Archive for the bar hopping Category

Showdown at the Saloon

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , on May 6, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment

The Fairmount bar scene is an area that we South Philadelphians have yet to frequent.  So in honor of long since passed Philly Beer Week we decided to go take a gander at what Fairmount had to offer.  One stop along the way was Urban Saloon.

Rootin' Tootin'...from the outside at least...

Rootin' Tootin'...from the outside at least...

Standing outside of Urban Saloon makes one imagine being at a bar where Maverick or Cheyenne might have grabbed a pint or two before they had to outwit and outlaw.  But beyond the old western saloon doors lies something unexpectedly different.

The single-floored, wide room has the architectural structure of a place that was once a storage shed or facility. The gathered curtains separating bar from dining area give a modern take on the saloon doors at the entrance.  However, the combination of new wood floors, brick inlays, spot lights, and four flat screen T.Vs.  makes you wonder if you’re still in the same “saloon” you walked into.

Maybe Urban Saloon is code-word for “fourth dimensional entrance” in these parts.  Which would not only explain the mismatched atmosphere, but would also excuse the hour-long wait we experienced after ordering only a salad and a cup of soup in what was not a crowded restaurant.  Time simply ran differently for the customers and waiters, as the kitchen crawled along in Twilight Zone space.

Green dressing was neither appetizing or tasty.

The green dressing was neither appetizing nor tasty.

When at last the plates of food sallied forth with the slow tread of Yosemite Sam, we could not help but react like a pair of yellow-bellies staring down the barrel of a gun: our meals didn’t so much resemble food, as slop fresh from the trough.  Miss Riot’s “Caprese Salad” was no more than an ant-hill made out of tomatoes, with a few mozzarella balls stuck on top for good measure.  And Kunoichi’s Clam Chowder was about as leathery as a jacket stripped from the back of Steve McQueen.

In the end, we couldn’t even resort to a decent array of beer to fortify our pallets.  Although the menu includes some interesting craft bottles, like Victory and Flying Fish, nevertheless the assortment resembles more nearly the standard beer menu available in any chain restaurant.

As the Western Code saying (sort of) goes, this Saloon ain’t saloon-y enough ‘fer the both of us!  This bar didn’t fulfill what two spaghetti western-watchin’ lasses had wished for.  In fact, Urban Saloon was just as unexpected as this gun fight!

From The Gun and the Pulpit (1974)

It’s not easy being green. Or underground, for that matter.

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment

“…I was walking among the fires of Hell,

delighted with the enjoyments of Genius;

which to Angels look like torment and insanity.”

–William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

We’re all familiar with the stairway to heaven and the ladder of success, but very few of us would realize that descent can also lead to new worlds and good things.  Not so the people at 12 Steps Down.  They have hidden their bar away in a den below ground, daring the adventurous to climb down and discover what lies hidden for them in the darker depths.

The brave will encounter, not a haven for Morlocks, but a strangely inviting expanse of sensual overload.  Like a well-made spaghetti western, 12 Steps Down offers a little bit of everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some traits may overwhelm the newcomer with delight, others may annoy; but overall, these traits combine to create an experience well worth reliving again and again.

Upon first setting foot on the green carpet, we couldn’t resist the impression that we were walking across a giant pool table.  The viridian field spread out before us, beckoning us inward as smoothly as entrants to the Emerald City.  We passed the actual pool table in the back; it seemed to grow out of the ground, a living extension of the rug.  Even the light stretching forth from the restroom corridor was green, glowing eerily like the special effects from a Stephen King TV special.

Soon, our ears were seduced by the strains of Jimi Hendrix and Cream, and we were forced to admit that we had finally discovered a bar where we didn’t feel the need to feed more money into the jukebox.  The final assault to our senses came in the form of a television with gigantic proportions.  It was Ray Bradbury’s wall-screen, transformed from fiction into reality.  What better way to enjoy our beer than to accompany it with a bit of sleuthwork, and take in the latest episode of Dateline in mammoth dimensions?

True, the service at the bar was a little slow.  But we really couldn’t fault the bartender for finishing his conversation with a regular before moving on to the uninitiated newbs.

Something truly pleasing about this bar is their beer list.  Even though three taps sit meekly at the corner of the bar, they are filled with a beer for everyone: one for the cheapos, one for the everyman, and one for the aficionados.   Although itty bitty in the eyes of most places blooming up these days, the bottle selection is shockingly varied.  Beers from PBC,Yards, and Victory line the shelves as well as other well known, non-locally crafted beers.

