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Beertown, U.S.A.: Philadelphia

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CATEGORIES: Beertown   Feature  

How does Philadelphia get off calling itself  “the best beer-drinking city in America?” From Belgian bars to gastropubs, the beer scene is a frothy wonder.

By Savannah Schroll-Guz


In homage to a city that’s been brewing since the 1680s, Yards (Northern Liberties, yardsbrewing.com)

brews a series of historic beers: George Washington’s Tavern Porter, Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale and a one-of-a-kind Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale. Its Philadelphia Pale Ale is on taps throughout the city. Once a high-end brewpub next door to the Four Seasons hotel, Dock Street (West Philadelphia, dockstreetbeer.com) has reemerged as a gritty, urban gem in West Philly’s Cedar Park. You’ll find contract-brewed bottles of its Illuminator around town, but for a fresher taste hop on the Rt. 34 trolley to visit the brewpub (50th and Baltimore), operating in a former firehouse. The city’s slickest brewpub, Triumph (Old City, triumphbrewing.com), serves tapas on wooden paddles and fills up with fashionable people till 2 a.m. Head for the taps and you’ll find there’s substance beneath that style, however, especially if you order its outstanding unfiltered Kellerbier or Bamberglike Rauchbock.

Philadelphia Brewing (Kensington, philadelphiabrewing.com) is the the city’s newest brewery opened in early ’08 and it’s already up to speed with some fine, easy-drinking ales: Newbold is an IPA, Walt Wit is a Belgian white, Rowhouse Red is a tart farmhouse ale, and Kenzinger, the most popular, is a light-bodied session ale. Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse is not just a great name for a beer, it’s a three-time GABF medalist that Nodding Head (Center City west, ripsneakers.com/nodding) regulars demand year-round. Tart and tangy, it’s a low-alcohol refresher you’ll drink all night. Grog and BPA (Bill Payer Ale) are among other favorites. World-class hops balanced perfectly with righteous German malts have made Victory’s (Chester County, victorybeer.com) HopDevil IPA ubiquitous at Center City bars. Keep hunting, though, and you’ll find some other classics from the Downingtown, Pa., brewer, including Prima Pils and Golden Monkey golden ale. Earth, Bread and Brewery (Mount Airy, earthbreadbrewery.com) is a green-minded brewery serving it’s own beer alongside guest taps from the likes of Sly Fox and Philadelphia Brewing Co. Serving up a devotion to all things doughy, check this brewery for the hearth-baked flatbreads and order a pint of Liquid Bread, made with bread yeast, caraway and black pepper.


