Sometimes you want to have a casual night, where you sit around a table at a low-key bar with a few friends and reflect on when you preferred elevated surfaces to standing on the floor and jello shots to IPAs. But when you’ve had enough of those nights in a row, you might need a night out like the ones you’ve been reminiscing about. The kind that starts by playing drinking games while it’s still light outside and ends with you spooning a Wawa hoagie in bed. Here are some places you should use to fill up the hours in between.
Having an “OUT out” night once you’re past the age of 25 is kind of like your dad trying to keep up in the family’s once-a-year tag football game: you can play just as well as everyone else for a little while, but you’re going to need to sit out a few plays. Franky Bradley’s is a two-floor bar in Midtown Village that looks like an average dive when you walk in, but has a full dance floor complete with a disco ball on the second floor. It’s perfect for when you want to dance like you just turned old enough to vote, but also have the option to take a few much-needed breathers on the first floor to complain about your bad knee to the bartender.
At first glance, Doobie’s looks like any other dive bar in the city, but this cash-only spot in Fitler Square has some sort of weird power that turns any regular night into the kind you’ll be hearing different accounts of for the next month. Maybe it’s because of how perfectly retro it is, or maybe it’s because, like Eric Foreman’s basement in That ’70s Show, it’s the only meeting point that makes sense no matter where everyone is coming from. Regardless of who you’re here with, you’ll either end your night arguing over whether “jilp” is a real word in Scrabble, or by standing on a chair and loudly singing along to an AC/DC song from the jukebox.
There are a lot of places in the city where you can sip a $13 cocktail or nurse a $9 glass of rose, but tonight is about efficiency, which means you should be drinking at Bob & Barbara’s. It’s the birthplace of the Citywide, and while lots of other bars have replicated it since, this place invented it in the ’90s and no one does it cheaper (or better) than they do. After chasing your Jim Beam with a few sips of PBR, head to the stage area, where they have the same live band every weekend keeping people dancing (or watching) until the lights come on and everyone rolls out to pick up a Sizzli on the way home.
You don’t go to Tavern On Camac to start your night. You go to Tavern On Camac when you’ve already been to a couple of bars and are ready to shut it down at a combo piano bar/dance club. This place has been around forever and was originally one of the first gay bars in the area, but now it’s full of everyone from college students scream-singing songs from Mulan to retired couples who want to pretend they’re back in the ’70s.
We’re not sure exactly who gave the OK on the name “The Plough And The Stars,” but regardless, if you’re in need of a bar in Old City where you can complain about drink prices until you’re three vodka sodas in and finally realize that each of those drinks would be considered a double at any other bar in the city, this is it. It’s usually crowded, and you’ll probably have to deal with getting stepped on or pushed at least a few times throughout the night, but after a few drinks, you won’t even care that your toe is throbbing and there’s a splash of cranberry juice on your shirt. There’s also a narrow upstairs balcony where you can dance if you’re really feeling the Justin Timberlake remixes.
Concourse has a full-room ball pit, which is the most important thing you need to know about this place. Besides that, it kind of seems like it would be your average Center City nightclub, but Concourse blasts Backstreet Boys instead of standard house music and has a bunch of local beers on tap, making it a good time even if you usually avoid clubs like the plague. Just make sure there are a few drinks involved before you enter the ball pit, or you’ll start thinking about everyone who was in there before you, which is never a good place for your mind to go.
There are good things and not-so-great things about Howl At The Moon. On the plus side, it’s a dueling pianos bar, so the music is pretty much all sing-alongs, and they serve very affordable drinks. However, the space is small and it gets so crowded on the weekends that there’s usually a line halfway down the block once it hits capacity. So you should show up early, but if you come with a bunch of low-maintenance people who just want to drink a few beers and join in with the entire bar in at least one rendition of “Piano Man,” Howl At The Moon is here for you.
Yes, Voyeur is a club. Like, a serious club. And in no world should you ever start your night here. But when it’s 1:15am, you’re a few Citywides deep, and need to move your body around to a DJ whose name is something like Brockstar, Voyeur is where you want to go. The crowd here can be a little intense, and you’ll certainly see at least a few people wearing tight sparkly dresses and six-inch clear plastic heels, but there will also be a bunch of grad students in sneakers and t-shirts jumping around to remixed ’80s hits. Once you’ve had your fill and get kicked out, roll across the street to fill your arms with every bag of chips Wawa carries.
Some nights require a plan like you’re George Clooney in Ocean’s 11 and are about to rob an impenetrable casino. But the rest of the time, you just want the easiest option possible. On those nights, go to Porta. Over the course of a night, it evolves from a fun dinner spot to a full-on club. One minute, you’re sharing a pepperoni pizza with your three closest friends, and the next you’re out on the dance floor, sending someone you just met to go pick you up a drink from any of the three bars that are scattered throughout the huge space.
Yakitori boy is a karaoke spot disguised as a restaurant, and it’s another place, like Porta, where you can both start and end your night. There’s full dinner service downstairs, with things like ramen, sushi, and yakitori skewers. And upstairs, there are big karaoke rooms that can hold up to 20 of your closest friends for sake bomb-fueled renditions of “Lose Yourself” and anything Shania Twain.
You may think that the idea of hearing the “Happy Birthday” song more than 10 times in a night sounds annoying or even unbearable. And at an Applebee’s, Chili’s, or pretty much any other restaurant where they have the entire staff come to your table with a huge gong and sing to you, you would be correct. At Ray’s, though, where the bar is filled with people double-fisting light beers and taking turns on the karaoke stage, it’s somehow the opposite. Even after the fifth serenade, you’ll still be singing along like it’s “What’s My Age Again?” or any of the other six Blink-182 songs you can’t ever forget.
Here are a few things you can always expect at Tavern On Broad: very recent postgrads, the song “Livin’ On A Prayer” playing at least twice a night, and the entire bar to act like they haven’t heard “Livin’ On A Prayer” in years every single time it comes on. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s basically built for people who wish they never graduated from college. And while that may not be you on a day when you’re sober and thinking clearly, the nostalgia will probably sneak up on you after a few beers and a spontaneous Facetime from your freshman-year roommate.
You could go to Silk City during the day and have a nice brunch in their outdoor garden space. Or you could show up a few drinks deep at midnight and head straight up to “The Lounge,” where they have a bar, some tables, guest DJs, and a dance floor that’s always full. Afterward, you can head to Wawa with half the city, stand in line at the deli counter behind someone who’s staring at the “Need more time to finish your order?” screen like a zombie, and then finally make it home to eat your meatball sub in peace. Definitely go back to Silk City the next morning for some pancakes, though, as long as the sight of it doesn’t make you feel too nauseous.