Can the NYC Steakhouse Survive?
Located at the site of the former high-pressure fire system building -- a structure erected in 1903 that enabled firefighters to combat fires in Center City’s tallest buildings -- La Peg is a co-owned space with FringeArts that opened in 2014. With a turn-of-the-century, industrial-inspired design, the massive space houses a bar, restaurant, and multipurpose events stage.
It’s a little cliche to describe a bar as sexy, but Charlie Was a Sinner. definitely has a vibe that will raise the body temperature a few degrees. The dark-painted walls, intimate lighting, and antique, plush velvet seating in the lounge create an atmosphere that is perfect for a first date (or second, or third... really any date).
Outside of Le Bec-Fin (which is closed), there probably isn’t a more historically relevant restaurant in Philadelphia than the Original Bookbinder's. What was once THE place to eat and do business in Philly has long since closed, but thanks to Jose Garces, you can now slurp cocktails and oysters in the new, restored Olde Bar. To really get a feel for the place, order one of the signature cocktails like the Moravian Garden or Fish House Punch.
At the Ashton Cigar Bar in Rittenhouse, everything is decidedly masculine, from the leather couches to the large glass-faced humidor. The sleek and modern bar is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail & stogie, and engage in conversations about axes, tie clips, and R/C helicopters.
Walking down 2nd St in Old City, it’s easy to miss Sassafras among the row of dives, tattoo parlors, and the underrated Khyber Pass. Inside, however, is a reprieve from the blandness that is most of Old City: Victorian tiled floors, tin ceilings, small marble cafe tables, and a large wooded bar. It’s simple but a throwback to what bars used to be (probably before any of us were old enough to drink in one...).
With R2L, it’s not the inside of the bar we’re focused on -- it’s the view. Located on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place, the bar and restaurant offers panoramic views 500ft above the city floor. A spot to impress, R2L also participates in Sips, allowing you to catch those sunsets at a fraction of the cost it would for the regular price.
Odds are, if you're staying at the Rittenhouse -- or have reservations at Lacroix -- you aren’t afraid to open up the checkbook for the night. And if you’re looking to spend like Rich Uncle Pennybags, the intimate Library Bar should more than fit the bill. Designed, as the name implies, to look like a library for the 1%, the 20-seat bar has art-filled walls, a roaring fireplace, and an expansive 17-page cocktail menu. Yep, pretty much exactly how we remember every library growing up.
Philly, you had us at “beer garden.” Thanks in part to some clever entrepreneurs, there are dozens of options when looking to grab a drink outside during the summer months. And no option is as pretty as Spruce Street Harbor: the floating barge bar that is part of Spruce Street Harbor Park. Whether sunning during the day or seeing the decorative lighting at night, SSH shows why nature always provides the best views.
Head to the back of El Rey and you’ll find the Ranstead Room, Stephen Starr’s take on the speakeasy. At the Ranstead it’s all about atmosphere -- dark and intimate, with plush red seating and walls covered in damask wallpaper and tasteful erotic art. To match the mood, go with the “bartender's choice” and let the Ranstead’s skilled staff mix you up the perfect cocktail. There isn’t a website, so you’ll need to actually head to the place to see what we’re talking about.
Avenue of the Arts
Clearly this Garces man knows what it takes to make a good-looking bar. At Bar Volver, Jose Garces’ companion to pricey, tasting menu-focused Volver, you can grab a pre-Kimmel Center show cocktail and small bites off the newly relaunched menu from the Iron Chef. Or better yet, head there for a Wednesday happy hour that's decidedly more upscale -- but still more reasonably priced -- than anything else in the neighborhood.
Covered in graffiti, stickers, and drawings from local artists, the second floor of Tattooed Mom may not be conventionally beautiful by traditional bar standards. But take a deeper look at those walls and you’ll notice the skill and thought that went into every line. Like a lot of art, it’s not for everyone, but if it’s your thing, it’s one of the best around.
