Out-of-towners traditionally flock into Philadelphia for Thanksgiving weekend, packing the bars and restaurants to catch up with friends and escape parents.
Last year’s homecomings were curtailed by the pandemic (this was pre-vaccinations, after all). This week will see thousands of visitors who may not have set foot in Philadelphia since Thanksgiving 2019.
The nightlife landscape has largely changed in the last two years, as you might expect. Some popular hangouts — Boot & Saddle, St. Stephen’s Green, Farmicia, The Bards, both locations of the Irish Pub, Bainbridge Street Barrel House, Manny Brown’s, Toll Man Joe’s, Bourbon Blue, Mad River — are gone, as are City Diner, City Tavern, Cheu Noodle Bar, the Continental location in Old City, the Davio’s location in Center City, Dmitri’s, R2L, and Warmdaddy’s.
Straight off the train, you’ll see that Bridgewater’s Pub inside 30th Street Station closed in December 2020 after 21 years.
You also can’t enjoy a 3 a.m. omelet at the Midtown III Diner, which closed in August 2020. Then again, your wee-hour diner experiences in or around Center City are limited to South Street Diner in Queen Village (24/7 weekends) — a sad commentary about life in 2021 in a large city. The 24/7 cheesesteak spots at Ninth and Passyunk are still there. One newer late-night option: Nifty Fifty’s, the ‘50s-themer at 10th Street and Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia, is open till midnight on weekends.
Your guests may want to see Jean-Georges, the jaw-droppingly atmospheric dining room on the 59th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel at 19th and Arch Streets. It’s closed till January 2022, but the cocktail lounge on the 60th floor (JG SkyHigh) is very much open from breakfast through late night.
Another exclamation point has been made in South Philadelphia, which has the new, 24-hour Live! Casino Hotel on the site of the old Holiday Inn, by the sports complex at Ninth Street and Packer Avenue — a quick hop from perennial party spot Xfinity Live! Related: You should type “Rivers Casino” into your rideshare app if you seek a stop at the former SugarHouse in Fishtown, which has rebranded. Also in that general riverfront area off North Delaware Avenue is the new Brooklyn Bowl, next to the Fillmore and Punch Line. Other Half Brewing is fixing to open in the next five weeks in the building across the way that housed Goose Island Brewing.
Speaking of beer: Philadelphia just got a massive, new brewpub from Victory Brewing Co. at 18th Street and Ben Franklin Parkway (the old TGI Fridays) to complement a slew of taprooms, including Iron Hill at 12th and Market Streets, Yards at Fifth and Spring Garden Streets, Dock Street South at 22nd Street and Washington Avenue, and Craft Hall (home of Mainstay Brewing) at Delaware Avenue and Poplar Street, as well as smaller neighborhood breweries such as Evil Genius, Love City, Triple Bottom, Philadelphia Brewing, Fermentery Form, Human Robot, Brewery ARS, the about-to-expand Attic, and the brand-new Cartesian (down the block from those 24/7 cheesesteak emporiums). Among the smallest of the newcomers is Meyers Brewing, which recently replaced Kurant Cider in Fishtown, not too far from the new Source Urban Brewing, which replaced Fishtown Brewpub.
The “it” neighborhood for nightlife at the moment is Northern Liberties. Since your friends have last been there, the Second Street corridor has seen the openings of Añejo (Mexican), SET NoLibs (Asian fusion), and the massive Figo, an Italian bar/restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating for 250-plus and a cocktail list that includes spiked sodas and coffees — all with ties to Glu Hospitality’s nearby Vesper Day Club, Germantown Garden and Germantown Garden Grille (the restaurants with the dining igloos). This supplements El Camino Real, Heritage, Standard Tap, Cantina Dos Segundos, and Urban Village.
In Fishtown and Kensington, trending options include Hook & Master (Jose Garces’ pizza/seafood bar), LMNO (the stylish Mexican from Stephen Starr), Middle Child Clubhouse (Matthew Cahn’s sibling to his Washington Square West luncheonette), Laser Wolf (Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook’s Zahav sibling), Izakaya by Yanaga (from Kevin Yanaga, whose omakase room is on the way), eeva (pizzeria from ReAnimator Coffee), Sor Ynez (Mexican from Jill Weber of Rex at the Royal and Jet Wine Bar), and Four Humours Distilling’s tasting room. Brand-new (and vegan) is chef Mark McKinney’s BYOB, Primary Plant Based, which replaced Cadence at 161 W. Girard Ave. in early November 2021. If you need a jolt of joe after a late night, there’s Càphê, the cafe from Philadelphia’s first Vietnamese coffee roaster under the El at J Street and Kensington Avenue. And if you need ice cream, a new shop from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams will open Dec. 2 at 1322 Frankford Ave.
Nightlife destinations in the Spring Arts neighborhood, near Union Transfer, now include La Chinesca (the Mexican-Chinese hybrid that replaced the Jiffy Lube at 11th and Spring Garden Streets), The Lucky Well (the barbecue restaurant reopening at 990 Spring Garden on Nov. 26), The Institute (the chill bar, in new quarters at 525 N. 11th St.), and El Purepecha (the homey Mexican cantina, in a new location at 315 N. 12th St.). The nearby Clementine’s Stable Cafe (631 N. Broad St.) serves both the neighborhood and patrons of the Met, while foundation. (beneath the Divine Lorraine) is the out-of-the-way home of chef Natalie Maronski. A few blocks west is Libertee Grounds (1600 W. Girard Ave.), an indoor beer garden with mini golf and a unique pan-Asian bar menu.
