One of the things I always inevitably start researching when going to a new locale is the bar scene. While I’m a big believer that any bar could be fun with the right crowd, there are some venues that otherwise help to elevate an ok night to a great one. Since I spend much of the month of March hopping in and out of bars (St. Patrick’s Day is a season for me, much like Christmas) I’ve decided to do a series on my favorite bars to visit throughout our great state; places that I like to go to tip a few back and places that I’d recommend others check out. Some of these are tried and true favorites, places that I find myself returning to time and time again, some will be bars you sort of have to visit because they are synonymous with a particular location and some will have some sort of shtick or gimmick or kitsch factor that makes a visit necessary, even if it’s not the very best bar in the world.
Now a quick word on my taste in watering holes. I almost exclusively do not trust reviews on sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor when it comes to bars (restaurants and hotels area different story); the general public who frequents those sites seems to want a calm and pristine experience where no drinks are spilled, orders are never mixed up and patrons sit quietly and keep to themselves. They obviously don’t go to bars with the same intentions as I do.
That being said, I think I’m starting to show my age in terms of bars I frequent, although to be fair, I’ve always been a pretty straight up corner/sports bar type of guy. I’m not into super trendy bars, I’m at the age where I get annoyed if I have to constantly scream in order to be heard (unless there’s a band, in that case, play on) and unless it’s a concert, sporting event or NYC I’m not paying more than 5 dollars for a run of the mill beer (Coors, Miller, Bud…craft beers are a different fish) and even those places make me balk somewhat (luckily Pennsylvania is a cheap drinker’s dream). I’m also at the age where I feel it completely unnecessary to wait in line for any bar. The only concession I make is Oscar’s on Parade Day and, once again bands or concerts or special events (for example, I waited in line at the Electric Factory during running of the Santas…but I wasn’t happy about it).
Also, if you employ a “mixologist”, count me out. I have much respect for a bartender, don’t turn it into a pseudo-science.
Now that you know what I dislike, here are some of the items on my “what makes a bar great” checklist:
- No website- I love a good dive bar and nothing says I-don’t-give-a-shit-who-turns-up-to-my-bar like not having a website in 2014. Plenty of my favorite bars do have websites and social media accounts, but there’s something trashily charming about those few holdouts.
- Daytime crowds- You could tell a lot about a bar by the type of crowd that day drinks there (if you haven’t caught on, I’m a big proponent of day drinking) and I’m not talking about the lunch crowd, but the type coming in to drink during the day. One of my favorite sensations is leaving a bar around 6 or 7 and having so much fun that you trick yourself into thinking the night must be over, only to emerge in sunlight and realize you may get to do it over again in a couple of hours (obviously this is only feasible in the summer and obviously this is a sensation I’m experiencing less and less, which is probably a productive thing).
- Rowdy crowds- I don’t mean rowdy as in throw glasses and puke on the bar. I mean rowdy as in being able to dance and sing and talk loudly without judgment (bonus points if the venue encourages public musical performances/humiliations).
- Jukebox (bonus if it’s old school)- It boggles my mind when a bar doesn’t have a Touch Tunes in 2014. I need to feel some sort of control over the music stylings; dj’s are basically my sworn nemeses. I practically get giddy when the juke box is the old school variety which gets me 12 plays for a dollar but limits me to only the Beach Boys, Tom Petty and The Eagles.
- Good tunes- Good music is essential to any bar and if you don’t let me pick it, make sure you’re blowing everyone away. There’s a big distinction between good music and good bar music.
- Live Music- I love live music and I love a good cover band.
- Shuffleboard- Not enough bars have shuffleboard tables so I automatically gravitate towards those that do. It’s more sociable and less space consuming than a pool table and less dangerous than darts. Also, it’s the only bar game I’m good at.
- Good wings- I live for bar food. In fact, consuming so much of it is the reason that I’ve become the type of guy who makes smoothies for meal replacements during the week (gotta fight the LB’s somehow). Wings are the king of the bar food hierarchy and a good wing ups my respect for any establishment (I’ve also noticed there’s a correlation between no website and great wings). Bonus points for a kitchen that serves past 10.
- Front porch, deck and/or outdoor drinking area- Self explanatory. Drinking outside is fun IN ANY SEASON.
I could go on, but I don’t want you to think I’m ultra picky. I like most bars just fine. Really, these are perks.
I’ll be creating lists of bars to visit in Scranton, NEPA, Lancaster, Philly, Pittsburgh, Manayunk and a “south-central PA hodgepodge” before capping it off with my top 20 favorite bars in Pennsylvania towards the end of the month. Chime in and let me know your recommendations. I always like having a new place to go.