It always feels like a mistake whenever it’s nice enough to sit outside in Philadelphia. Almost as if the weather gods stopped paying attention for a minute and accidentally gave us a climate that wasn’t extremely cold, hot, or humid. So when this actually happens, you should be prepared, and our Outdoor Greatest Hits is a good place to start. These are our all-time favorite places for eating and drinking outside in Philly, and they’re where you’ll want to be during those few weeks of the year when the outside world is actually pleasant.
the outdoor spots
Martha is worth hanging out at all year long, but it doesn’t really get crowded until the first nice day of spring. As soon as that threshold is broken, Martha stays pleasantly full pretty much every night through late September. Their big back porch is filled with tables and mismatched chairs, and there’s table service outside so you don’t have to walk back to the bar inside every time you want a refill. They also have a bocce ball court if that’s your thing, and, if it’s not, there are usually three or four dogs that you can hang out with instead.
Even during the winter, Front Street is universally loved. But as soon as they set up their huge back patio for the season, it goes from being universally loved to universally idolized. And that’s because, while you can show up here any time of the year for everything from breakfast to late-night chicken fingers, they take patio reservations all summer long. That’s a game-changer - especially on weekend mornings when literally every other place with more than one outdoor table has a two-hour wait.
There aren’t that many rooftop bars in Philly in general, and even fewer that have good cocktails and somewhere to actually sit down. Assembly has both of those things, plus probably the best view of any outdoor spot in the city. It’s the kind of place you go when you want to day drink, but have to be a real human being afterwards, and it’s pretty much a Philly rite of passage to spend at least one day or night here in the summer.
Tiki, in every way, is the opposite of Assembly. It’s a rowdy club in Center City that you should really only go to if you’re trying to relive one of your most absurd college nights, and during the summer, the third-story rooftop is basically an extension of the first two floors. It’s lined with fake palm trees and neon bar stools, and even though you have to set aside any expectations of going to bed at a reasonable hour after washing your face and brushing your teeth, it’s worth the stories that will inevitably come out of it.
One of your friends bought a boat in Margate last summer, and you thought it’d be a good idea to bring some snacks, drinks, and people and make a day out of taking it out on the water. But it turned out that it fit approximately three average-sized humans, and within 40 minutes of leaving the dock, you’d already eaten all of the cheese cubes and lost two hats to the bay. As well as that turned out, next time just invite all your friends to hang out with you on the Moshulu. It’s the oldest boat still afloat in the country, and during the summer the huge top deck turns into a bar with cocktails and small bites. Make it a point to come at least once before it closes for the winter, and get here early enough to take over one of the loungers before it gets too crowded.
The backyard of Little Nonna’s feels almost like a secret. From the outside, you would think you’re just passing by a bakery or small cafe, but that’s all just a front for what’s happening in the back - a big garden space with string lights hung up on the trellis that covers the whole patio. For an outdoor date in Midtown Village, you can’t do much better. The menu is full of classic Italian things, but the Sunday gravy is why you should come here. You’ll get a plate full of braised short ribs and fennel sausage covered in marinara, and they sometimes run out of it before the night is over, so make a reservation here on the earlier side.
Like a lot of other beer gardens in the city, Independence Beer Garden is covered in greenery and has rows of long tables made for supporting multiple large containers of beer. Unlike most other beer gardens, this one has legitimately great food, and serves lunch and dinner with things like burgers and tacos every day in the summer. Independence also hosts competitive lawn game leagues, in case your casual beach version of corn hole isn’t satisfying your genetic disposition to be overly competitive about everything.
Like the sun and general happiness, Talula’s Garden is something you probably forgot existed during the winter. But then as soon as the weather’s nice again, it’s the only place you want to eat. Their patio is one of the bigger ones in the city and it’s full of trees and plants that might make you forget you’re in the middle of a city. At least for a few minutes, until 15 cars start beeping at each other five feet away from where you’re sitting. Order some wine and cheese, maybe a couple of dishes from their seasonal, produce-heavy menu, and then go walk around Washington Square Park a few times before heading home.
You say “lunch outside in Rittenhouse Square,” we think Parc. The neighborhood is full of nice spots to have a glass of wine and steak tartare, but none with a better food-and-view combo than Parc has. This place takes over about half the length of Rittenhouse Square Park and is lined with small bistro tables along the entire sidewalk that serve as the perfect place to either read a book by yourself or watch people walking their dogs who look just like them.
Yes, there is a lot of graffiti on the walls of Graffiti Bar, a small-ish bar hidden behind Sampan in Midtown Village. There are also a few TVs (perfect for watching Saturday afternoon Phillies games in the summer), large format scorpion bowl drinks, and a retractable roof that means you don’t have to leave just because it starts raining. You can also order small bites like kung pao chicken wings and edamame dumplings from the Sampan kitchen.
Morgan’s Pier has everything you could possibly want in a beer garden: river views, a ton of seating, and over 40 different beers to choose from. So, not surprisingly, it’s pretty much the biggest day drinking party in the city during the summer. Even with the huge amount of space it takes up under the Ben Franklin Bridge, Morgan’s Pier still gets crowded super quickly, so your best bet is to head here early, grab a few tables, and order enough pitchers so that you don’t have to get the bartender’s attention for the foreseeable future.
Cantina Los Caballitos has one of the best Happy Hours in the city, and it’s even better when it’s warm outside. They have a huge patio right off East Passyunk, and from 4-6PM on weeknights you can get $16 pitchers of frozen margaritas to split between you and a few coworkers. Pair that with some nachos or a plate of shrimp tacos and you have the perfect reason to take a summer Friday every Friday until Labor Day.
Here’s the bad news: everyone in Philadelphia’s city limits knows about and loves Frankford Hall. That means that it usually has a line down the block after 2pm on every nice Saturday in the summer. The good news, though, is that if you get there early or don’t mind waiting in line for a bit, there are a ton of long, umbrella-covered tables that don’t take too long to find a seat at. It also has some of the best beer hall food you’ll find in the city (get the giant pretzel or a spicy sausage), and a few Jenga sets that are always making their way around the patio.
Standard Tap is a great bar and restaurant in Northern Liberties to hang out at during any point in the year, but their rooftop deck makes it an especially valuable place to have in your pocket on weekends in the summer. Especially when all your friends are down the shore and you and the only other people who couldn’t find a house to crash at need a place to post up and down some self-pity beers. In addition to their huge beer selection, they also have some of the better bar food in the city, so after drinking all day, you’ll probably want to get their burger or a duck confit salad.