Monk’s Café (Center City west, monkscafe.com) was Michael Jackson’s favorite American bar; what else need you say about Monk’s? It serves its own blend of Cantillon gueuze, regularly hosts exotic beer dinners, decorates its walls with tapestries and artwork collected throughout Europe and makes a mean pot of mussels for under $10. Don’t miss the taps (DeRanke XX Bitter!) in the beautifully appointed back bar. You’ll have to hunt to find McGillin’s Old Ale House (Center City east, mcgillins.com) down tiny Drury Street just a couple blocks from City Hall. Once inside, you’ll realize you’ve discovered one of those fun, noisy joints that the locals have been hanging out at for years—in this case, since 1860. Look for the original liquor license behind the bar while enjoying Stoudt’s Gold on tap. What’s Philly talking about? The Eagles? The mayor? Hang out at Bridgid’s (Fairmount, bridgids.com) horseshoe bar in the front room of this comfortable neighborhood spot and you can’t help but hear all the gossip while enjoying a Belgian draft. FYI: That funny thing hanging from the ceiling is Bridgid’s famous Down Draft, a tap connected to a firkin of real ale upstairs. McMenamin’s Tavern (Mt. Airy, 215.247.9920) is Philly at its best: patrons of all colors, ages, genders and sexual proclivities, rubbing elbows at a crowded bar, cheering on the Flyers and ordering from a menu that ranges from wings to roasted lamb. Order the Yards ESA from the hand pump first, then ponder a 17-tap list that always has several flavors (Maudite, Pliny the Elder, Stone Ruination) you won’t find anywhere else in the city. Half neighborhood hangout and half house party, the 700 Club (Northern Liberties, 215.413.3181) is all about getting comfortable with your drink and having a good time. The first floor features two beer engines and a mix of the world’s finest brews, while the upstairs lounge, complete with peeling wallpaper and couches worthy of your grandmother’s basement hosts local DJs and no-cover dance parties every week. Forget the great beer, friendly bartenders and eyebrow raising bathrooms; The Grey Lodge Pub (Northeast Philadelphia, greylodge.com) isn’t your typical Philly bar. With its dozen constantly rotating taps and healthy bottle selection, local favorites such as Philadelphia BiBerry collide with national selections, Great Divide Fresh Hop and Rogue Double Dead Guy to name a few, in a truly unique and wonderful way. Following the success of their groundbreaking Standard Tap gastropub, owners William Reed and Paul Kimport moved into Philly’s blue-collar Fishtown area and launched Johnny Brenda’s (Northern Liberties, johnnybrendas.com). Enjoy a beer list featuring the area’s micro breweries, a chalk board menu focusing on fresh seasonal dishes and a funky upstairs performance space offering cutting–edge independent music. Believe it or not, beer and wine do harmonize, perhaps nowhere better than the sleekly casual Tria (Washington Square West, triacafe.com) Not quite 30 beers on tap, but they’re all superb, think Pliny the Elder. With the most educated staff in the city, Tria offers a well-thought beer and cheese selection, they even offer classes within their fermentation school. Here’s a question: Can you call a beer brewed 5,000 miles away a house beer? Eulogy Belgian Tavern’s (Old city, euologybar.com) La Binchoise Brewery creates Eulogy’s Bust Blonde exclusively for this Philly venue. This Belgian Brasserie also boasts a Napoleon burger that won the Best of Philadelphia award. If a brewer married a foodie, Memphis Tap Room (Kensington, memphistaproom.com) would be their lovechild. It has all the trappings of a serious beer bar—think Lepziger Gose and Popering Homel Bier on tap next to a rotating beer engine—and executive chef Jesse Kimball whips up a menu of cornmeal-encrusted oysters, squash curry and Swiss chard mac and cheese until midnight seven evenings a week.


If you ever wondered what the dishes on TV’s “Iron Chef” taste like, find your way to Masaharu (Center City east, morimotorestaurant.com), Morimoto’s stylish restaurant on Chestnut Street and order his braised pork belly with hot rice porridge. Be sure to wash down the city’s best sushi with a glass of Morimoto Soba Ale from Rogue. For the last 50 years, Broad Street north of City Hall has been an uninviting destination of vacant warehouses and crummy offices. But pushed by a real estate boom, new restaurants are drawing even hesitant tourists to the area. Osteria (Spring Garden, osteriaphilly.com) is renowned Chef Marc Vetri’s second (and cheaper) location, featuring an open kitchen whose pasta and pizza may be the city’s best. Co-owners Paul Kimport and William Reed spent years fixing up this old tavern, Standard Tap (Northern Liberties, www.standardtap.com), with one thing in mind: good local beer. But a funny thing happened after the taps started pouring: The bar gained even more fame for its food, thus kicking off America’s gastropub trend. Fried smelts, hanger steak and perhaps the city’s best burger are favorites on the chalkboard menu. Only New York has more Asian restaurants on the East Coast, and this one can hold its own against any of them. Inexpensive and gloriously delicious, the menu at Vietnam Restaurant (Chinatown, eatatvietnam.com) ranges from aromatic hot pots to spicy shrimp curry. Bring a friend or two and split the barbecue platter, a dish piled with grilled chicken, stuffed grape leaves, meatballs, rice vermicelli and the crispiest spring rolls you’ll ever dunk into hot sauce. The hottest trend in Philly restaurants is tapas, small plates with exotic ingredients. Share a half dozen of them (lobster empanadas, deep-fried oysters, porcini croquetas) with a friend at Bar Ferdinand (Northern Liberties, barferdinand.com) and pair them with pints of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.