» READ MORE: Craig LaBan’s best new restaurants of 2021
Pandemic-era openings in the heart of Center City include the swank Steak 48 (a steakhouse across from the Kimmel Center whose dress code has been in the news); The Wayward (a handsome seafood spot at 12th and Ludlow Streets, attached to the Canopy by Hilton); and Dolce Italian (off the stunning lobby of the new W Hotel at 1437 Chestnut St., which has its own bar). The latest occupant of the underground space at 111 S. 17th St. is a sports bar/karaoke lounge called Rec & Royal. The popular Uptown Beer Garden has moved to Penn Center, taking a place on JFK Boulevard at 16th Street; it is now in a seasonal guise called U-Ville.
Two pop-up restaurants have their fans. Her Place Supper Club (1740 Sansom St.) stars Amanda Shulman, a former Vetri chef, in a temporary BYOB in a Rittenhouse storefront, while David Viana and Neilly Robinson have set up a version of their Central Jersey restaurant Heirloom Kitchen for a short-term engagement, complete with bar, at 931 Spring Garden St.
Rittenhouse, which lost its Marathon Grill at 19th and Market Streets to the downtown office downturn, has been quiet. What’s new: Bar Poulet, celebrating the tasty pairing of fried chicken and champagne at 2005 Walnut St. The Goat reopened in a polished setting in the former Oh! Shea’s space at 1907 Sansom St. under Jason Evenchik (Vintage, Heritage, Garage, etc.) and business partner Patrick Iselin, partnered with Fergus Carey and Jim McNamara (Fergie’s). Twenty Manning (261 S. 20th St.) reopened recently with a Middle Eastern menu from chef John Taus, who also invigorated the reflagged Audrey Claire down the block into a BYOB called Charley Dove. There’s El Techo, the rooftop bar atop Condesa (19th and Ludlow Streets), which opened just as the pandemic set in. The chic Ancient Spirits & Grille, whose menus are based on the holistic medicine practice of Ayurveda, is new at 1726 Chestnut St. Though it’s not a spot for drinks or even dinner, Huda (32 S. 18th St.) is a popular sandwich stop. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams will open at 19th and Chestnut Streets on Dec. 16.
Openings have been few in Washington Square West, now home to Morea, a global bistro at 110 S. 11th St., and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream (13th and Sansom Streets). Michael Schulson and crew are planning two restaurants on the other corners.
Las Bugambilias, the former South Street Mexican restaurant, surfaced in colorful quarters (the former Farmicia) at 13 S. Third St. in Old City.
There’s also not much new from a nightlife perspective on the east end of South Street, aside from the comeback of Bridget Foy’s (all-new from the ground up), the revival of Modo Mio (705 S. Fifth St., now with a bar), and a renovation of Banh Mi & Bottles. South Street west of Broad now has the sharp Rex at the Royal (1524 South St.), with Southern cuisine in a dramatic historically significant location, and Sonnys Cocktail Joint (1506 South St.).
The roster of Center City Chinese restaurants with bars increased by three. Far East Descendant opened in its on building at 251 N. Clarion St. (just off 13th and Vine Streets) in Chinatown (two bars, roof deck), General Tsao’s House at 1720 Sansom St., and Old City’s energetic Mei Mei (33 S. Second St.).
West Philadelphia’s entries include a snug version of Misconduct Tavern (3131 Walnut St.) and Buna Cafe (5121 Baltimore Ave.), where you can catch up over herb-infused Ethiopian coffee.
For those looking for a midpoint between Center City and, say, Mount Airy or Germantown, Black Squirrel Pub & Haunt (3749 Midvale Ave.) in East Falls has lunch going for it, as well as dinner and drinks.
South Philadelphia’s crop of newer-comers includes Community (1200 S. 21st St., serving food, drinks, and provisions to Point Breeze), Ember & Ash (1520 E. Passyunk Ave., specializing in grilled dishes) and Gabriella’s Vietnam (a BYOB at 1837 E. Passyunk Ave.), as well as La Llorona Cantina (a Mexican spot at 16th Street and West Passyunk Avenue), Juana Tamale (a quirky MexiCali at 1941 E. Passyunk Ave.), Messina Social Club (1533 S. 10th St., under chefs Eddie Konrad and Jason Cichonski); and one of the greatest hits of the pandemic, the revived Irwin’s at the Bok under chef Michael Ferreri, late of Res Ipsa.
Pizza has been a hot cuisine, with new entries including the mission-based Down North Pizza in North Philadelphia and Pizzata Pizzeria and Sally in Fitler Square making waves.
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Hop Sing Laundromat, the Chinatown cocktail bar that requires original proof of vaccination (not copies or cell-phone images), will take a break after service on Dec. 18.
Doobies, the quintessential bar at 20th and Lombard Streets, is due to return from its pandemic shutdown sometime during the week of Dec. 6.