One day, someone will ask you where you go out, and you’ll just stare into space for a second or two and then say, “I don’t.” This might happen when you’re 23 or it might happen when you’re 63. If it happened already, this guide’s for you.
Below you’ll find two lists of options. The first has a bunch of relatively calm bars that are trendy but not too sceney, and the second has some places where you can go when you want to convince your friends that you do still go out.
CALMER BARS WHERE NO ONE WILL SPILL A DRINK ON YOU:
When your friend from out of town asks you to take them somewhere “fun and cool” for drinks, you could spend the next 45 minutes looking for a new and trendy place. Or you could just take them to Nunu. The Fishtown bar is filled with bright red lights that make it feel almost like a club, but the soundtrack is less house music and more 90s jams. They have great bar snacks, like katsu sandwiches and furikake cheese fries, and there are lots of big, comfortable booths for your prematurely aging back.
If you miss the days of drinking in your friend’s basement during high school, but don’t miss taking swigs from a warm bottle of Bacardi Razz, head to Fiume in West Philly. Located above Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, this tiny, bare-bones cocktail spot specializes in both rare beers and whiskey - all of which you’ll drink on mismatched bar stools and armchairs with ripped seat cushions. They also have live bluegrass on Thursday nights, just in case that’s a night you can still drag yourself out to a bar.
At some point in your life, you start treating date nights as “going out” nights - especially when they’re at places like ITV, a cocktail bar on East Passyunk. There are candles on all the tables and string lights hung up over the bar, a long list of good wines, and a bunch of small, shareable plates to split with your date. Unsurprisingly, about 90% of the people here on any given night are staring soul-searchingly into someone else’s eyes. Even if you have plans to go somewhere else, you’re more likely to spend the rest of your night here ordering “just one more drink” until they close.
R&D is a great spot in Fishtown that changes its entire menu every few months and almost always has an open table and a few seats at a bar. All of their cocktails are excellent, whether it’s their tiki drinks they set on fire, fancy $12 Citywides, or large-format punches. They have bar snacks as well, like popcorn and whipped ricotta, but you’re really here to get secretly drunk on mezcal cocktails like a responsible adult.
Irwin’s is a place that, despite being open for some time, still feels trendy. It’s one of the best bars where you want to drink somewhere cool with friends, but also want to sit down at a table and not talk to anyone else. The actual bar is huge, with graffitied walls and mismatched metal chairs. Aside from the great cocktails, they also have a Mediterranean menu full of mostly small and shared plates.
Speakeasies can be gimmicky, and although Ranstead Room is pretty much your standard prohibition-themed cocktail bar, it somehow just works. It’s dark, underground (below El Rey in Rittenhouse), and makes strong drinks that vary from classic Old Fashioneds to seasonal drinks, like the Halva Nice Day (vanilla vodka with curacao, honey, tahini, cream, and pistachio). Show up with a few friends and order enough drinks to keep you in bed until 1pm the next day.
PLACES THAT ARE JUST A LITTLE ROWDIER FOR WHEN YOU REALLY WANT TO GO OUT:
Having a big night out after you turn 25 is kind of like your dad trying playing in the family’s once-a-year tag football game - he can keep up for a little while, but he’s 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 upstairs, complete with a disco ball. It’s perfect for when you want to dance like you just turned old enough to vote, but also want the option to take a few much-needed breathers on the first floor.
When you stop going out, especially to overpriced cocktail bars, you might notice that you magically have more money in your bank account. You can finally save up for “practical” things, like a house, or one of those marshmallow guns from the “As Seen On TV” section at Bed, Bath & Beyond. So instead of going out for a $13 cocktail, get the Citywide from its birthplace, Bob & Barbara’s. While lots of other bars have replicated the shot-and-a-beer combo, this place invented it in the ’90s and no one does it cheaper (or better).
There are a few places in Philly with really good live music, but Johnny Brenda’s is our favorite. The Fishtown spot is a full-on concert venue, with a stage and small balcony upstairs where you can pretend you still follow the indie band scene. Or, if you’re too far past your days of jumping in crowds of sweaty people, head to the big downstairs bar to play some pool or just hang out with a few beers and some bar snacks.
Assembly is the nicest rooftop bar in Philadelphia, but you can still have a night out here that lasts until 2am. It has pretty much everything you could want - good cocktails, a great view of downtown, and a bunch of semi-circle couches where you can throw all your belongings. There’s an indoor portion of the bar that’s open in the winter, but even when it’s cold out they’ll turn the fire pits outside so you can pretend it’s not the middle of January.
Tattooed Mom should be categorized as a museum - one that just happens to have a bar inside it. The walls are covered with years of stickers, spray paint, and sharpie - and it would take an exhaustive “I Spy” search to pick out all of the different murals by both famous and local street artists. It’s so quintessentially South Street in the way that pretty much anything goes - whether you want to relive the days when you exclusively partied in basements, or you just feel like scribbling on the walls as you sip a pop-rocks cocktail.
You don’t go to Tavern On Camac to start your night - you go when you want to shut it down at a combo piano bar/dance club. This place has been around forever and was one of the first gay bars in the area. The crowd ranges from college students scream-singing songs from Mulan to people like you, who just want to show they can still hang when everywhere else in the city closes.