You could put on a jacket and tie, saddle up to a fancy bar in Rittenhouse Square and order a $15 martini. But sometimes you just want a shot and a beer for five bucks at a place with wood-paneled walls, dark corners and no pretensions. The dive bar is how a bar should be: Simple and unfancy. And Philadelphia has some great ones. It was hard to pare a list down to just 15, but these are the best dive bars in Philadelphia.
15. DIRTY FRANK’S
This bar, open for decades downtown, is about as Philly as it gets: The Phillies’ Tug McGraw—who’s on the mural of famous Franks and Philadelphians outside—used to hang here. It hosts the always-rowdy Froggy Carr Mummers wench brigade on New Year’s Day. Plus, it’s the best spot for in-season Rock Paper Scissors City League competitions.
This bar might be best known for its animal rights activism: It famously refused to show Eagles games when Michael Vick was quarterback, and still doesn’t sell Coors products because of the Canadian government’s complicity in the baby harp seal hunt. That means it’s a great, simple bar where you might get to pet a few dogs (or even a cat!). But the main reason to go to Doobies is for the jukebox, still an old CD juke with killer tunes.
13. BONNER’S IRISH PUB
You wouldn’t think a dive bar could be relatively well lit, but Bonner’s proves you wrong. Some days it’s practically daytime in there! Bonner’s has a huge side room that’s perfect for pretending you’re still in college and playing a few rounds of flip cup or beer pong.
12. ATLANTIS: THE LOST BAR
This bar sits a stone’s throw away from both the Philadelphia Brewing Company and is just down the street from local well cordial maker Jacquin’s, and stocks ample amounts of both. Throw in a pool table and a turntable playing vinyl every night of the week and you have yourself one pretty nice dive bar.
There are only a few taps at this small West Philadelphia hidden above Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant in West Philadelphia. But that’s OK: Fiume features an endless, exhaustive selection of bottled beer and top-shelf whiskey. Plus, owner Kevin Holland is both 1) an excellent mixologist and 2) books a solid list of eclectic performers. An added bonus: This a dive bar one can order Ethiopian food from—it’s just downstairs!
10. MCCUSKER’S TAVERN
The NFL’s much-loathed “Vikings, Bengals, Eagles, Steelers, Cowboys Family” commercial was filmed in part here, but the ad got that part correct: This is the ultimate South Philadelphia corner bar specimen. The walls reflect the McCusker family’s passion: The Dead, Pearl Jam, and Philadelphia sports. It’s like drinking in some really rich South Philly guy’s basement.
9. EL BAR
Over the past few years, El Bar has transformed from sleepy neighborhood dive to hipster haven. Opened in 1970 and named for its location under the city’s Market Frankford-El, the El Bar is currently Philadelphia’s best hipster meat market on the weekends. In warmer months, the backyard often features quite a few cats who will wander around and keep you company.
8. LOCUST BAR
This Wash West bar hits all the staples of your basic dive bar: sports (or the local news) on TV, Megatouch on the bar, Golden Tee, arcade bowling and a working cigarette machine. Oh, and really cheap drinks and food. If you’re nervous about doing karaoke, do it at Locust Bar: There’s a chance no one will be paying attention to you. Because it’s near the Convention Center and you can smoke, it’s also a fun place to meet out-of-towners. Well, out-of-towners who smoke.
7. BOB AND BARBARA’S
Go into most Philadelphia bars and ask for the citywide special and you’ll get what you ordered: A can of Pabst and a shot of whiskey. But at Bob and Barb’s, it’s just the special: The late, great Rick D invented the $3 deal when he was booking musical acts in the 1990s. B&B's—covered completely in Pabst Blue Ribbon merchandise—is best known for its live jazz music from The Crowd Pleasers and its Thursday night drag show.
6. LOCUST RENDEZVOUS
The ’Vous is across the street from Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, and so you’re almost as likely to see an aging couple dressed in formalwear as you are a guy in sweatpants and a track jacket. The food is good—there’s cheesesteak soup—the beer is cheap and it won a Best of Philly award for Best Place to Watch the Phillies Win Another World Series. That hasn’t happened, but you can still watch them here.
5. TATTOOED MOM
Step into Tattooed Mom and you feel, well, intimidated. The place is teeming with people hipper than you. The bartenders look surly. People are sitting in recycled bumper cars, and the upstairs is covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti. Only it’s a ruse: The bartenders are sweet, the graffiti includes pieces by great Philly street artists and the hipsters are probably social justice activists. Plus, the tables have party favor toys.
4. MCMENAMIN’S TAVERN
Everyone who lives in Northwest Philly cannot stop talking about this place. And why not? It might be the best place in the city to watch an Eagles game, for one. And the food is among the best at any corner or dive bar. It’s a sports bar with the sensibilities of a dive. This isn’t the only place to drink in Mt. Airy, it just feels like that sometimes.
3. BILLY MURPHY’S IRISH SALOON
There are only a handful of bars in East Falls, and this one is head and shoulders above the rest of them. Murphy’s borders Philadelphia University and Drexel’s med school and attracts a solid mix of college kids, medical professionals and Northwest residents young and old. And it has been around since 1961, making it a reliable Philly institution.
2. MCGLINCHEY’S BAR
This is a dive in the best possible way. Waitresses and bartenders actually can be rude to newcomers and curt with even long-time customers, there’s a tabletop Ms. Pac Man machine and newspaper columns and awards from 20 years ago are on the walls. The bathroom is quite possibly the most disgusting in the city of Philadelphia. But great beer, cheap hot dogs and—yes—funny, awesome bartenders and wait staff. Added bonus: You can smoke here.
1. OSCAR’S TAVERN
Lit in a red hue, the people who frequent Oscar’s will promise you this is the best bar in Philadelphia. The place attracts a wide-ranging clientele: Hipsters, rich lawyers, office parties, people who sit at the bar all day. And there are great specials: A cheesesteak-and-a-half special, a 23-ounce glass of Yuengling Lager and, the winner, the 23-ounce blue Long Island iced tea. Just don’t order more than two of that last one.