The sheer number of watering holes in Philly is impressive, but it’s the diverse range of styles and offerings that put the city on the map. Dive bars, rooftop bars, swanky cocktail bars, themed bars – Philadelphia has plenty of options that promise a great time. Visiting Philadelphia and want to try a themed bar? Here are some suggestions.
The Trestle Inn
Bar, American, $$$
The Trestle Inn, just a few blocks north of Chinatown, is a whisky go-go bar that looks a little scary. But go in and it’s actually a hip bar that features burlesque dancers. The Trestle’s history goes back more than 100 years. Founded during the railroad era, this bar was once a hotspot for circus performers, traveling salesmen, immigrants, factory workers, and cab drivers. Today, the Trestle provides an atmosphere similar to that of the ’60s and ’70s. Choose from the inn’s massive scotch, bourbon and blended list. Our favorites? The Black Power, or the Highland Whiskey with a smooth apricot finish.
Bibliophiles and writers will love this book-themed bar, which is in a former row-home. The crafty cocktails, chandeliers made of globes, and wallpaper with bookshelves make it feel like a book lover’s oasis. The wall behind the bar looks like a Scrabble board, and there are real books scattered around the sitting area. Even the menus look like books, fooling guests who’ve never visited before. Try the Gone With The Gin cocktail which features cherry bitters and Fernet. Order a cheese and charcuterie plate, or some deviled eggs with crab to hold you over until your next cocktail.
Monk’s is a Belgian-themed bar. Guests can find a massive selection of Belgian beers and food in a rustic, brewpub setting. They have a rotating draft list featuring Triples, Saisons, Trappist ale, Lambic, Chouffe, and Flemish sours. Their bottle list is divided by country, with Belgium offering the largest selection. Favorite Belgian snacks can be found on the menu as well. Try the Pommes Frites, Ghent, Mules and Frites, and the fish stew. The bar itself is dimly lit, paneled with wood, and home to a collection of interesting glassware.
Barcade is one of the original bar arcades, started by brother and friend group Paul Kermizian, Pete Langway, Kevin Beard and Scott Beard. They opened the first Barcade in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2004. The bar’s greatest attraction is obviously the games, so this location tends to attract a ‘gamer’ crowd. The bar and game area are separate, so those who are just there for the games can play without being near the bar. For gamers and non-gamers alike, Barcade is a great place for switching up your night.
With an aesthetic that’s old-school and high-tech, this underground dance bar focuses on music and good vibes instead of bottle service and a dress code. Order a cocktail or have fun in the 20-person ball pit. Join weekly dance parties and happy hours, or listen to ’80s and ’90s music on Saturdays.
Want a beach bar experience in the middle of the city? At Tiki, beer cans are served inside hollow Thai coconuts and pineapples, complete with plastic flamingos and mini umbrellas. A bamboo bar, hula skirt decorations, surf boards, Hawaiian murals, and palms make the atmosphere here. During summer, head out to the rooftop where you can enjoy a DJ set.
Located above Holt’s Cigar Company, the second-story Ashton Cigar Barboasts an extensive list of 330 whiskeys and over 100 bourbons and ryes, along with the single-malt scotches and international and blended whiskey drinks. Cocktails use fresh, local ingredients, and it’s also the only bar in Philadelphia that is legally allowed to host cigar smoking, so most of the drinks are paired with smoky tastes and environments. Intact with air purifiers, this bar won’t leave anyone irritated if they don’t like the smoke. The knowledgeable staff here will help you with a selection of over 200 cigars to perfectly pair with your drink. The attire here is upscale and business casual. This sleek and modern bar will be sure to impress visitors, as well as locals looking for finer tastes.
Stephen Starr’s The Dandelion is a British-inspired restaurant and gastropub with more than enough beer options and British cocktail specialties. The menu includes a mix of British, American and a few Belgian beers. The Dandelion is also the first restaurant in the US to earn a certification to serve cask beers, which rotate more than once a week.
Mad Rex Restaurant and Virtual Reality Lounge is Philadelphia’s first (and only) apocalypse-themed bar. It’s located in Philly’s trendy Fishtown neighborhood, and can be identified by the old truck with a metal ‘Mad Rex’ sign out front. The decor is modern with a steampunk vibe. The walls feature gas masks, old weapons, giant knives, and antique motorcycles. Guests order cocktails with names like Hunter, Vigilante, Flame Thrower, and Road Warrior. The food menu features classic, American cuisine including flatbreads, salmon, burgers, and pork chops. Mad Rex also offers a cigar menu, and a virtual reality lounge, where you can enter another world while enjoying a cocktail.
When the weather’s nice in Philly, Bok Bar is the place to be. Long-time south Philadelphia residents might recognize it as the abandoned high school. For the last several years, the rooftop has been renovated and re-opened as one of Philly’s hottest bars (and the only one that is school-themed.) Visitors must walk through the school halls, past the auditorium, and classrooms to reach the elevator. There’s usually a long line waiting to get to the rooftop, where Bok Bar is located. The DJ set can be heard before the elevator doors even open, and visitors will immediately be treated to an incredible view of the city. Much of the repurposed furniture has been taken from classrooms. Groups of Philly’s youth crowd around cafeteria tables with beers.
This Stephen Starr Restaurant is a popular German beer garden. The outdoor space is full of long, picnic-style tables so guests can mingle over giant mugs of beer. The draft list usually features Hefeweizens, Pilsners, and IPAs. While most of the beers are German, there are other varieties and drinks available. Order a giant, Bavarian pretzel with cheese and play some Jenga with strangers. In the winter, there are heat lamps and fire pits to keep guests warm as they mingle, eat Spätzle, and people-watch.