Anybody who’s ever seen The Wild One, Easy Rider, or even the popular F/X cable series “Sons of Anarchy” might be under the impression that the so-called “biker lifestyle” is an endeavor common only to outcasts and outlaws, rowdies and the reckless. Fact of the matter is: the historic and notorious reputation of the Hell’s Angels (and a few other gangs) notwithstanding, nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, most bikers live a life of devotion to a clan garnered by mutual respect and honor, and they live to do only one thing: ride the highways and byways with their knees in the breeze. But any life spent on the road can prove parching after a while, and let’s be honest: even road warriors need a place to park and gas up from time to time. So whether you consider yourself a weekend wheelie or a true nature’s child who was born to be wild, this list of fine Philly-based public houses will prove hospitable to both you and your hog.
And don’t worry: crew colors are not necessarily a requirement, nor is the presence of an actual Harley … but it wouldn’t hurt if you were to actually have one. After all, it IS the greatest motorcycle ever made in the history of the world, man.
The Handle Bar
1102 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125
If you’re looking for a way laid-back road house to hang your skid lid and not raise too much of a fuss, The Handle is a great place to get a grip (especially on a beer or two). Located just beneath the train tracks off Interstate 95 about a block from Delaware Ave. in Fishtown, this neighborhood haven has a welcoming working class atmosphere where both the salt-of-the-earth and non-natives can easily strike up a conversation about everything from the city sports scene (a game is always on their TV sets) to the finer points of stone masonry. The drinks are cheap, and if the mood hits, chances are the girls will show off some bartop choreography that’d easily rival any of those scenes from “Coyote Ugly.” A friendly hang for anyone who wears their heart on their sleeve or vest.
2654 South Alder St.
Philadelphia, PA 19148
Novices to the biker scene normally wouldn’t figure jarheads and roadjets would roll in the same pack. And if you did jump to that stupid conclusion, then you best guess again, H.O.G.s … because that’s exactly how the gang revs at this South Alder watering hole. A long ago established dive of the highest order, Cookie’s attracts all comers (from besotted locals to steel workers, seniors to scenesters) and manages to keep its customers in line with strong drinks, loud music, and brass-tacks camaraderie. The tavern is also known for its annual rally on Oregon Avenue, during which both the bar’s founder and members of the USMC are honored with a proud display of colors and rumbling twin cams.
1415 Locust St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Known to locals as “the Vous,” The Locust draws a fairly diverse and friendly collective, all of whom dig this low-down for its cheap cold beer ($2 and $3 bottles, in most cases), muscular mixers, always-active juke, and relative quiet in terms of behavior. As for being biker friendly, the best testimonial came from one ride captain who – during a recent torrential downpour – was given permission by the owner to park his scoot inside (a gesture most just, especially to prevent rust). As far as eats are concerned, this ain’t no dainty brasserie where you can expect to order crab cakes on a bed of shaved fennel. It’s back-to-basics pub grub for guys and gals on the gun ‘n go.
Oh, and what would you think if they sang out of tune? Because boisterous sing-alongs are also part of the scene here, so you got two choices: you can stand up and walk out, or lend them an ear and help sing ‘em a song. But whatever you do, don’t complain. The only con about a visit to The Vous is the barking dog that’ll inevitably end up hanging around your neck the next day, should you overdo it.
Dirty Frank’s Bar
347 S 13th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
If you like dark, intimidating and smoky scenes that serve it up cheap to all sorts without any questions asked, this legendary taproom has got plenty of funk and skunk to go around (to wit: if you’re truly a snob about the quality of your suds, you’re better off buying whatever’s available by the bottle). Parked on the corner of South 13th, it’s also a friendly haven for bikers looking to blow the froth off a couple mugs before hopping back on their Milwaukee vibrators and vamping away. Bathrooms are unisex, by the way, so don’t be surprised by what walks in the door: it’s fair game. Get there before 9 pm and you’ll be good for seating. And be sure to get a gander at the wacky mural on its façade – which depicts a history of some of the world’s greatest Franks (including Mary Shelley’s famous monster, Sinatra and Zappa).
The Bike Stop, Inc.
206 S Quince St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
As much as many traditionalists would like to imagine the biker scene being populated by macho, manly Peter Fonda types who troll the countryside for wild mamas and mayhem … the fact of the matter is, this is the 21st century, and not every biker oils their parts in private like the rest of us (hint-hint). So if you’re what most of the gay gentlemen who flock to this damp, dark and dirty bar call a “bear,” you’ll probably fit right in among the grizzlies. This is not to suggest the scene is unfriendly to gaggles of single girls or even the occasional visit from “straights,” but if you do decide to go for a drink or a game of pool, you best be prepared to receive some odd stares for being “overdressed,” if you catch our drift. And to those of you puritans still living in the dark ages, just get back on your trikes and quietly pedal away. Unless you wanna get stomped by some of the sisters.
-by Kevin Byrne