Bars Brawl Over Decadent Decking of the Halls, Customers Win


There’s only nine more days until Christmas… can you believe it? I don’t know about you, but I’m fully in the spirit. I’m halfway done wrapping my Amazonian mountain of gifts – meaning that it is both huge and consists of Amazon boxes – my tree has been up and shining for several weeks, and my cards have all been signed and delivered. I play Christmas music non-stop and have baked approximately ten dozen cookies. I’m UNSTOPPABLE.

Believe it or not, there are people in Philadelphia even more crazed than I am. At Jose Pistola’s, a Mexican bar and eatery in Rittenhouse Square, Christmas is the most important day of the year. That’s because staff spend all year (they started in January) preparing for their Christmas Smackdown Bar Crawl, which will take place in its fifth iteration tomorrow. Jose Pistola’s will compete against Varga Bar, BAR, and Ebenezer’s, the holiday pop-up bar upstairs from Pearl Tavern, for an award celebrating the best decorations. For true impartiality, the judges will all be Jewish.

Sara Walker, GM at Jose Pistola’s, takes her establishment’s participation very seriously. For months, instead of rolling silverware, servers have been cutting unique five-pointed snowflakes from white paper as sidework. Every single table’s base is candy-striped with white paper and red duct tape. There may or not be a human-sized Elf on the Shelf. In a fit of fancy, part of the downstairs seating area has been converted into a glistening secret garden complete with a thousand hand-cut paper flowers sprayed in glitter.

For all the bars involved, there are scoring criteria. The judges will walk to each bar in turn, and grade the contestants from 1-8 (one for each day of Hanukah) apiece in the areas of: illumination, most delicious, staff participation, Christmas spirit, and “Where’s the dreidel?” Bars that do not include the mandatory dreidel with or without surrounding Hanukah decor will be given an automatic goose egg.

Want to participate in the holiday madness? The bar crawl kicks off at 6 p.m. at Varga Bar (941 Spruce St.) and ends at Jose Pistola’s (263 S. 15th St.), where holiday variety show “A Very Joe Gunn Christmas” (10 p.m.) concludes the night. Beer specials will be offered at each bar. There will also be “kegnog” (kegged eggnog) for sale to keep you moving.

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