Forget cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, “the Citywide Special,” traditionally known as a shot of Jim Beam Bourbon and a bottle of PBR for only $3, might be the best thing to come out of Philly. Known to many simply as “the Special” or “the Citywide,” legend has it that it started in Bob and Barbara’s nearly 20 years ago and was soon copied by bars across the city. It’s not, as the name might suggest, found everywhere (higher-end bars usually don’t offer it), but many spots still do carry “the Special” and many variations have been made on the popular combo. See below for some of the best places to go for a shot and a beer.
Atlantis, The Lost Bar
2442 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125
The Lost Bar’s version of “the Special” replaces PBR with a bottle of Kenzinger, but the price remains at $3 for a beer and a shot. This bar is located close to the Philadelphia Brewing Company and, since most of its beer comes from the PBC, it might just have the freshest (and cheapest!) brews in the city. The Lost Bar has board games (Connect Four), a pool table and a jukebox. It’s also BYOF (Bring Your Own Food), but if you’re lucky, free snacks (including soft pretzels) might be available.
Bob and Barbara’s Lounge
1509 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Bob and Barbara’s is where “the Citywide Special” supposedly originated back in 1994. As the bar was thriving under new management, band booker Rick Dobrowolsk suggested that it get a case of PBR and a bottle of Jim Beam Bourbon, selling a can and a shot combo for only $3 and calling it “the Special.” Three dollars is still the price almost 20 years later. One of the first things you notice when you walk into this classic dive bar is all the PBR memorabilia on the walls. Every Friday and Saturday night, The Crowd Pleasers, a great jazz band, performs, and on Thursdays, you’ll be able to catch one of the bar’s beloved drag shows.
Dirty Franks Bar
347 S. 13th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Dirty Franks opened its doors a month before Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Its “Citywide” offering is a shot of Kamikaze and a seven-ounce beer (Miller Highlife or Rolling Rock, for example) for only $2.50. Dirty Franks doesn’t have a sign, but it’s easily recognized by its mural of famous Franks (Ben Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Frankenstein) on the bar’s facade. Hanging from the ceiling are various knick knacks, including paper snowflakes and pinatas. While you’re here, check out the one-wall gallery “Off The Wall,” which features local painters, sculptors, photographers and more. There’s no food here, but feel free to bring your own.
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2201 Lombard St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Doobies offers “the Citywide Special,” only in place of PBR, it sells a Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale with a shot of bourbon for $5. It also recently unveiled a whole list of variations of “the Special” proudly named after customers and Rick D., who came up with the idea all those years ago. This tiny dive has a fair amount of regulars and is a favorite among locals in the Fitler Square area. There are board games (such as Connect four) and a jukebox with a fantastic selection of both classics (especially if you’re a David Bowie fan!) and hits from more obscure bands (Red House Painters, for instance). Doobies is cash only, but the ATM fees at this animal-friendly joint (dogs are welcome) go to support a local cat rescue. Doobies also has high morals, as it doesn’t sell any Canadian beer because of the government’s refusal to stop clubbing baby seals.
229 S. 45th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
The PBR and whiskey shot combo at this hidden West Philly gem costs $4. Nestled on top of Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, the sign-less Fiume is barely noticeable, but once you find it, you’ll be glad you did. Fiume might be the size of a studio apartment, but its huge list of craft bottled beer and whiskey will make you soon forget about its small frame. Live music can be heard three nights a week and the resident bluegrass band (aptly named The Citywide Specials!) performs every Thursday night.
Kelly Neilson is a freelance writer living and working in Philadelphia. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.