You might think you know everything about Philadelphia, but some of the city's sweetest booze destinations can be easily overlooked... unless you know the right bartender, or the right place to look, or the right codeword. Or, unless you read our primer on Philly's seven most secret bars and speakeasies, obviously.
The 7 Secretest Bars and Speakeasies in Philly
Despite its rather unwelcoming location (down an alley, past a metal fence), The Russian United Beneficial Association is surprisingly welcoming.
How to get in: Technically it's a private club, but you don't have to be Russian to join, and thanks to all the public events/parties thrown there, most of the time you don't even have to be a member to get in.
Once you’re there: The bi-level space is supposedly haunted, so apparently you should expect supernatural activity, along with late night pool, ping pong, and cheap beer... and maybe the occasional scantily clad woman on stage.
Named after the Philly-based, Prohibition-era front for the largest alcohol ring in the US, FM&I is a dark and swanky booze destination.
How to get in: Head down the stairs on 18th St to this subterranean speakeasy and you'll find yourself in a place where even the infamous spirits smuggler Max “Boo Boo” Hoff would feel at home.
Once you’re there: Expect period music and cleverly named drinks like Always Crashing The Same Car (above) that're made to order by dapper bartenders (tie, vest/suspenders), who start by hand-carving chips from three types of "gourmet" ice (Kold-Draft, nugget, culinary grade).
This Chinatown cocktail bar's discreet, Race St confines conceal an exquisitely large library of booze. Seriously, they have their own cataloging system.
How to get in: The unmarked entryway (look for the door with the black gate and stainless buzzer) leads you into a penny-floored waiting lobby. Once a seat opens up, you'll be led inside to the blood-red bar room.
Once you're in: Intentionally wine-stained floors; privacy-inducing seating; recycled church lights (with crosses on 'em!); and scratch cocktails made using heavy pours from their 1,000+ bottle collection.
A classically styled bar from the mind of Stephen Starr, the semi-cloaked Ranstead Room features an interior reminiscent of post-war, pre-hippy night spots, complete with a gilded chandelier suspended over red leather booths and snakeskin stools.
How to get in: From 20th, turn left onto Ranstead, pass two trees, then look for a dark door on the red-bricked facade with side-by-side, backwards-and-forwards "R"s, and head on in.
Once you’re there: They've got old-school cocktails (most under $12) built with house-made mixers, hand-chipped ice, and fresh-squeezed juices -- meaning you can drink like Granddad did, only without dousing yourself in Old Spice or being casually racist about the Irish.
As the oldest continuously operating press club in America -- and second oldest in the world -- the P&P is an upstanding citizen during the day with panel talks, noteworthy dinners with real reporters, etc., but turns into a dive when the sun goes down.
How to get in: Follow the line of dumpsters and look for the blue “park” sign. If you’re a journalist or friends with one (or pay the $40 membership dues), or in the restaurant industry, or just plain lucky -- you might be able to get past the doorman.
Once you’re there: Expect crock-pot hot dogs, plain drinks, and the strangest mix of people you're likely to see in Philadelphia -- especially after hours.
Sure, you know about their killer whiskey list and lick-your-lips pork chops, but did you know there's a bar upstairs that puts on live music and (strangely) smells like fresh-cut wood.
How to get in: Walk through the front door and head straight for the stairwell in the middle of the bar (yes, you are allowed to go up there).
Once you’re there: They've got a long wooden shuffle board table, darts, leather couches, and some of the top blues performers in Philly.
Above an Ethiopian restaurant, Abyssinia, in University City, this cozy and slightly beat-up living room-sized space is meant for boozing.
How to get in: Walk to the right of the restaurant, up the small flight of steps that reads “restaurant entrance” and you will see more stairs. Keep going up past the yellow doors and bathrooms and you will have arrived.
Once you’re there: There will be a crowd (the place is tiny, what do you expect?) sipping Philly specials (PBR + whiskey shot) and watching the occasional band that's squeezed into the bay window.
1. Ruba Club Studios416 Green St, Philadelphia
2. Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.112 S 18th St, Philadelphia
3. Hop Sing Laundromat1029 Race St, Philadelphia
4. Ranstead Room2013 Chestnut St, Philadelphia
5. The Pen & Pencil Club1522 Latimer St, Philadelphia
6. The Twisted Tail509 S 2nd St, Philadelphia
7. Fiume229 S 45th St, Philadelphia
The Russian United Beneficial Association in NoLibs accepts all nationalities to enjoy after hours, pool, ping-pong and cheap beer at this dive bar.
Practically bursting with classical style and a tasteful ambiance, FM&I Co. stands out as one of the classiest bars in Rittenhouse, serving a number of finely tuned cocktails that any patron can appreciate.
Stop into this semi-hidden haven in Chinatown for Prohibition-inspired cocktails, accented with a speakeasy vibe. This much-hyped, semi-mysterious spot-- patrons line up down the block for a chance to sample enigmatic owner Lê's signature libations, and you can't use cell phones or cameras inside the bar (don’t think that rule won’t be enforced if someone catches you)-- offers literally hundreds of liquor options, from Johnny Drum Private Stock bourbons to 15-year aged El Dorado.
A classically-styled bar from the mind of El Rey taco mastermind Stephen Starr, the semi-cloaked Ranstead Room off Rittenhouse Square features a retro interior decked out with red leather booths and snakeskin stools, gold tile arches, and a red/black tiger-striped carpet. This luxe back bar offers fittingly high-end boozy libations. Surprise yourself and order "the bartenders choice" or go with one of the bespoke cocktails of the moment from the ever-changing menu.
The Rittenhouse Square is home to the oldest continuously operating press club in America. The P&P is an upstanding citizen during the day with panel talks and such, but at night it turns into a divey joint.
The Twisted Tail's a hulking two-story joint from a classically trained actor who, while touring Tennessee with his theater company, fell in love with the Deep South's food, drink, and music, and has now launched his tribute to bourbon and blues, the most notable Southern combination since Brooks & Dunn.
Tucked above University City Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, Fiume brilliantly executes the concept of a speakeasy by embracing its inner dive bar. Christmas lights illuminate a chalkboard listing of the bar’s extensive beer selection, and you’ll be sure to find some unique bottles you’ve never heard of. Philadelphians who trek from all over the city to Fiume don’t mind that the prices are slightly above average or that there are only six stools at the bar and a handful of tables. And even though the place is so miniscule that you’ll wonder just how the live Bluegrass band managed to squeeze both its members and instruments inside, you too will want to come time and time again.