The Founding Fathers got their first drinks on in Philly at City Tavern in the 1770s. And over the next 250 years, Philly faithful have discovered outstanding watering holes all over the city.
One of the things people miss most from life before coronavirus is a night out at their favorite bar. As we slowly emerge from our coronavirus stay-at-home slumber, we can’t wait to safely get back to the places we frequented with our friends where everybody knows our names. And that’s just as, if not more, true in Philadelphia, a city with one of the nation’s best bar, pub and nightclub scenes.
What are the best bars in Philadelphia? That, of course, is subjective. The variety is unending, from the oldest (McGillin’s Olde Ale House) to the highest (JG Skyhigh) to arguably the most famous (Paddy’s Pub Old City). But it’s an easier discussion to have when you break it down into the categories searched for the most by folks like you on Google — like the best sports bars in Philadelphia, the best rooftop bars in Philadelphia and the best dive bars in Philadelphia.
Without further ado, here’s our breakdown of the best bars in Philadelphia. (Please check individual websites and social media for open status, hours and seating options.)
Best sports bars in Philadelphia
Everyone knows that Philadelphia is one of America’s great sports towns, and Philadelphians love their teams with a passion, whether it be the big five professional sports or Big Five college basketball.
And there are great sports bars to watch those Philly teams with cheering crowds of fellow Philly fans on every corner. Among all of those to choose from, here are some of the best sports bars in Philadelphia.
A lot of well-attended sports bars are cramped, dark and overcrowded. Not Garage. The Fishtown location (another location exists in East Passyunk) is open and inviting with large garage doors (hence the name) that swing open when the weather warms.
It also has one of the biggest beer selections in Philly, with more than 300 beers — all in cans. Not only are the walls lined with nine large TVs showing any game you wish, but you can also hold your own competitions at the Skee-Ball machines. The bar is bring-your-own-food, which is good news for you with iconic Joe’s Steaks right across the street.
Talk about a sports fan’s paradise. Cavanaugh’s, in historic Headhouse Square, offers five separate bars across two floors. Just a couple blocks off South Street, Cavanaugh’s Headhouse (other locations exist in Rittenhouse and University City) is the perfect spot to end a pub crawl or to watch every NCAA tournament game.
Dozens of TVs keep the action going at the classic and classy sports tavern, with a great beer selection and a better whiskey selection. Plus, there’s a laid back pub food menu featuring one of the city’s best burgers from a late-night kitchen open until one in the morning.
Field House Philly
One of Philly’s biggest and most traditional massive sports bars, Field House is central to everything, attached to the Convention Center and the Marriott, across the street from Reading Terminal Market and next to Jefferson Station.
The 12,000 square-foot beer hall features more than 50 TVs divided into different “sound zones,” an interactive game room with Skee-Ball, bubble hockey and pop-a-shot, and is the official game-watch home for a plethora of college alumni associations. But what brings the real sports fans to Field House are the more than 40 beers on draft all from within 100 miles of the city.
Not for the faint of heart, no list of best sports bars in Philly is complete without Xfinity Live! in South Philly. The giant complex, just steps from the homes of the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers, is actually a conglomeration of five separate themed bars: 1100 Social, PBR Philly, Victory Beer Hall, Broad Street Bullies Pub and NBC Sports Arena.
The facility offers a gigantic 32-foot LED TV above an 850-capacity drinking and dining space with an almost stadium-like atmosphere on game days. And outside, there’s a beer garden with its own 24-foot LED screen.
Best rooftop bars in Philadelphia
In the warm weather (heck, even in the cold), there are few places better to enjoy a beer or a cocktail than high above the city on a rooftop deck or patio. Something about drinking outdoors with a stunning view of the skyline or looking down on a bustling street just makes everything taste better.
Thankfully, Philly is rife with bars featuring amazing rooftop spaces to grab a drink and watch the sunset, including these best rooftop bars in Philadelphia.
Upscale but accessible, South Philly’s Bok Bar is a massive beer garden atop a former vocational high school’s roof. Taking up the entire space, the rooftop bar offers 360-degree views of the city from the Sports Complex to Center City to the Ben Franklin Bridge to West Philly.
Open only in the warm months, Bok is a beer and wine bar offering local beers, ciders, rosés and even kombucha on which to sip while enjoying the spectacular views.
The Continental Midtown
One of 20 Stephen Starr restaurants in Philadelphia, Continental Midtown (there’s another location in Old City) is one of the most popular spots in the Rittenhouse area, much of it due to its partially-enclosed rooftop deck overlooking busy 18th and Chestnut.
The lounge’s romantic 1960s vibe features shady trees, cozy couches and cozier fireplaces perfect for a first or 400th date. The giant olive atop its sign is an indication that the martini is Continental’s signature drink, but don’t sleep on the spot’s Philly-themed mid-century specialty drinks like the whiskey-ginger Society Hill.
In a city with America’s first university, first library, first newspaper, first zoo and first art museum, you can be excused for overlooking America’s first gastropub. Popular long before Northern Liberties’ revival, Standard Tap dates back to late last century.
