Food & Drink

Philly's Best Speakeasies (& How to Get Into Them)

Published On 10/03/2016 Published On 10/03/2016
El Rey

Ranstead Room

Rittenhouse

How to get in: On 20th St, turn onto Ranstead and look for the dark door with a backward-forward set of Rs. You can also find your way to the secret bar by going through the kitchen at El Rey.

Once you score a booth in this dimly lit hideaway, you probably won’t want to leave, especially after you help yourself to a few strong cocktails. If you’re not much of an expert when it comes to more extravagant drinks, servers are more than happy to tailor an order to your liquor and taste preferences. House-made mixers, hand-chipped ice, and fresh-squeezed juice make for drinks worth every penny. Don’t just stay for drinks, either: bites from El Rey are also available here, and what goes better with absinthe than tacos?

Hop Sing Laundromat

Chinatown

How to get in: Look for the door with the black gate and stainless steel buzzer on Race St. If you go on a weekend it won’t be hard to find, since you’ll likely be joining a queue of people waiting to get a seat.

Hop Sing is home to one of the largest collections of liquor in the country. The vast collection of alcohol is paralleled with experts in craft cocktailing and an air of exclusivity (and a strict no-photo policy) has made it one of the most heralded bars internationally. If you’re making the commitment to visit Hop Sing for a night, don’t take it lightly: it will take some time (did we mention the line of people waiting for a seat?) and you'll need to dress up a bit, please -- no shorts or sneakers.

Fiume

Spruce Hill

How to get in: Fiume is hidden above Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, so once you're inside, look for a small flight of stairs marked “Restaurant Entrance.” Keep going up, past the bathrooms, and you’re there. If you're having trouble finding it, someone in the restaurant will probably be happy to point it out to you.

Fiume has all the mysterious elements of a speakeasy -- winding entrance, intimate space -- without any of the over-the-top formalities (or prices) that make you feel like you don’t belong. Instead, you’ll find all the facets of the diviest dive, including a couple beer taps and a great bottle selection. Some nights you might catch local musicians; other nights you might be allowed to sneak some Ethiopian food upstairs. You can at least always expect a friendly crowd and bartenders happy to talk beer.

The Franklin Bar

The Franklin Bar

Rittenhouse

How to get in: Again, a line of people waiting for a table might be your first tip. If not, look for the entrance to the right of Byblos -- that will take you to the underground bar.

Franklin Bar will never allow more people inside than there are seats, so snagging one can be a waiting game. Formerly known as the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Franklin Bar still serves all the same stiff cocktails in an appropriately art deco setting, but its makeover last year does away with some of the superfluous exclusivity, opting for a more casual setting at the upstairs bar. The result is two bars in one space: the leather booth, '20s-era speakeasy downstairs where cocktails will be infused with half a dozen ingredients, and the more mid-century modern upstairs bar, where cocktails are still strong but simplified.

Ruba Club

Ruba Club

Northern Liberties

How to get in: Head down an alley off Green St; it could prove helpful to have a friend in the Russian United Beneficial Association.

This is one of a handful of Philly establishments that stay open past 2am, so make it your go-to when the bars close but you still haven’t had enough. There’s usually a cover charge for non-members, and on any given night you’ll find something different: musical performances, burlesque, theatrical acts, cabaret, film screenings -- or, if the place is a little empty, ping-pong tables, flip cup, and pool tables all to yourself. You’ll notice the dance floor fill up when the “after” hours start, so you can also head up to the second floor bar if your feet are tired.

Pen & Pencil Club

Midtown Village

How to get in: This is another members-only spot, but if you’re interested, current members are typically friendly about sponsoring you (particularly if you’re a journalist or in media). The entrance is just by the bright blue parking sign.

As the country's oldest press club, the Pen & Pencil Club hosts all kinds of media-centric events in daylight, from meet-and-greets to guest speakers and “off-the-record” idea sessions. At night, all that hard work fuels late-night benders that can last until 4 or 5 in the morning and produce many regretful stories that'll be legendary one day. There are many dark corners, and if you can’t find something interesting to do in them, you can always opt for eating four of P&P’s signature crock pot hot dogs.

