I'm not always a big fan of piling on to the "hot" topic while it's still warm. Sometimes it's more fun to let a topic heat up, cool off a bit, then stoke it back up again. A couple of weeks ago, Foobooz finally published the Top 50 Bars in Philadelphia with input from people like me and a couple of dozen others. We were requested to give a "...list of your top 10 bars in order" and that "...it doesn't have to be inside the city limits. The suburbs and New Jersey count as well." This was a daunting request, indeed. Not only did casting the net over the entire region make it more difficult to commit to a list of ten, I wasn't sure that I wanted to commit at all to ranking an order of ten of my favorite bars. Do I even have ten favorites? How do I compare city bars to suburban bars? Plus, was it beer bars or bars in general? That could be another important distinction. I chose to focus on Top Bars from almost exclusively a beer bar angle. I figured, too, that even bars that didn't make my Top 10 cut would get caught by others and thus included in a Top 50. I couldn't feel too badly, then, for what would comprise my Top 10. I hadn't planned to share my personal top 10 with anyone but Arthur at Foobooz, but then I thought---"of course, I will"---it only makes for good conversation and a bit of lively debate, right? Plus, I threw the blanket disclaimer out there and will do so again here that "all subject to change tomorrow...that's my disclaimer ;-) I'm not even sure I agree with my own rankings now as I read back over them one last time, ha" What follows is an abbreviated version of the ranking that I sent to Foobooz. I have absolutely nothing to hide or be ashamed of in naming a Top 10 and sharing with you. But, you may differ. Any that you would kick out of your own personal top 10? Any that you think I'm absolutely crazy for missing?
One of my biggest comfort factors in a bar has nothing to do with the beverage or food menus or the service. It's the layout. Take for example, For Pete's Sake...much as I like the place and location, you walk in and can see every table in the joint. The place can be small, I'm okay with that, but it's gotta have some curves, some creases, some nooks. So a place like Grace Tavern could jump up on to my list above For Pete's Sake because of the curve to the floor plan. And, a place like Monk's goes higher even quicker for its hidden back room. And, Grey Lodge for its upstairs...etc.
1) SPTR---love the newer side room, the neighborhood, out of the way, feel..great food, drink...and reasonable prices. A good place for sports, too. Was the place that I was watching the Phillies get washed out of winning the World Series on the Monday night debacle
2) Standard Tap---brunch, pulled pork...local beers, food..an original in a turnaround neighborhood with staying power
3) Druid's Keep---the jukebox, the backyard, and the beer in the shadows of i-95...come as you are, zero pretension, bring your own food adds to the experience, imo
4) Bridgid's---an "old reliable" still doing it right...partly sentimental ranking...partly because they've still got it going in the face of newer, trendier places....horseshoe bar creates intimacy....upstairs for dinner can be nice and private away from the front door
5) Monk's---The special beer dinners, the industry luminaries and the beers they bring that pass through earns this place its world-class ranking. Pretension, arrogance? well, that debate could fill a few more pages, I'm sure.
6) Grey Lodge---nobody tries to compete with Scoats in his neighborhood b/c he's nailed it. He keeps it real with honest food, beer, and prices in a no-nonsense, but yet comfortable, atmosphere. The, uh, unusual events make for some of every year's best beer experiences.
7) TJs---best in the burbs, and accessible by train which makes it very appealing. One of the first in the 'burbs to fully integrate beer into its mission. Some of the friendliest staff around
8) Johnny Brenda's---food, beer, live music, and multi-level make this a more unique beer experience than most
9) Iron Hill---could go for food alone and it would be worth a trip. Add some good standard house beers, and some usually excellent non-standard and one-off beers...festivals that include outside beers...great, knowledgeable staff make any of the 8 locations a sure-fire winner...if brewpubs aren't allowed on the list....then put....
9a) Memphis Taproom---friendly staff, reasonable priced food and beers, owners not afraid to try new neighborhoods and will go to any lengths to make happy customer....get rare beer, have kid-friendly days/atmosphere....a yard sale with homemade goods....very unique and very welcoming
10) Teresa's Next Door---From fastidious approach to spotless glassware, to stellar lists, and events...it's a must-stop for any beer geek traveling through the area. Some nights, Main Line & Beer Snobbery meet up for a classic showdown.
a) McGillin's---has always "been there" for me, and I'm probably taking it too much for granted nowadays
b) Tenstone---haven't been for a while, but the chalkboard menu, the side room, and the neighborhood feel, plus close to Grace and soon Resurrection make this end of South Street much more appealing that it used to be
c) Grace Tavern---only been there once during PBW, but from the friendly service to back room that doglegs right, it seems to be the kind of place I'd like to get to more often and don't
d) Doobies---only been there once during PBW, but could see myself whiling the night away quietly in the corner where no one else in the world could find me...not even google or gps.
e) For Pete's Sake---true neighborhood gem with good street/sidewalk traffic watching aplenty. one of the top places in the city to catch a Philly game on TV and drink good beer.
f) Irish Pub...just kidding. (there was a place and time for that...and that time for me has passed.)
If I was making a list of non-beer bars, the Rose Tatoo would jump immediately to mind. Used to live around the corner and was there a lot in the mid-90s. Got to learn about and love Chilean and Argentinean wines way before their time came to the spotlight. The floral arrangements, friendly service, inviting atmosphere, interesting dining all make for a memorable experience...even only when stopping in for after work drinks along the walk home.