Standing tall on busy Market Street, the Loews Hotel (Center City east, loewshotels.com) is located inside a former bank building that was declared a national historic landmark and one of the most important skyscrapers in America. The best part about staying here is you’ll never get lost on the way home from the bar: Its huge, glowing, red PSFS sign can be seen throughout the city. Aside from lavish (and expensive) rooms, the main feature of the Ritz Carlton (Avenue of the Arts, ritzcarlton.com) is its astounding domed lobby and lounge, a remnant from the building’s days as a bank. After a night on the town, you’ll want to collapse into one of its comfy leather chairs, listen to live music from the piano and enjoy a nightcap. The Alexander Inn (Washington Square West, alexanderinn.com) is a comfy boutique hotel tucked among Center City’s 19th-century rowhouses, just a short walk from the Avenue of the Arts. The less-than-prime location saves you a few bucks (as low as $119 a night) that you can spend at the Tria Café directly across the street. Convenience and comfort, those are the main attractions of The Radisson Plaza-Warwick (Rittenhouse Square, radisson.com). You’re at ground zero of the Center City bar scene (Monk’s Café, Tria Café, Good Dog, Nodding Head, Jose Pistola’s). After an all-night crawl, you can sack out on Sleep Number beds while channel-surfing the 32-inch flat-screens. From City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Ben Franklin Parkway is perhaps the most scenic city street in the East. Fountains, sculptures, the Rodin Museum, Love Park— The Windsor Suites (Ben Franklin Parkway, windsorhotel.com) stands tall above it all. The suites, equipped with kitchens, are among Center City’s most affordable.


The Italian market (South Philly) on Ninth Street between Wharton and Fitzpatrick is where Rocky jogged before his big fight, among colorful produce stands and open barrel fires with the waft of thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma in the air. Wander into DiBruno’s Cheese for the best aroma, then check out the sausage links at D’Angelo’s and cool off with a water ice at Rensulli’s. Built at the terminus of the old Reading Railroad, the Reading Terminal Market (Center City east, readingterminalmarket.org) opened in 1893 as a place for farmers to sell their dairy, produce and meats to city dwellers. Though it now caters to tourists, it’s still a vibrant market where office workers snatch up groceries on the way home. This town hasn’t seen a professional sports championship for an incredible 25 consecutive years, but the fans are as rabid as ever for Sports (South Philadelphia and University City). The Phillies play at Citizen’s Bank Park in South Philly where a dozen different craft beers flow on tap. During college hoops season, the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania in West Philly is an iconic venue. George Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, Ben Franklin—they all ate, drank and slept in the City of Brotherly Love. Walk Through Time (Old City) along the Tippler’s Tour, which explores the role of taverns in colonial America. Stop at the Independence Visitors Center for tix to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, symbols of the very birth of our nation, then stroll the cobblestones of Elfreth’s Alley (built in 1702) where working-class families still live. Philly’s picturesque home of the 150-year-old Schuylkill Navy is one of the city’s most

photographed scenes. If you visit Boathouse Row (Kelly Drive, boathouserow.org) in the early morning, you’ll find scores of barrel-chested rowers stroking along the mirror-like waters, beneath aging bridges and alongside Fairmount Park’s well-used bicycle path. It’s as idyllic as the Seine in Paris.


Your first stop should be either Pat’s or Geno’s (South Philadelphia, patskingofsteaks.com, genosteaks.com). Everyone argues: Pat’s or Geno’s. Standing across the street from each other at 9th and Passyunk streets, the two are forever feuding over who makes Philly’s best cheesesteak, and who invented it first. At Pat’s, check out the photos of visiting movie stars (“Rocky” scenes were shot here), and at Geno’s, the owner has a rep for demanding that his customers speak English only, so don’t talk politics—eat! The stylish, art-deco building at South Street’s busiest intersection, Jim’s Steaks (South Street, jimssteaks.com), is a magnet for the young and hip. On weekends, be prepared for a line that wraps down the street (don’t worry, it moves quickly and you’ll make friends). The steak is superb and, bonus, there’s a decent selection of bottles that will help you wash down your sandwich. Meet the chef at Tony Luke’s (South Philadelphia, tonylukes.com) he’s big, burly and tattooed. Tony Luke Jr. is a tough-guy movie actor and former boxer who happens to be a helluva cook. His shop in the shadow of an I-95 overpass is a favorite among locals looking to avoid the tourists. If steak’s not your thing, try the roast pork with broccoli rabe. Head to Dalessandro’s Steaks (Roxborough, 215.482.5407) for a lighter-style sandwich—not lo-cal, but with more finely chopped meat. Compare it to another fine joint just across the street, Chubby’s. Both serve beer, but you’ll find an even better selection down the hill at the nearby Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant. John’s Roast Pork (johnsroastpork.com, South Philadelphia) is just a shack on a gritty street with a name that doesn’t even advertise its specialty. You might have trouble finding it, and it’s closed on weekends. But it’s here where you will find true cholesterol-fat-grease nirvana •

[Photo: Sepavo]



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