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Dark Drinking Dens

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Hey Folks,

I'm looking for a really good speakeasy style drinking place with a good balance of "taste + ambience" . Preferably small, dark and (reasonably) quiet, with bartenders who really know their stuff and (reasonably) private booths, like that semi-romantic kind of look.

The Ranstead Room and Franklin Mortgage are the two obvious ones. APO seems like it has good cocktails but the scene is very fratboy. Butcher and Singer gets the look but the bar's far too open and public. Village Whiskey is too cramped... maybe pub and kitchen?

I'm not sure, is there anywhere else like RR or FMIC? Even a good beer place that's dark and cool would be nice.

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  1. Chick's Wine Bar. The cocktails are on par with RR and Franklin, and the ambiance is very nice, but no shtick and pretension like those other places have. Great bartenders and the food is pretty good, too. There are no booths but the bar is very relaxed and the tables are small and intimate.

    P&K drives me nuts because it's always crowded and never feels relaxed. I also think the prices are higher than the quality warrants--both food and drink.

    You could also try Royal Tavern or Cantina on a weeknight. Both are dark and relaxed and make good cocktails, though the music can be a bit loud and they get crowded on weekends.

    1. While I would never categorize APO as a "dark drinking den" (and thus, not what you're looking for), I would discourage you from categorizing the scene as "very fratboy." This is certainly dependent on the night, but there have definitely been nights where I wanted a really good drink with friends in a not-too-loud scene and APO was the destination of choice. Depends on the night you go, I guess, but my experiences have always been positive, though I'm still miffed that I can't get a tomolive in my martini.

      I'll second barryg's Royal Taven & Cantina recs for weeknights. Both great places, though I have found that the bartenders are slightly better at certain drinks than others. Weekends seem to make them miserable and intolerable, though.

      I'll also toss in Oyster House as a sort-of fit. The drinks are phenomenal, and the bartending staff is headed by one of the best bartenders in the city. Weekdays (though I've been lucky on Saturdays at times) tend to be more quiet. No booths but it is on the darker side.

      1. The bar at Southwark meets your criteria except there are no booths. They always have great beers on draft there.

        Royal and Cantina (Cantina has great big booths) are good suggestions but I agree you have to go during the week, on weekends they're too crowded and loud. Don't get margaritas at Cantina though, they're weak.

        Grace Tavern is dark, quiet (on weeknights) and also has great beers. The POPE is similar but gets more crowded.

        1. Standard Tap is probably the best fit in NoLibs. If out in the NW try CISCO's...

          1. Thanks for the suggestions everyone.

            I guess I sort of fell out with P&K after I asked for a rare burger and was served the most well done, dry, grey burger this side of McDonalds.

            Tried Local 44 last night. It... didn't really fit the bill at all, and the food was average at best, but the beer was great so I can't complain. I'm a little concerned that Royal Tavern and Standard Tap might be the same. Which is fine 90% of the time, but still.

            What do you mean by Cantina? I tried googling it and came up with quite a few results. Are there any places around Rittenhouse Square or West Philly? What about Tank bar at Friday Saturday Sunday (edit: they close at 10:30 on a weekday, boo)

            Will try APO on a weeknight, thanks again for all your help,

            9 Replies
            1. re: AgentRed

              Cantina = Cantina Los Caballitos, on East Passyunk Ave. in south Philly.

              In Rittenhouse, Snackbar may be worth looking into for atmosphere alone but I haven't been there since Jonny Mac was the chef so I can't speak for the food or the drinks.

              1. re: AgentRed

                There's a few places in West Philly that'll fit one or two of the criteria you mentioned, and Local 44 is probably my best rec (and as you already saw, meh food but good beer, though I do recall liking that they had corn dogs ... don't know, haven't looked at the food side of things there since Tampopo opened).

                The new Tap ... something. It's over the Capogiro at 40th, in the Radian building. Haven't tried the food, but the beer list is pretty good. Give it a try. Once Penn starts up again, it might be a Tuesday-only type of haunt, but until then, you might have better luck on other days of the week.

