12 Historic Philadelphia Bars

Norman Maddeaux, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Norman Maddeaux, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0 / Norman Maddeaux, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Philadelphia, which dubs itself “America’s Best Beer-Drinking City,” is home to some of the nation’s oldest and most historic bars. Along preserved cobblestone streets, locals and visitors alike can step into the very same watering holes in which our founding fathers and their progeny debated policies over pints.

1. City Tavern 

The City Tavern is as much a piece of Philadelphia history as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The building was erected in 1773 and stood as the unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Congress. It was also George Washington’s favorite place to drink, dine, and entertain diplomats. The original building was unfortunately destroyed in 1854, but a modern replica was rebuilt in 1975. The restaurant and bar, which is now a part of Independence National Historical Park, serves traditional colonial meals and ales to this day.

2. M Restaurant 

In 1687, Anthony Morris founded the Morris Brewery, one of the first breweries in the nation. And today, situated in the historic Morris House Hotel, built in 1787, is one of the city’s finest restaurants and favorite outdoor beer gardens. Here, you can sip in the history and enjoy happy hour in the posh courtyard of a National Historic Landmark. 

3. McGillin's Old Ale House 

lauren, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Welcome to Philadelphia’s oldest still-operating tavern. McGillin’s opened in 1860, and has been serving the good people of Philadelphia—as well as the likes of Tennessee Williams, Thomas Eakins, Ethel Merman, Vincent Price, the Marx Brothers, and W.C. Fields—for 155 years. The bar proudly displays every liquor license it's held since 1874, and the walls are covered in famous Philadelphia paraphernalia, including items from the original Wanamaker’s department store.

4. National Mechanics

Kim Salmons, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The bar itself may be modern, but the National Mechanics Building has been around since 1837. The William Strickland-designed building was home to banks and churches before it became a kitschy haunt for the trendy crowd. 

5. Pen & Pencil Club 

The oldest continuously operated press club in the United States, this members only lounge was founded in 1892 by members of the Stylus Club, the Journalist Club of Philadelphia, and the Reporters Club. Today, in order to become a member, you have to be an active journalist or member of the media. However, the general public can visit the little bar tucked away on Latimer Street as a member's guest or by attending a special event.

6. Khyber Pass Pub 

Tom Ipri, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Back in the '80s, the place to go in Philadelphia for a punk rock show was the Khyber. Since then, it’s grown up, gotten a job, and emerged as the much more responsible Khyber Pass Pub, which this year was ranked as one of the top 15 bars in America, the first in Philadelphia since 2007. That's all well and good, but why's it on a list of historical bars? The Khyber Pass Pub's dark wood bar is from the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair. 

7. The Mask and Wig Clubhouse 

Ketzirah Lesser, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Before becoming home to the University of Pennsylvania’s collegiate musical comedy troupe in 1894, The Mask and Wig Clubhouse was home to a church, a stable and carriage house, and, in the 1800s, dissecting rooms for Jefferson Medical College. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Mask and Wig Clubhouse welcomes visitors to see Mask and Wig performances or to rent the space for special occasions. The rustic space was designed by Wilson Eyre and includes artwork by Maxfield Parrish. 

8. The Olde Bar 

The Olde Bar really lives up to its name. The bar and restaurant by famed Philadelphia chef Jose Garces lives inside Old Original Bookbinder’s,  a seafood house and Philadelphia institution since 1898. After Bookbinder’s went bankrupt in 2009, Garces leased the building and promised to pay homage to its historic home. Nowadays, you can enjoy classic cocktails and buck-a-shuck oysters at happy hour and feel good knowing that the bar and restaurant participate in the Delaware Estuary Oyster Shell Recycling Program. 

9. Cherry Street Tavern 

This bar is so old it used to have a separate entrance for women. It’s been around since 1905, and was made into a barber shop front during prohibition. The bar was founded by local football legend John Flannery and has since been a favorite spot for famous athletes such as Larry Bird and Joe Frazier.

10. Dock Street Brewery 

The brewery has been around since the 1980s, making Dock Street one of America’s oldest microbreweries. However, its home in West Philadelphia has a history all its own: The brewery lives in a 112-year-old converted firehouse at the corner of 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue.

11. Quig’s Pub 

Quig’s is an institution in the Philadelphia theater scene. This members-only bar and lounge is located on the top floor of Plays & Players, one of the city’s oldest theaters. It was designed and built in 1912 by Amos W. Barnes and has gone by several names, including The Little Theatre, The Delancey Street Theatre, and The Philadelphia Theatre before settling on Plays & Players. If you poke your head around the lobby, you'll find murals by Edith Emerson.

12. Dirty Frank’s 

John Donges, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

When Philadelphians think of dive bars, they think of Dirty Frank’s, which features walls painted with the faces of famous Franks. This hole-in-the-wall has been around since 1933, and its lack of natural light will remind you of its prohibition-era past. When its third owner tried to change the name in 1959 to the 347 Club, it didn’t stick. The faithful patrons continued calling it Dirty Frank’s, so the owner changed it back. When you want cheap beer and a good story, you go to Dirty Frank’s. True Story: Bob Dylan was once kicked out of it