If you take a gander at the board behind the bar you’ll see what’s on tap and a dozen bottles that might only be available for a limited time.  But the most wonderful thing about this board is the prices scribbled alongside the beer (which is something all cash strapped beer lovers can appreciate).

But the most important thing we discovered at 12 Steps Down is a lesson Rowan Atkinson learned a long time ago: sometimes, things can be a little more fun down below.

* this post was previously posted at our Philadelphia Weekly page.

A Little Bit of Saving Grace

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , , , on April 17, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment
dscf01471

Don't judge a bar by its cover.

Grace Tavern.  It was a name we’d heard passed back and forth between the lips of locals, peppered throughout conversations behind the bar and in the midst of parties.  We were informed of its status as a hole-in-the-wall that was, nevertheless, well worth a visit.  For us, it became like a legendary El Dorado, a promised land that only those in-the-know could reach.

We were not disappointed by our nighttime venture.  We walked through its misleadingly shabby exterior, into a realm cut directly from a Pink Floyd album cover.  Like Dr. Dave Bowman after confronting the Black Monolith, we were drawn forward into a landscape of strange hues and distorted geometry.  Grace Tavern can be summed up in only a few words.  The atmosphere?  Psychedelic.  The color?  Purple Haze.

Nevertheless, don’t let the trippy atmosphere fool you.  This hippie haven is well-stocked with the best in beer.  With featured drafts from Monks Cafe and Nodding Head, and a bottled beauty for almost every letter of the alphabet, this bar at 2229 Grays Ferry Ave will keep you happy all night long.

Sure, the bathroom may be kind of small, and the Bevador in the corner may look like a leftover prop from Forbidden Planet, but this bar screams “cool” as fiercely as a Bob Dylan record.  From the floral pattern etched into the ceiling, to the funky lighting, Grace is sure to please the flower child in all of us.  So hop aboard the magic bus and take a ride to Grace Tavern.

And if you should have trouble spotting it, just remember, it vaguely resembles the background from the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? set:

Next Stop on the Bar-Hop Express: Local 44

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment

Finding a good bar is like finding a soul mate.  The very air around you should sing softly of future memories forged on the strength of the bond created upon that first fateful meeting.  When your foot crosses the threshold for the first time, the force of the atmosphere should drag you forward like a willing victim into Dracula’s castle.  The personality of the bar should fold itself around you, whispering assurances that you have indeed entered a space that is alive: with excitement, with curiosity, with warmth.

local-44

Local 44 on the corner of 44th and Spruce Streets.

Yet the first thing one notices upon entering Local 44 is that the walls work to block out the whip of the wind outside.  It whispers only, “Now you can remove your jacket.”  That is all.  No magical tinkling of invisible faerie bells, no electrical shock through the nervous system, tells you that there may be more here than meets the eye.

It’s not the decor that throws the place off.  The brick-red walls perfectly compliment the paneled floors.  The thin, dark-wood doors that lead into the kitchen look like they’ve just been shipped from a European chapel, thanks to the stained-glass window-slits that adorn them.  Even the bar has a touch of old-world glamor, as the line of light bulbs that dangle down from wires in the ceiling seems like it could come from some unused corridor in Thomas Edison’s factory.

It’s not that the beerlist is unimpressive.  In fact, their fine selection of craft beers, ranging from Slyfox to Ommegang to St. Bernardus, may be what saves this West Philly bar from obscurity.  Because even college students need good beer once in a while.

Perhaps it was a combination of small things.  It may have been the fact that the large frames that hang on the walls contain pictures of rather nondescript glasses of beer.  A bar should serve beer, but decorate with items that give it a touch of personal flavor, and not of redundancy.  The food, according to friends, was decent, but not great.  They even sold out of two beers during a two-hour interval.  And while the demands of Philly Beer Week must have been high, perhaps better preparation might have been in order.

Then again, maybe it’s just new.  A bar, like a fine wine or a pair of Doc Martens, tends to improve with age.  In a few years, when it’s built a bit of character and achieved that lived-in quality, perhaps a spirit will inhabit what, for now, remains only a building.

Our Ode to Dive Bars — in which we wax nostalgic over the dying breed of corner bars

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment

Okay.  So maybe the water tastes like some guy stood under the El during a rainstorm and filled a bunch of buckets with the sludge that leaked through.  And maybe the occasional old punk-rocker will stumble in, reminiscing about the good-old-days.  But, then again, it’s the neighborhood corner bars, where the shows are cheap, and the beer even cheaper, that give a city its character.

The El Bar, located at 1356 N. Front Street, is the quintessential dive-bar.    Like a bowl of instant ramen, it provides a quick burst of comfort for a negligible price.  After all, where else could you find a venue that will include performances from a rockabilly band, a Japanese garage group, and a psychedelic-rock quartet that very prominently features the kazoo…maybe even all on the same night?