                1. re: Ali

                  Thanks guys, yeah I definitely intend to go to Local 44 with friends more often, it's a fun "before a show" kinda place.

                  Tap, eh? Never heard of it, will definitely check it out. Also thinking of trying 10 Arts? Has anyone been? It's seriously overpriced and probably full of suits, but worth trying?

                  1. re: AgentRed

                    I think Ali is referring to the City Tap House: http://www.citytaphouse.com/index.php

                    I'll reiterate that you need to check out Chick's--I think it is the closest to what you are looking for. Dark, initmiate, good bartenders, wine and cocktail centric.

                    1. re: barryg

                      Thanks barry, your reccs are always top on my list. Will definitely check out Chicks, I just haven't made it out to South St yet.

                      1. re: barryg

                        I made it over the City Tap House. Huge beer selection and surprisingly good food (particularly their Tartufo pizza, which was as good or better than the version at Stella), but it has a very corporate/chain kind of vibe. It's huge inside and a bit cold. I didn't get out to the patio as the weather was questionable. They also had an awful musician performing--a chick with acoustic guitar doing covers of college rock songs (think The Verve Pipe covered by the Indigo Girls). She even threw in that Lady Gaga song. It seriously made me lose my appetite (well, almost--barryg's appetite is hard to suppress).

                        Anyway, I'd go back for beer and a light meal but it is most definitely not a dark drinking den.

                        1. re: barryg

                          haha, that mental image is all i need to push this place to the very bottom of my to-visit list! too funny...

                      2. re: AgentRed

                        The bar at 10 Arts is almost exactly the opposite of what you're looking for.

                        1. re: Buckethead

                          Hahahah, OK, thought it might be. Thanks for saving me the trouble, appreciate it!

                  2. I would recommend the bar at Barclay Prime. Dark, cool, and fantastic drinks. Last year they served me an heirloom tomato cocktail that was incredible. Also, good snacks to be had.

                    1. Southwark, 4th and Bainbridge. Amazing drinks, amazing locally sourced food. Husband and Wife owned and the husband is behind the bar with the general manager. You will get classic drinks and the best Manhattan in the city....seriously. Largest Rye Whiskey and Gin selection in the country too.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: brianaface

                        southwark is what immediately came to mind for me, too. love that place.

                      2. Completely unhelpful, but does anyone remember that place that was around in the late 90s, somewhere around 15th & Carpenter, in a dark, slightly campy Soviet style? Wish I could remember the name. Lots of vodka & cigarettes.

                        How about the new places that serve absinthe? I haven't tried them, but I think at least one is speakeasy-styled. Anyone been?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Mawrter

                          I went to the absinthe lounge above TIME (on Sansom between 13th and 14th I think...?). It was trying very very hard to go for the speakeasy look but it's under-furnished and over lit. Plus they were playing the same music as my gym, which didn't help at all.

                          If you have any suggestions for other absinthe places I'd love to check them out,

                        2. p.s. and for a dark beer place, i'm always recommending the prohibition taproom. it is certainly dark, and the beer is certainly good (as well as the food) and the staff is friendly and knows their stuff.

                          1. Lots of good suggestions here.... I'll add Varga Bar -- not known for their cocktails, but large variety of great beers on tap, knowledgeable bar tenders, nice atmosphere (I think there are a few booths), and the food is better than decent. I could eat those brussels sprouts every day!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: phillybakingqueen

                              I like Varga Bar a lot but I wouldn't recommend it for the specific requirements of the OP, as it tends to be crowded and somewhat loud in there, so I wouldn't classify it as dark and semi-private.

                            2. Happy Rooster in center city might do the trick...

                              1. I agree with many of the suggestions. I cannot recommend Varga for what you want. I think Barclay Prime, one of my favorite restaurants and bars, is not comfortable enough because the bar is so small and the tables are not comfortable to eat dinner from. Oyster Bar's seats at the bar are not that comfortable.

                                Prime Rib is overlooked. It is classy and quiet and there is plenty to enjoy. Also, I would recommend Devil's Den. Wishing Well is very comfortable. Their food is evolving, I have had good things and things I had to send back. Saloon is also very comfortable for a bar.