Despite being our capital city, I never knew much about Harrisburg growing up (although to be fair, I must have been somewhat sheltered up there in NEPA as I also didn’t realize Lancaster was an actual city until a month before I moved down here). I’ve had preconceived notions of other locales which means they appear very much like I thought (Ireland looks exactly like it does in pictures), they wildly surpass expectations (Iceland!) or I’m pleasantly surprised due to a somewhat bad rap (although it’s no longer a pleasant surprise, I’m more impressed with Pittsburgh everytime I visit). I’m not sure what I was expecting my first time in Harrisburg, but it certainly wasn’t a thriving nightlife scene. Now that I’m (somewhat) familiar with the city (it’s about a half hour from Lancaster), this doesn’t surprise me, as the reality is that with all the government work, Harrisburg is a rather young city and it’s location on the shores of the Susquehanna River make it a picturesque place to go out with friends.
There was a time, maybe two years ago that I was going to Harrisburg quite frequently, but it’s been about a year since I’ve actually been out downtown (minus a recent trip to the DMV, which was nothing to celebrate over), but bar-wise it seems to be a town that’s constantly evolving; there always seems to be somewhere new popping up. Anyhow, enough of my rambling. You came here to read about bars, so without further ado, here are my recommendations if you ever find yourself in Harrisburg (I’m focusing almost exclusively on downtown, not any outlying regions).
1) Zembies– 226 N Second St. Harrisburg’s Second Street is where the bulk of the action is located. There’s a few blocks which seem almost solely devoted to bars and restaurants and you could easily just finding parking (or be responsible and cab it!) and hop up and down the street. I’m putting Zembie’s on the top of my list because with all the outdoor seating and bar reps handing out flyers and lines at the door, you might walk right past it, which would be a shame. There’s an old school feel here, a lot of wood paneling and mirrors and actual barstools and it’s narrow, in the ways I think bars should be. They also have decent food, cheap beer and karaoke that people don’t take seriously. Those are my kind of people.
2) Ceoltas Irish Pub- 310 N Second St. I love a good Irish pub, but I’ve been known to be pretentious when judging them. When I first discovered Ceoltas, I thought it was just another Kildares/Molly Brannigan hybrid, you know, a trendy, clubby-esque sports bar masquerading as an Irish pub (this is no offense to the Kildares franchise which I frequent with some regularity, it’s just that making your waitresses wear kilts isn’t the height of authenticity, which admittedly is not what you’re going for; I’ll get off my soapbox now). I was presently surprised to find a multi-level bar, where each floor had a different vibe and a live Irish punk band, as well as a poster advertising an upcoming Wolfetones show on their second floor. Ceoltas also has a really cool roof-deck and I could get behind anywhere that provides an outdoor portion.
3) Craigan’s Brick Haus- 229 N Second St. I’ve been here multiple times and they make the list solely for their breakfast shot: which I’m assuming is some mixture of Frangelico (which I normally consider the devil’s drink) and Baileys, garnished with a slice of bacon they grill up right in front of you on a mini-George Foreman, and I could attest that they were doing this before it became cool. It’s the only gimmicky shot that I routinely go back for.
4) McGraths-202 Locust St. I wrestled around with whether or not to put McGrath’s on this list. It’s my Harrisburg friend’s go-to spot to start the night or eat dinner, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, however on one infamous night they denied me entrance because I was, “too trashed.” I’d literally had a Coors Light. There’s discrimination out there against those of us with tiny eyes, I tell you. I relented because McGrath’s is a nice little Irish-themed bar and they do have good food (as well as a second story balcony, which is a nice place to eat).
5) Federal Taphouse– 234 N Second St. Lancaster has it’s own version of the Federal Taphouse just around the block from my apartment and is probably the “cool” new place to go in Harrisburg (maybe? It is here). It’s known for it’s brick oven pizzas (which I cannot get behind, give me a regular deep dish square greasy pizza) and it’s impressive selection of beers (which I enjoy immensely). I’ve also put the taphouse on the list because they have a concert venue that gets semi-decent acts.
6) Appalachian Brewing Company (AB)- 50 N Cameron St. The Appalachian Brewing Company has a few locales around the south-central PA region, and I am a fan (of their beer, and more specifically of their pulled-pork). The Harrisburg location is in a revitalized industrial complex (which I’m a sucker for) and includes the actual ABC on the bottom floor and their Abbey Bar on the second floor, which boasts more than 50 beers on tap, an outdoor seating area and gets pretty good bands rolling through from a recent Scythian show on St. Patrick’s Day to the B-Street Band.
*If you have a means of transportation and it’s a nice day, I’d also recommend heading across the river to Dockside Willies in Wormleysburg, which is situated right on the water (it has an outdoor deck and allows boats to pull up) and gives you a beachy feel, smack in the middle of Pennsylvania.