In addition to its 20-tap, daily-rotating local craft beer selection, The Tap features a laid-back year-round covered rooftop deck overlooking Poplar Street and one of the city’s best pub fare menus and weekend brunch.
“Standard Tap is rightly famous for so many reasons, including being the first craft beer bar in Philly I know of to focus exclusively on local selections. And it can be easy to forget how awesome the space is. I have plenty of friends who make regular pilgrimages to have brunch on that rooftop … and by brunch I may or may not mean a killer hamburger and a local brew!” – Tara Nurin, Beer and Spirits Contributor for Forbes
Best bars for singles in Philadelphia
It’s a good time to be single in Philly. At 52 percent, the city features the highest percentage of adults who have never been married of any large U.S. city, and by a wide margin.
Whether you’re just out to have a night of flirty fun or you’re looking for your life partner, Philly offers some of the best spots for singles to meet and greet and mingle anywhere in the nation, and here are some of the best.
If variety is the spice of your dating life, look no further than Midtown Village’s Time. The bustling spot is a three-story venue with a different vibe on each floor. Strike up a conversation while watching a game or sipping a smooth one at the quiet first-floor whiskey bar, catch a glance from a fellow music fan while listening to live jazz on the second floor every night or show off your moves for that cute single across the bar at the high-volume top floor dance club with DJs spinning tunes every weekend.
You had me at “underground ping-pong bar.” What a great meet-cute story you’ll have when you tell your friends you met your new belle or beau when they challenged you to a game of ping-pong over a Gin Jawn at SPIN. You don’t even have to be a paddle pro to stop in, just chill out by the bar or in a booth and take in the action while discussing that great shot with the attractive stranger next to you.
Feeling a little bolder? Invite them to join you in the ball pit, a bathtub full of bright orange table tennis balls. The venue features 17 Olympic-grade ping-pong tables so you and your date never have to wait, with all the pinging and ponging you desire for between $25 and $39 per hour, which includes “groundskeepers” so you never have to chase an errant swat.
If you’ve ever wondered what dating was like back during the Prohibition …well, it probably wasn’t like this but Prohibition Taproom is modeled after authentic 1920s speakeasies. The drinks are strong, with beers upwards of 10.5 percent alcohol routinely available, and the vibe is dark and foreboding as if you’re waiting for the feds to bust in any moment — it’s the perfect spot to meet another Philly bar aficionado out on the town for a few interesting drinks.
The bar has a quality bottle and wine selection plus a dozen tap lines that rotate frequently so you can share a flight with that brooding stranger down the bar you’ve had your eye on. Prohibition is just down the way from music venue Union Transfer, which makes it a great place to dissect that amazing show you just saw with a fellow concertgoer you might have an interest in.
Best dive bars in Philadelphia
No frills, no games, no theme nights. Sometimes, you just want to go out and enjoy a beer and maybe a jukebox of classic rock and a static-y TV and only a dive bar can fill that order. Just ask the folks from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Philly is the ultimate in neighborhood dive bars you want to hang out at until closing.
From dank basement watering holes to uproarious Irish pubs, Philly has it all, including these best dive bars in Philadelphia.
Bob & Barbara’s Lounge
There’s nothing in Philadelphia that says “dive bar” more than a Citywide, the special consisting of a Pabst Blue Ribbon pounder with a Jim Beam shot for just three or four bucks available in nearly every true Philly bar, so why not have it at the originator?
The Citywide was invented at Bob & Barbara’s, a divey spot dating back to the ’60s filled with PBR memorabilia, loud music (from a real jukebox, they got rid of the digital monstrosity years ago), tiny TVs and couples making out in corners. Come for the dankness, stay for the weekly drag shows, karaoke and jazz bands.
Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar
Is it your birthday? Pop on over to Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, and you’ll get a shot on the house complete with a candle for you to blow out. And if you’re out early on your birthday, no problem. In true dive bar tradition, Ray’s is open for business at seven in the morning six days a week (you’ll have to wait until nine on Sundays), because sometimes you just need a beer and a shot at sunrise.
For more than 80 years, Ray’s has been a Philly dive institution where the bartenders are at the same time friendly and full of attitude, and smoking is still allowed inside. And if a night of drinking leaves you with the munchies, the bar is literally steps (or a crawl, depending on how your evening went) from 24/7 cheesesteak institutions Pat’s and Geno’s.
If your vision of a dive bar is punk music and graffiti-covered walls, then Tattooed Mom is the place for you. That being said, T-Mom leans more cool than grungy but maintains its dive bar bona fides with its expansive half-priced happy hour and its location on iconically cool South Street.
A two-floor venue, the downstairs bar features neon green walls, vintage couches and décor, pop arts and crafts and a nightly food specials menu with the city’s best pierogis, Chubbsteak wrap and a bevy of vegan options. Upstairs is a billiards room covered in street art, wheat pastes and stickers.
But what makes Tattooed Mom’s that much more unique and one of the best dive bars in Philadelphia are the free kids’ toys and classic candy sitting atop the bar and at every table.