Plays and Players’ Quig’s Pub

Rittenhouse

How to get in: It’s easiest if you happen to be at the theater for a production -- after, you'll just head to the third floor for this tucked away pub. On off-nights, it would be best to show up to this “members only” bar with your actor/improv/performer friends.

Thanks to Quig’s members-only status, last call doesn’t roll around until 3am, with the doors shutting at 4. Drinks usually won’t run you more than $7 each, making it easier to make your cash last until the wee hours of the morning (if you can stand the cigarette smell for that long). Overall, it’s a kitschy, homey place to get to know different people in the Philly performing arts community and escape your usual dives.

Vesper

Vesper

Rittenhouse

How to get in: This place is all about the hidden speakeasy vibe, but is quite easy to find: just look for the black awning marked “V” on Sydenham St. Say goodbye to your cellphone -- the downstairs bar bans them.

Staying open through multiple iterations since 1901, Vesper has a unique history that has molded its current status as a dinner club and bar wreaking of exclusivity and secrecy. Always swanky, the space housing Vesper has a past replete with less-than-legal meetings and bathtub gin. These days, everything is perfectly legal but Vesper still evokes that old timey feeling, incorporating a “smart casual” dress code (i.e., no flip-flops). Pop in for a quick happy hour or a long night of dinner and dancing.

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1. Ranstead Room 2013 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (Center City West)

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.

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2. Hop Sing Laundromat 1029 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Chinatown)

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.

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3. Fiume 229 S 45th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123 (West Phillyu City)

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.

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4. The Franklin Bar 112 S 18th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (Rittenhouse)

An unmarked entrance will lead you to this speakeasy-like neighborhood cocktail haven that may or may not be operated out of a shuttered, art-deco adorned savings bank. Formerly known as the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co, this bar's rebranded itself as the Franklin Bar but still offers the thoughtful, boozy libations you know and love. Order bespoke cocktails, punch bowls, or a "Greatest Hits" tasting flight.

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5. Ruba Club Studios 416 Green St, Philadelphia, PA 19123 (Nolibs)

The Russian United Beneficial Association in NoLibs accepts all nationalities to enjoy after hours, pool, ping-pong and cheap beer at this dive bar.

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6. The Pen & Pencil Club 1522 Latimer St, Philadelphia, PA 19102 (Rittenhouse)

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.

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7. Quig's Pub S 17th St and Delancy Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Quig’s Pub inside Rittenhouse’s Plays and Players Theatre is the members-only late-night bar where Philly’s thespian crowd lingers both after shows and on performance-free nights. While you can only get in on performance-free nights as a member, membership fees are relatively affordable for the year. Tiny, rustic, and intimate, Quig’s encourages conversation into the wee small hours of the morning; you can order until last call at 3am (!) and you won’t get kicked out until 4am closing time. Drinks won’t ever break the bank (in fact they’re usually not more than $7 each), which certainly makes the cash-only policy more tolerable.

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8. Vesper 223 S Sydenham St, Philadelphia, PA 19102 (Rittenhouse)

Philadelphia’s Vesper, a swanky supper club with a downstairs bar, offers dinner and drinks with a side of dancing (take note: no cellphones permitted in the classy establishment's lower floor). The beverage program mostly hearkens back to basics, with its old fashioned and Moscow mule, but if you’re looking for something a bit more unusual, the Three Kingdoms (the menu’s priciest cocktail) is a dynamic blend of Whistlepig Rye, Laird’s apple brandy, and Whistlepig Barrel aged maple syrup. After sipping on one of these babies and grooving to live swing or jazz music on Vesper’s dance floor, satiate yourself by taking advantage of the continental menu; with mostly small plates, you’ll be able to sample dishes like a traditional Caesar salad or smoked lamb belly.