1. La Peg140 N Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia
2. Charlie was a sinner.131 S 13th St, Philadelphia
3. The Olde Bar125 Walnut St, Philadelphia
4. Sassafras Bar48 S 2nd St, Philadelphia
5. R2L50 S 16th St, Philadelphia
6. Ashton Cigar Bar1522 Walnut St, Philadelphia
7. Library Bar210 W Rittenhouse Sq, Philadelphia
8. Spruce Street Harbor121 N. Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia
9. Ranstead Room2013 Chestnut St, Philadelphia
10. Volvér300 S Broad St, Philadelphia
11. Tattooed Mom530 South St, Philadelphia
Set in a historic pumphouse, La Peg in Penn's Landing reflects its history with salvaged tanks, shelves and maps. The space, with 45-foot-tall ceilings and large windows, also houses the FringeArts 230-seat theater, and the two are separated by a soundproof door that can open to blend the arts and the restaurant experience for certain events. La Peg itself is a contemporary American brasserie serving humanely raised meats and seasonal vegetables in many of their dishes. Their fully stocked bar features both well known brands and less-recognized offerings. Outside is a large patio and beer garden that serves drinks and casual food, with a fire pit in the winter.
Charlie certainly was a sinner, and a glutenous one at that. Despite a mostly vegan menu, Charlie's knocks it out of the park with decadent small plates and seemingly whimsical cocktails that hit you fast. Dark wood-paneled walls and plush velvet booths create a warm, intimate interior that's perfect for a date night. Take a seat at one of the candlelit tables and indulge in the always mysterious Charlie's Punch.
Jose Garces brought some much-needed life into the old stomping grounds of the locally loved Bookbinder’s, which closed during the not-great-economically year of 2009. Garces' reincarnation of the place is a nice polish to the original, and includes an open banquet room complete with dimly lit red booths, candles, and an oyster saloon serving snapper soup and fried belly clams. In addition to the nouveaux riche aperitif menu, the seafood-centric restaurant serves classics like dungeness crab, Maine lobster, and of course, champagne cocktails to pair.
A true bar for old souls, Sassafras Bar's Old City spot feels like the Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby film with a combination of 20s sophistication and modern-day glamour. It calls itself, "your father's bar," but that doesn't stop numerous crowds of all ages from gathering here for a classic cocktail made with old-school bartender showmanship -- and probably to get their hands on one of the beloved, rare tenderloin burgers.
Perched 500 ft above street level in Liberty Two, R2L offers panoramic views spanning 40 miles in clear weather from each of the restaurant's distinct settings; from the Liberty Bar & Lounge, with a streamlined menu and high-end, handcrafted cocktails, to the Dining Salon, where customized flights of booze're paired with inventive takes on traditional American fare from owner/Chef Daniel Stern, who's just glad he's out of the business of getting paint buckets swung at him from balconies.
Located right above Holt's Cigar Company in Rittenhouse, this second-floor bar serves 200 cigars, more than 350 whiskeys, and 500 total spirits. The expert staff will help pair your cigar (which are handmade in the Dominican Republic) with the right, just-as-smoky whiskey. Ashton has a speakeasy vibe with decidedly masculine leather couches. It's sleek, modern, and boasts a wall of windows overlooking Walnut St.
The Library Bar is a two-room cocktail palace, cozily tucked into the ground floor of the Rittenhouse Hotel. With huge volumes of literature on display, and including a tome-like, 17 page long drink menu, make yourself comfortable in the spacious cocktail haven with a meticulously crafted Old Fashioned or seasonal option like the El Presidente with bacardi rum, red wine, vermouth, and grenadine.
Depending on the time of year, the Waterfront boasts dozens of activities thanks to the Spruce Street Harbor Park. Beer gardens pop up in the summer, and the views of nature impress regardless of the season. The waterfront park has everything from hammocks to an outpost of Federal Donuts (Port FedNuts).
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.
Located in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Volvér provides a certain culinary artistry of its own. Its cocktails are inarguably imaginative, making use of everything from pink peppercorn and beet sugar to basil and nectarine shrubs. The drink menu has separate sections for seasonal cocktails, and for the variety of house-crafted and classic drinks served at the wide, circular bar year round. The seating beyond the bar itself is dark and plush, organized around small round tables, while expansive murals cover most of the available wall space. The chefs prepare a number of small plates and upscale snacks -- American caviar, foie gras and eclectic charcuterie -- as quick, light fare for theatre-goers en route to their chosen performances.