Best karaoke bars in Philadelphia
Whether your style is belting out Gloria Gaynor with all the flair and panache you can muster or it’s a tipsy out-of-tune singalong rendition of “Piano Man,” there’s nothing like a good karaoke bar, and Philly doesn’t disappoint. Grab the mic and a beer and make a wonderful spectacle of yourself at some of Philadelphia’s best karaoke hangouts.
Absolutely no conversation about karaoke bars in Philly can begin without Yakitori Boy. YB’s is far-and-away the most well-known karaoke spot in the city, featuring an often-crowded but low-pressure upstairs main karaoke room and several private rooms available for reservations.
For a famous karaoke jawn, you’d be surprised to find out there’s no formal stage in the main lounge, but that only encourages sing-alongs with groups of strangers. Karaoke is available every night (and day) of the week, with more than 4,000 songs to choose from. But Yakitori is more than just karaoke, it’s also an izakaya, a bar serving Japanese tapas, or Japas.
National Mechanics is named for the building in which it sits, the former Mechanics National Bank building in Old City which dates back nearly 200 years. You can’t take out a loan but inside you sure can party and sing.
Crowds come out in droves for Nat Mechanics karaoke nights (currently Tuesday nights at 9 p.m., coronavirus crisis notwithstanding), with the lounge packed with some of the city’s best amateur singers. With more than 1,000 songs on its state-of-the-art machine, standing ovations are not uncommon for the best performers.
Similar to Old City itself, the bar is a mix of Founding Father throwback and modern chic. And don’t miss Nat Mechanics’ famous Bloody Marys.
While karaoke and Japanese cuisine traditionally go hand-in-hand, one of the city’s best karaoke spots is a traditional Mexican bar and grill in South Philly. Karaoke nights at Adobe Café‘s Bella Vista location are regularly scheduled every Saturday night (its Roxborough spot does it on Fridays, check the web for coronavirus updates), and features a substantial supply of props, masks and wigs by the stage for you to make your karaoke performance memorable and super Instagrammable.
Adobe’s menu is filled with classic Southwestern and Mexican dishes, plus extensive vegan and vegetarian options. And don’t forget the $2 Jose Cuervo shots if you need a bit of liquid courage to get up and belt out a tune.
Best gay bars in Philadelphia
It should be to no one’s surprise that Philly is one of America’s most LGBTQIA+ friendly cities. And Philly’s stylish Gayborhood, tucked inside Center City’s Washington Square West (or Midtown Village), is the center of the action, one of the top gay-focused districts in the nation, featuring many gay and lesbian-owned and -catered performance theaters, shops, fashion, health centers, restaurants and, of course, bars and nightclubs.
Here are a few of the best and most iconic for a quiet night at the bar or dancing shoulder to shoulder late into the night.
If your bar is one of Out Magazine‘s “Greatest Gay Bars in the World” and they call it Philly’s “best gay bar,” then you know for sure it’s true. Dating back to 1980, Woody’s is one of the city’s oldest gay bars, but recent renovations and expansions have kept things fresh.
In the heart of the Gayborhood, Woody’s offers one of the district’s busiest weekday happy hours and a popular lunch but come the weekend, a sea of patrons packs the joint wall to wall. The lower level features a classic bar with 32 beer taps and a great food menu, along with a cocktail lounge awash in neon and an intimate coffee room.
But upstairs is Woody’s fabled dance floor with a rotating roster of epic DJs, glistening mirrorballs and glistening bodies, plus a cyber bar and free Internet booths.
Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar
Not everyone wants to dance and flirt the night away. Sometimes, you just want to watch the game. That’s what Tabu Lounge is all about as Philly’s original gay sports bar. Tabu’s new location two blocks up from its previous spot offers a ton more space, raising its cachet as one of the most popular LGBTQIA clubs in the city.
The sports bar downstairs is everything a great sports bar should be, with every game on giant TVs with smaller alcoves for more intimate conversation. The second floor is a cacophony of activity each evening featuring performance art, karaoke, dance parties, burlesque, Quizzo and drag shows. But the pièce de résistance is the third-floor rooftop deck overlooking the Gayborhood. Hungry? Don’t miss Tabu’s signature tater tots.
Toasted Walnut Bar & Kitchen
A relative newcomer to the scene, Toasted Walnut Bar & Kitchen has become Philadelphia’s signature lesbian bar. The welcoming spot was opened by the manager of legendary Sisters Nightclub, which shuttered in 2013 after 17 years.
Toasted Walnut encompasses a giant 3,800-square-foot space with 17-foot-high ceilings, giving plenty of room for nightly drag shows, variety performances, viewing parties, karaoke and DJ dance parties on the mezzanine upstairs, while patrons enjoy a more intimate scene downstairs, along the granite counter-topped bar with a killer menu of tacos, sliders and meat skewers available late into the night.
So many bars…
No matter what you’re looking for in a bar, pub, brewery, taproom, distillery, speakeasy, dive, tavern, beerhall, nightclub or honky-tonk, there’s something for you in nearly every Philly neighborhood.
While everyone’s list of best bars in Philadelphia will be slightly different, some jawns are just places everyone can agree on. What’s on your list we didn’t hit?
Header image courtesy of Michael Hochman