This past fall, three college friends and I got tickets to Dropkick Murphy’s “Sham Rock N’ Roll Tour”, a mini Irish musical festival with Dropkick as the headlining act. The concert was on a Sunday night at 5:00 at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. Never ones to go to a show sober (especially an Irish themed show) I did some research and set up a ten pub Irish bar crawl from University City, through both the Rittenhouse and Downtown regions, ended at the Electric Factory.
The good news: the Irish pub crawl was a great success. We had a blast, drank a lot more Guinness & Magners than my Coors Light conditioned stomach could handle, discovered a few great new bars, and the show was good.
The bad news: We had a blast, drank much more Guiness & Magners than my Coors Light conditioned stomach could handle, ended up making it to only five bars, missed every act but the Dropkick Murphys (and I was particularly excited to see the Street Dogs), and I had to go to work the next day with a massive hangover.
The consensus: hangover and overindulgence aside, it was an epic success. Philly is town steeped in Irish tradition and a great place to do an Irish barcrawl.
I’ve since managed to get to some of establishments we were supposed to that day and will share with you my suggestions for stops on your own crawl. I suggest you start in the early afternoon and while there are a ton of Irish pubs in other regions of Philly, I’m going to stick with downtown. Part of the beauty of this jaunt is that the entire thing is walkable.
God Invented Whiskey To Keep the Irish From Taking Over the World
New Deck Tavern: 3408 Sansom St.- I’ve been going to New Deck for years and honestly didn’t realize it was an Irish Pub until recently (why the waitresses accents and plaid skirts didn’t clue me in, we’ll never know). What I can you in all certainty is that New Deck has great food, including my favorite crab dip of all time. Some of my friends who haven’t been there know it as “the place I always eat and then talk about when I’m in Philly.”
Slainte: 3000 Market St: Like New Deck, I always thought of Slainte’s as a pretty generic Irish Pub (in the vein of Kildares or Molly Brannigans, for those of you from PA). One cool thing Slainte’s has going for it is that it’s right across from 30th Street Train Station and once in a while you’ll spot groups of people chilling at the bar with their luggage (I’ve done this before). The day of our bar crawl we started at Slainte’s and I gained a new found appreciation for the place. The entire place was built in Ireland and shipped to the US. The prices are reasonable and a lot of the waitstaff are Irish ex-pats.
Bonners Irish Pub– 120 S. 23rd St. – Bonner’s is a short walk over the Market Street bridge from Slainte’s and is a relative dump in comparison, and I mean that in the best way possible. I have a strong affinity for Bonner’s as I’ve ended my last two Erin Express’s (a great Philly bar crawl, I’ll be offering my positive opinions on in an upcoming post) at. This year shortly after arriving at Bonner’s and treating myself to $2.00 Budweiser Pounders in shamrock bedecked cans (!!!) almost everyone in the bar formed a circle and played spin the bottle with an Irish twist: if the can pointed to your way, you were obligated to step out into the middle of the circle and do a jig. This cemented my love for the place. Bonner’s has outdoor seating, just be warned: if you purchase one of their new beer towers, the bartender(s) will stick their heads out the door every two minutes or so to ensure you don’t steal it, even if you do leave your credit card as collateral.
The Bards– 2013 Walnut St. –The Bard’s was a surprise on our barcrawl. We only found it because it literally appears to be connected to Irish Pub. The Bards, in my opinion, is the most interesting looking of all the Irish pubs in Philly. They have old Irish telephone booths, and one wall resembles an Irish cottage complete with thatch roofing. Small bar, but really friendly crowd and bartender who talked us into having about four more Magners than we planned. This is really where are crawl went downhill. The Bards also gets points for letting me take a Dropkick Murphys concert flier they had hanging up.
Irish Pub– 2023 Walnut St. & 2007 Walnut St. (two locations, same restaurant): Sadly the appropriately named Irish Pub is in fact the least pubby of all the Irish Pub’s on the list. It is though, a lot of fun (I prefer the 2023 location for its circular bar, but if you’re doing a pub crawl I’d get both). Irish Pub is my sister’s haunt of choice so I’ve been there multiple times. Both Irish Pub’s are popular with the 20 something set, but tend to get a less pretentious crowd than many other Center City bars. The DJ’s they have at night tend to favor Hall & Oates versus top 40 which should give you a hint of the type of people who would be there. They make a top notch Turkey Club.
Fado Irish Pub– 1500 Locust St.- I can’t comment much on the Irishness of Fado as I’ve only been there for an Octoberfest celebration (I learned to Polka, so I can’t hate the place). It’s an easy walk from Irish Pub. Even though it’s not Irish stop at Good Dog Bar if you have time. It’s half a block away and a classy dive bar that serves food that feels like it should come from a fancier place.
McGillin’s Old Ale House– 1300 Drury St.- McGillan’s is awesome. It’s the oldest, still operating bar in Philly (open since 1860), it’s located down a cobblestone alley, there’s a fireplace inside, and $3.00 pitchers during the day. I’m not sure if McGillan’s looks more like an Irish Cottage or a Swiss Chalet, but it’s one of my favorite bars and arguably one with the most character in Philly. Try to get to McGillan’s early if possible, it’s consistently packed and not built well for crowds.
Oscar’s-1524 Sansom St.- You gotta respect any bar/restaurant this day and age that doesn’t have a working website (Bonner’s, I bow to you as well). Oscar’s doesn’t promote itself as an Irish Pub (it doesn’t promote itself period), but the door is green and it’s an awesome dive. We stopped here the day of our pubcrawl and were the only patrons who couldn’t call ourselves middle aged. For $2.00 we got several pints of Miller Lite, an old school jukebox (which had 2 Irish Rover selections), a few plumber crakcs, and a cranky waitress: I’m in love with it.
Fergie’s Pub – 1214 Sansom St. – I just made it to Fergie’s for the first time this December. Much like McGillan’s, Fergies is fashioned to look like an Irish cottage, it just does a better job of not confusing Ireland and the Alps. I knew I’d like Fergies when a minute after sitting down, a trio of mummers came in and serenaded us with Christmas carols. They were also the only Irish bar to really embrace Irish music. Fairytale of New York came on right after the Mummers left and as we were leaving a few musicians started playing a tin whistle and drums in the corner. I could have easily stayed at Fergie’s all day, but it wasn’t cheap (unless you want a $2.00 Narragansett Pounder). That’s my only gripe.
Honorable Mention goes to: Kelianne’s, Mac’s Tavern, Blarney Stone, and Finnigan’s Wake. I’m not including these bars as they layoutside the scope of the crawl I created, but all are Irish Bars I’ve been to and that if you’d want you could easily reach via cab.
Kelianne’s, and Blarney Stone are other Erin Express Stops, Finnigan’s Wake is a great venue for cover bands (and a quintessential Irish tune…if you can’t make it here at least get the song up on the jukebox somewhere else). Mac’s Tavern, much like Oscar’s, doesn’t bill itself as an Irish Pub. It’s located in Old City, where a lot of bar crawls seem to end and has the same unpretentious, rowdy attitude as the rest of the bars you’ll be visiting (fun fact: two of the co-owners are Rob & Kristin McElleghony of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelaphia fame).