Men, wax that handlebar ‘stache, and ladies, slap on some red lipstick: the days of Prohibition might be long gone, but inside Philly’s modern-day speakeasies, the spirit of the Roaring Twenties permeates the alcohol. Here’s where to recreate your very own scene from Boardwalk Empire—sans the gratuitous violence, scantily clad prostitutes, and Steve Buscemi’s unfortunate tooth-to-gum ratio. –Chelsea Karnash
The waiters wear bowties and boast facial hair in varying states of growth. The chandelier is made of mason jars. The décor is lush and gorgeous. And the food and drinks are, in a word, spectacular.
This pretty much sums up Center City’s relatively new Farmers’ Cabinet. Oh, and there is a waiter there with the most phenomenal Captain Hook-esque moustache I have ever laid eyes on. But I digress.
Try one of the amazing, artisanal cocktails at Farmers’ (recommended: The Cockaigne), and you’ll feel like a half-drunk floozy in a Fitzgerald novel—which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Go with a group, and you can up the ante with one of the deliciously deadly punches, served in an actual crystal punch bowl that’s pretty enough to be on a wedding registry.
In a rare instance where the real thing actually lives up to the hype, this swanky Chinatown hotspot–owned by the mystery man known only as “Lee”–offers drinkers a few things that keep ‘em coming back. For one, there’s the unique decor–candelabras, chandeliers, church lanterns, penny-tiled floors and nickel-covered countertops. Two, Hop Sing is pure class–no sneakers, flip flops or shorts allowed (nor are photos, talking on your cell phone and conversations that exceed the decibel limit into shouting). But most of all, there are the drinks…and the more than 1,000 (!!!) bottles of top shelf liquor that are utilized to concoct them. Be warned, however: Lee runs a tight ship in the tradition of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, and if you don’t follow his rules, you’ll never be allowed back.
Oh, and those claims from Yelpers that they weren’t let in based on less-than-stellar reviews (or even 4-out-of-5-stars)? Wouldn’t be surprised if they’re true…
Look past the seedy façade and wander inside. This whiskey and go-go bar is located in no-man’s land between NoLibs and Chinatown, but it serves up some yummy grub, the staff is welcoming and there’s a laid-back, eclectic vibe. Plus, the half-naked dancers keep it as classy as possible and don’t make you feel the urge to shower immediately upon exit. And did I mention the whiskey starts at just five bucks? Yes, it’s true–order a whiskey sour and the mac ‘n cheese, and your return is almost guaranteed.
Okay, so it’s Stephen Starr’s version of a speakeasy, but this spot–nestled in an alley below El Rey (look for the two R’s on the door)–has managed to stay sort-of under the radar. Ranstead Room is dark–like, really dark–with a romantic feel, the bar fills up quickly, and though the cocktail list is short, the bartender will craft you a spot-on custom drink if you so desire. You’ll want to hate this place—you really will—but you won’t be able to. Trust me.
The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.
Esquire voted Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co one of the top bars in the country in 2011. Bon Appétit included it in their Top 10 Best New Cocktail Bars, and GQ rated it among the top 25 cocktail bars in the nation. And those are only a few of the accolades Franklin has earned.
Plain and simple, this is THE place to head to if you’re looking for an authentic speakeasy experience, because this place really was one. Or at least, the original company was, when Max “Boo Boo” Hoff founded it in Philly during Prohibition. Then, the Franklin M&I was the center of the largest booze-running ring in the country, and the establishment’s six page present day cocktail list makes you think it would still be king today. There’s no need to discuss décor or neighborhood, just enter, settle into the banquet, and order any cocktail off the menu. You should expect it to be perfect, and it will be, because, well, that’s their thing.
Downside: There’s a bouncer, and if you don’t go early or at an off time, you will wait in line.
This hidden dive has all the ambiance of your broke, hipster friend’s studio apartment, complete with a plethora of mostly-functioning Christmas lights. But at Fiume, you’ll feel like you’ve been let into a special cool kids club—the place is so inconspicuous that some of its neighbors don’t even know about it. Plus, there’s live music (bluegrass, jazz, etc) three nights a week, and the whiskey list is extensive. Tip: Walk into Abyssinia, an Ethiopian restaurant below Fiume, then go up the stairs to enter Fiume.