It’s one thing to go out drinking in style, but hipsters and old-timers agree that there’s nothing as homey as your local dive bar. It’s nothing to look at, the food may be questionable, and your fellow patrons may be career alcoholics, but it feels like your home away from home. There’s no gimmick like axe-throwing or Christmas music, but you don’t need all that. For cheap drinks, rotating happy hour specials, and the ability to watch the Eagles stink up the field on a tiny TV mounted on the wall, you need to know your local watering hole. Luckily, I’m here to fill you in on the best dive bars in Center City. Pour one out for me next time you go, friend.
First on deck we have the rare combination of highbrow meeting divebrow at Fiume, an itty-bitty little speakeasy upstairs from the acclaimed Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia. The bar only seats six (plus a few tiny tables), so this is a “gotta know someone who knows someone” kind of place. The cocktail menu is writ large on a chalkboard behind the bar in bright colors, and there is an expansive whiskey menu, along with your usual assortment of beer. Check out the full liquor menu on Fiume’s Facebook page.
Established in 1969, even the outdated names that grace this establishment are old-school. This was the birthplace of the much-replicated Citywide Special – a shot of Jim Beam and a PBR chaser, and the regulars here look like they’ve been glued to the same bar stool since the Nixon administration. B&B’s is known for their free live music of all varieties, the longest-running drag show in Philadelphia, and its much-coveted $2.50 cans of local elixir Pabst Blue Ribbon. There’s karaoke on Sunday as well.
Having been established in 2015, The Monkey Club doesn’t quite have that quintessential worn-in patina characteristic of the classic dive bar. The pub-like ambience is as comfy as old leather, however, and reviewers describe the establishment as “the local Cheers bar.” A faithful clutch of regulars pad the audience, but even as a newcomer you will find the Monkey quite friendly and lovable. Drinks are cheap enough, but get even more economical during sports games – this is a great place to watch the Eagles do… whatever they are doing this season. Add to that knowledgeable bar staff, and the requisite pool and ping-pong tables, and you have a dive bar that will make you feel like family.
This is a solid, Midwest-style dive bar, again complete with a name coined by Boomers. Regular events at the Happy Tap include karaoke, bingo, and an annual chili cookoff. There’s something going on just about every day of the week, like happy hour specials and live music. Thursday nights include a special menu offerings – a ripe apple soaked in Fireball whisky! The eats, overall, are good. The Happy Tap dishes up a serviceable cheesesteak, and standard bar fare like cheese fries feel like the food equivalent of a hug. 2019 celebrates the Happy Tap’s 30th birthday, so make sure to squeeze in a visit before the year ends to raise a toast.
Oscar’s is a crucial stop on many a Center City bar crawl. It’s a literal hole in the wall, so small that you might miss it if you are looking, especially after dark. Inside, the lighting is pleasantly dim thanks to the illumination of seasonally-colored Christmas lights, the drinks are cheap, and the food is nothing to gush over, but will tide you over for the evening. A fluorescent jukebox blasts oldies on command. Oscar’s is so beloved by the neighborhood that a recent painting of the exterior provoked passersby to beg the workers not to change anything. It’s got just the right air of seediness required to fit the category. A favorite pick is the 96-oz lager, which will set you back less than a 20-spot with tip included and change for the parking meter.
Anthony Bourdain once blessed Dirty Frank’s with a visit due to its fame (infamy?), but don’t worry – this WSW fixture hasn’t let the attention go to its head. Prices are still rock-bottom: two bucks and a couple quarters will buy you a High Life paired with a kamikaze shot. The mural of famous patrons painted on the outside makes this place hard to miss. Cash only.