rock bands like Thee Oh Sees, Pissed Jeans and Diarrhea Planet. Many great raucous shows happen here, along with a mix of softer indie stuff, hip-hop, rap and dance party occasions. Making Time, a 17-year-old dance party hosted by Philly DJ and night owl Dave P, recently set up shop here and hosts monthly dance parties featuring eclectic headlining artists like Jessy Lanza, Health and Melody’s Echo Chamber.
Sometimes you can catch a live show at the Barbary, and when that happens, it’s often to accommodate our underaged friends. Most weeks, the club’s schedule is stacked with 21-plus throwback dance parties including “Tigerbeats,” an indie rock party that’s been going strong for what feels like a decade’s worth of Monday nights, and “Through Being Cool,” an emo night that’s a lot less sappy than it sounds. During most of these events, you can snag a few free drinks if you get there early. After that, you’ll need green stuff for this cash-only bar.
If it’s last call and you’re not ready to stop dancing, head to this tucked-away NoLibs club, open 10pm to 3am on weekends, and pay a small door fee to keep the night going. The bar, with its plastic cups of whiskey and draft beers, is cash-only and reasonably priced. If you’ve got munchies, deal with them before or after. The kitchen stays open till closing time, cranking out basic burgers, wraps, tacos, waffles and ice cream.
Located above French bistro Creperie Beau Monde, this charming, dimly lit bar and performance space transforms into a very legit nightclub on weekends. If you’re into hip-hop, dance or the ‘90s throwback du jour, make your way here on Fridays or Saturdays around 10 pm to boogie on the compact dance floor. On Friday nights, DJ Muhammad spins one of the best dance parties in Philly, hands down, and on Saturdays, DJ Chris Urban puts on everything from soul to Spice Girls. Expect a $5 cover charge and the same French faire as downstairs, available until 11 pm.
Here’s where you get your dose of metal, hard rock, punk and rap, or, if you’re waiting for a show at the Electric Factory, here’s where you get your pre-game. Drinks range from $6 to $8, with $4 domestic beers. The bathrooms could use some work, but that’s part of Voltage’s gritty rock & roll charm. So settle into a seat, order a drink from the bartender with a heavy hand, and try not to break the seal as you wait for the show to begin. Be on the lookout for Spellbound, the club’s longest-running dance party hosted the first weekend of the month and specializing in darkwave and synth.
Upstairs, the 700 Club looks a lot like your high school friend’s parent’s basement: There’s no cover, there are couches and it’s dimly-lit and residential-looking. But your friend’s parents probably didn’t host dance nights three nights out of the week and stock 800 different bottles of beer for your drinking pleasure, did they? Downstairs, the long stretch of seating is usually reserved for “footy” on the TV—specifically when the Philadelphia Union soccer team is playing—but on dance nights, you can usually snag a seat to rest your limbs. In the summer, 700’s heavily windowed first floor is usually wide open, providing a fresh breeze for the revelers inside, packed like sardines.
You haven’t experienced the Gayborhood until you’ve experienced Woody’s. For over 35 years, this mainstay has served as the kickoff point for a night in the they city’s gayest enclave. The drinks are strong, the bars are aplenty (there are 5 rooms, in total) and the atmosphere is truly welcoming to all. So long as you’re 21, of course. On Wednesday’s, there’s karaoke with no cover, and on Thursdays, there’s free late-night salsa lessons to prep you for the night’s Latin Connection DJ dance party.
Specializing in drag shows, multi-genre DJ nights and themed parties, this three-story afterhours dance club in the heart of the Gayborhood is not for the faint of heart. If you like your Friday nights with a heavy dose of electronic music and epic lightshow scatterings, the main room is your hub. For a more relaxed experience, Voyeur offers bottle service and VIP seating at upper levels of the club and in its retro chic mezzanine lounge. Voyeur keeps its doors open until 5am a few times a year to throw over-the-top celebrations, including a major party for this year’s Pride festival that featured an aerial lift and burlesque. If you think you see flurries, you’re not hallucinating. The club is also equipped with a state of the art bubble machine that replicates snow.
As you step into this unassuming Mexican cantina, you’ll see a horseshoe-shaped bar riddled with nachos, shot glasses and Tecate. Let the faint yell of a patron singing Backstreet Boys, Sheryl Crow or House of Pain lead you toward the backroom, where the “magic” happens. Saturday nights is probably your best bet to catch some of the jolliest, most unpretentious karaoke performances in all of Philadelphia. Here the vegan wings are good, the beer is cheap and the stage props—boas, wigs and a giant Corona bottle—are always at your disposal.
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