PHOTO: Shelves of beer at The Foodery in Philadelphia. (Photo by John Roberts)
The skies are gray, and the temps hover at the freezing point. So, it's no problem that the bar is dark and windowless.
We enter through the tiny brown door that neatly separates the conspicuous murals that fill the building's exterior walls along 13th Street and Pine Street. Those murals tell you exactly where you have landed.
Dirty Frank's Bar is notable for those images of Frank Zappa, Aretha Franklin, Pope Francis, FDR and other "Franks" that adorn the Washington Square West watering hole, but this is hardly a tourist hot spot. We are here with Alex, our Intrepid Travel Urban Adventures guide who is giving us the Philly On Tap tour, and this final destination on our two-hour exploration of the city's beer scene takes us full circle.
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Like any good night of drinking, the events, scenery and people become more colorful and interesting as the hours pass.
This is undoubtedly a drinking establishment for the locals, with the final bites of "hot dish" being downed after the judging of the bar's Comfort Food Cookoff. An old AT&T pay phone is affixed to a wall. A well-tattooed bartender busily pours beers and shots, takes photos of the contest winners and seems to know everyone in the joint. Mummers costumery hangs over the bar as part of the décor.
This is Philly, in every sense of the word.
Let's head back to the beginning: as we set out to learn about Philadelphia's rich beer history. The plan was to make three stops and pick one of the selections on tap at each spot—to savor while we talk beer with Alex.
Our first destination, McGillin's, is the anchor of the tour. Alex tweaks the other tour stops based on his guests' beer tastes and what type of atmosphere they might enjoy.
McGillin's Old Ale House is Philadelphia's oldest bar, established in 1860. We try the lager and an IPA from among the microbrews offered. McGillin's serves on tap a selection of regional varieties from Yard's, Stoudt's, Flying Fish, Sly Fox and Dogfish Head alongside a wide choice of bottles.
Philadelphia was once a city of taverns, with proprietors making both their own small batches of beer for sale and using the byproducts for their baked goods in bakehouses. A neighborhood close to the nearby Schuylkill River and its precious water grew to be called Brewerytown.
The tale of many cities—and even a whole nation for that matter—can be told by looking through the bottom of a beer glass.
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The City Tavern in Philadelphia was built in 1773 and became the habitual meeting spot for the First Continental Congress, which set the early stages for the Revolutionary War. Among the members of the Congress was Samuel Adams, who owns his own famous history with beer production.
George Washington made the City Tavern his favorite place to eat, drink and host diplomats. The original building was destroyed 1854, and a replica was built in 1975.
Alex asks whether we are ready to continue. We slug the last bit of our beverages and head out the back door of McGillin's. Walking the three-plus blocks to our next stop, The Foodery, we pass along Sansom Street, which is an up-and-coming restaurant district. Already known for its Oyster House seafood eatery, we spy a few new places that we'll be sure to come back for a little grub time. Like Rooster Soup Company, Federal Donuts (a doughnut and fried chicken joint!) and Zavino, a wine bar pizzeria.
At The Foodery, we are transfixed by the wide range of bottles. This is the spot to come and hang out and sample craft brew selections from all over the region, East Coast and nationwide. I choose to pair my snack of seasoned steak fries with a Dock Street Brewery No Exit Double IPA. The place is bustling just after 6 p.m. with students hanging in booths having a few beers and a meal, and neighborhood residents coming and going buying a few bottles to take home.
We converse about the city's craft brewing tradition before finishing up to head to Dirty Frank's. The sun set about an hour ago, and nightlife is perking up—even on a Sunday night.
Live music is just getting under way as we get our pitcher of Dirty Frank's IPA. We settle into a corner and listen to the saxophone player and the Dr. John-style crooner for a few songs.
The whirlwind tour hit all the right notes, too, from the most historic of saloons in Philadelphia to the bustling craft beer café buzzing with college students and millennials to the corner watering hole that is a staple of any truly American neighborhood.