The Old Soul
Back when lobsters and steaks knew each other more intimately than they do today, Bookbinder's was Philly's biggest and brightest seafood house. It was the scene of its day, where the who's who of Philadelphia slurped oysters, cracked lobsters, and drank cocktails galore. After some hard times, the restaurant closed for what seemed like forever, until Jose Garces and company reopened it with The Olde Bar, a renovated beaut of Philly's culinary past. Enjoy some of Philly's classics like the age-old Grasshopper (a concoction of Branca Menta, Créme de Cacao, and heavy cream) or age-older Fish House Punch (a mix of different rums, brandy, peach cordial and lemon).
But nostalgia doesn't have to go so far back. A trip to Continental (Old City) will invoke a sort of reminiscent reminiscence (how meta). Continental's Buzz Aldrin (now, simply, The Astronaut) was a martini that brought back flavors of childhood innocence: the lip-smacking zing of orange Tang (a product originally developed by NASA) and peach vodka. It was a simpler time, the '90s, when the hottest thing you could be served was a childish martini accompanied by its mini-shaker. And even after so many years, The Continental is still going strong.
Brown Booze Buff
There are few better ways to begin your gluttonous feast of mid-rare, dry-aged Tomahawk rib-eye than with an expertly stirred Manhattan. Because once you're rockin' and rollin' deep into your third cocktail, a beefy, buttery steak should follow. And if you want it done right, head to Barclay Prime's bar an hour before your reservation, have a few, and when you're all sauced up, eat your heart out over some beef and
wine a few more cocktails.
The whiskey selection at Village Whiskey is virtually unrivaled, and some of the best bartenders in Philly learned their craft from behind its bar. The classics are without flaw, so an Old Fashioned would probably do the trick. But after you're done, give the Martinez a try — the classic drink is dressed up with Barrel Aged Bluecoat, and it's damn delicious. But if you're just a whiskey-neat sort of drinker, don't worry — they encourage it (with whiskey flights).
The Bitter Fiend
These are the golden years for Italian amaro, even though, to the unexperienced, amaro is a difficult drink on its own. The mix of bitter, herbaceous, vegetal, and even medicinal flavors is a learned taste, but once understood, the liqueur can be truly soul-soothing. But for those who aren't ready for a cordial glass of nothing-but-amaro, not to worry, you'll find them on every cocktail list in this city. Amari bring depth and earth to a drink that otherwise might be too sweet, and one of the few places in Philly to really get a taste for them is at Il Pittore. The restaurant has one of the biggest collections of Italian amari in Philadelphia, and they'd be happy to walk you through the histories and complexities behind each of them. With an even bigger vermouth selection and almost 15 house-made bitters, Il Pittore could be one of the most unique drinking experiences in the city. Check out the The Sixth Course: a simple mix of tequila, Meletti, and Prosecco, and a perfect example of the amaro's influence on a drink.
If you head one block south of Il Pittore, you'll find Vernick, where the food is considered to be some of the best Philly has to offer. Their bar, once manned by Vincent Stipo (who left the restaurant industry for the real estate business), was just as highly acclaimed. When he left, he set the standard for the restaurant's innovative cocktail program, and to this day, it's still one of the best bars to sit at in Philadelphia. And although the bar's focus isn't on bitter liqueurs, they sure do wonders with them. A good example: the Czech Pilot brings together Becherovka (a Czech version of amaro) and Italian amaro, seamlessly, in one delightful cocktail.
The Kid At Heart
Triangle Tavern is a fun hangout, and The bar, once a neighborhood staple, sat dormant for far too long before owners Stephen Simons and David Frank took it over and brought it back to its former glory. An entire section of the menu dedicated to Negroni riffs is all well and good, but its the spiked cherry water ice that really brings you to those days of no-stress and red-stained lips.
Bing Bing, right down the street, has just as much fun with its sweet, Asian-inspired cocktail menu. The tea-based Happy Family pitchers are perfect for group gatherings (only $20 during happy hour!), and the Bubbie Lola with whiskey, pineapple and tamarind is downright candy-like — perfect for the fat, colorful straw it comes with.
The Music Lover
Jason Evenchik's second jazz bar (the other one being Time in Midtown Village) sits on Northern Liberties's most happening street. Live music, great drinks, and really, really good food are all part of the Heritage experience, and the cocktails, specifically, are designed for music-listening in mind. Not too fussy, easy to drink, the Sloop John B is a rum/ginger-beer combo perfect for swooning to the rhythm of the band.
Bob & Barbara's, on the other hand, isn't so much a cocktail and jazz sort of place as it is a pickleback and jazz sort of place. The PBR emblazoned dive claims to be the founder of the Citywide Special (Jim Beam shot and a PBR can), but if you're not in the mood, a simple Crown & Ginger(ale) fits in just as well. It's been close to 47 years of live, no-cover jazz on weekend nights, and Bob & Barbara's doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Neuf, new to the Italian Market, has one of the most reasonably priced wine lists in Philadelphia, but don't let that stop you from ordering a cocktail first. Jesse Cornell's cocktail list is small, but Neuf's French 75 (with cognac) might be better than the original (with gin), and if you're in the mood for something with a little more substance, ask Cornell to improvise with any of the French apertifs, digestifs, and cognacs the restaurant proudly offers.
Philly's beloved French bistro sort of fell under the radar since chef/owner Peter Woolsey went ahead with his French Brasserie, La Peg, in the Fringe Arts building. But Bistrot La Minette still has one of the most gorgeous dining rooms in the city, the food is still just as fine as it ever was, and the happy hour ($4 Kir Royale, and half-off appetizers), should be your new after-work social. That is, if it isn't already.
The Drink 'n' Dancer
Franky Bradley's, another version of the popular neighborhood throwback restaurant, has a cocktail list that matches the high-quality offerings found in owner Mark Bee's other locations (Silk City, N.3rd). The Old Cuban cocktail naturalized into the Old American, this one done with whiskey and beer instead of rum and sparkling. Once you're done eating and drinking, head upstairs to burn away the damage. There's lots of dancing to be done up there.
D'Angelo's Ristorante, offers something quintessentially "Philadelphia". The dining room: Italian from the likes of South Philly, and the owners: two Sicilian brothers, Sal and Tony, in business together for 25 years. You can dine here and drink chianti (like you should), but if you really want to make a night of it, ask for a martini (there isn't any vermouth), or better yet: scotch, rocks, and a splash of Amaretto. The dining room turns into a dance club (till 2 a.m.!) on weekends, and yeah, maybe dancing in a fancy Italian restaurant that hasn't changed much over the years isn't the hottest club in town, but the experience is Philly-institutionalized, and we hope it never goes away.
The Oyster Expert
Raw oysters come with their own liquor, and it's easily the most important part of the experience. But it never hurts to go above and beyond with some liquor-on-liquor action. Oyster House has a smart list of oyster-friendly cocktails, punches, and shooters. A Pimm's Cup paired with a dozen West Coast oysters is an easy union (the cucumber in the cocktail complements the cucumber-y reputation behind West Coasters).
Anastasi Seafood, the 9th Street seafood market and restaurant, doesn't like to make things more complicated than they have to be. You won't see a single mention of "shrub" or "bitters" on the cocktail menu, and instead — "limoncello" and "bellini". Because chasing an oyster with a bellini is the right thing to do (sweet and savory is always a fun 1-2), and because bivalves and limoncello are a match made in Italian Market-heaven