Upcoming shows include:

Feb. 13, 9 pm: Billy D. Light Trio with Delco Nightingale & the girls of Peek-A-Boo Revue

Feb. 27, 9 pm: The Buzzards with The Lone Gunmen and American Barfight

Mar. 14, 9 pm: Handsome Petes, The Orange Factory, Transistor Down, God’s Green Earth

Apr. 4, 8 pm: Victoria Fest II

A cross between Eric Foreman’s basement and the bastard-son of CBGB, the El Bar is our home away from home.  It’s a place where, quite literally, everybody knows your name.

So, if you’re looking for a spot where you can unleash your passion for swing-dancing, or just make a few good friends, you know where we’ll be.

After all, if we allow our dive-bars to die out, then the only other place to buy cheap beer will be…Canada:

That 70’s Show, “Canadian Road Trip”

Abandon All Hope Ye Who DON’T Enter Here

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment

(note: this post features sarcastic/”corny” word play.  Feel free to insert a punchline joke drum roll at the end of these sentences.)

The corner of 11th and Ellsworth was rarely populated a few years ago. Even with the typical Italian restaurant monumentally sitting on the corner, no one was ever around.

That is until Lucifer decided to move in.

Devil’s Den is a blissful watering hole filled with plenty of warmth for these cold winter months. Shades of reds and dark browns cover the interior as if the room was a part of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”. Red bricked walls separate the dining area from the bar, while the fireplace sits in the center of the den, creating a feeling that you might turn around and see a guy with a pitchfork and horns shoveling logs into the fire.

Beyond the interior the food and beer selection is to die for. The beer list is the baby brother of beer menus from places like Monks and Eulogy. Devil’s Den features 16 craft beers on tap that are constantly in rotation, pages of bottled beer, and three types of beer flights…and all at reasonable non-Center City prices.

If you’re interested in getting some dinner you won’t be disappointed. The food is just as sinful as the beer menu. Featured are mussels and clams; cooked and seasoned in five different styles. There are also plenty of salad, sandwich, and appetizer choices. Some of the items on the list are even cooked in beer! Franziskaner mussels, Hennepin Chicken sandwich, and Arrogant Bastard Cheese Fries- the sound of them alone should make any beer lover’s mouth water. Friendly and knowledgeable waiters and bartenders complete your devilish experience.

Hello Devil’s Den.  Pleased to meet you.  Hope everyone knows your name.

Continue your descent into Devils Den


Cead Mile Failte

Posted in bar hopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by philadelphiaexbeeriment

Have you ever longed to step into an Escher drawing, where the laws of physical reality become topsy-turvy, and, like Alice, find yourself in a world of inside-out and upside-down?  Well, now you can.  In a bar better known as the Irish Times, you can seat yourself in the midst of criss-crossing stairs and balconies that twist themselves about in strange angles worthy of that crazy scene from the Labyrinth.  In fact, with its old-time manor atmosphere, you half-expect to find David Bowie singing to you from over the railing.

The lower-level of the bar looks like the corner-slice from a castle cake.  Our only guess is that the same giants who moved Stone Henge must have stolen a turret from some European castle and plopped it right on the corner of 2nd and Bainbridge.  From the grey stone and warm red brick of the walls, to the fireplace burning invitingly below, no sight could be merrier to eyes sore from the freezing blasts of winter.

Aside from castle-like atmosphere, the Irish Times also provides a little bit o’ luck. Enter your email address on their website for a chance to win $50 gift certificates.  But even if the lucky leprechaun isn’t on your side, you can still enjoy some delicious drafts and whiskeys.

Irish Times offers the “burbonites” plenty of Irish whiskey- from Tullamore Dew to Midleton.  Draft selection is a common lineup; featuring Stella Artois, Blue Moon, and Guinness.  But beyond the tap lies a more extensive bottled beer selection. Choices of Chimay Red, Blue, and White label should leave beer lovers appreciative of this unusal find beyond the doors of the Foodery and other take-out beer stops.

For anyone possessed with a bit of the Celtic Spirit, or who just enjoys a bit of off-the-wall fun, we highly recommend the Irish Times as a rest-stop to warm your bones and cheer your heart.  Tuesday nights are of particular interest, as local talent and fun-seekers gather together for open-mic night.  Not to mention live Irish music sessions every Thursday night.

The pipes, the pipes are calling, so get ye down to the Irish Times, before we drink up all the beer.

Please visit Irish Times for more information.