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.
NoLibs 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.
Rittenhouse Square 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).
Chinatown 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.
Rittenhouse Square 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.
Rittenhouse Square 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.
Society Hill 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.
University City 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.