The City of Brotherly Brew

One man's opinionated checklist
for Craft Brewers Conference attendees.

by Jack Curtin
April/May 2005

TEN BEERS TO SEEK OUT. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA (you know why), Flying Fish Farmhouse Ale (the area's best selling seasonal), Heavyweight Baltus O.V.S.B. (Our Very Special Beer, a Belgian seasonal), Sly Fox Glacier IPA (first of ten in a varietal series celebrating the brewery's 10th anniversary; if it's kicked, Ahtanum IPAwill be out), Stoudt's Double IPA (or the ramped-up Fat Dog Stout and Triple-this isn't your father's Stoudt's, friends), Troegs Dead Reckoning Porter (a single batch brew being released during Conference week), Victory St. Boisterous Hellerbock (the boys from Downingtown will be flying the lager flag in April, also look for Prima Pils and "a draft-only lager brewed to pre-Prohibition standards"), Weyerbacher Heresy or Insanity (bourbon barrel-aged monsters), Yards Extra Special Ale on hand pump (the release of this beer in April 1995 was the "big bang" for Philadelphia's craft beer explosion) and Yuengling Lager (a classic from America's oldest brewery).

TEN PLACES YOU NEED TO VISIT. Monk's Café (16th & Spruce Sts., 215-545-7005). If you're a fan of great beer and you're in Philadelphia, it is, if not the law, certainly the custom, that you visit Monk's, one of the nation's great beer bars and arguably the best Belgian beer bar in the world. The action is in the back room and, be warned, the place will be jammed most nights. Plus there's a Beer Dinner featuring Pizza Port Solano Beach and Elysian on Tuesday night. Afternoons, early or late evening or Sunday brunch is your best bet. A ten minute walk from the Downtown Marriott.

Standard Tap (901 N. 2nd St., 215-238-0630). If Monk's is destination #1, the Tap is #1A (you might even reverse the order, depending on your interests). All draft. All local. Great food. Other places might have to ramp things up a bit for the Conference; all the Tap has to do is be there, doing what it always does. If the weather is right, don't miss the upstairs deck. Opens 4 PM. You'll need a cab or someone with a mastery of the city's elevated transit system (the "L"). Before or after, walk up a block to Third St. and check out North 3rd (801 N. Third Street, 215-413-3666) and The Abbey (637 North 3rd St., 215.940.1222), two other top-notch watering holes. Or wrangle a ride to Johnny Brenda's (1201 Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684), which is owned by the guys who created the Tap, if you're not one of the lucky ones who discovers this relatively new spot as the logical next stop after the Wednesday night Welcoming Party at Yards Brewery.

Ludwig's Garten (1315 Sansom St., 215-985-1525). Not as well known outside the area as is Monk's for its Belgian selection, Ludwig's is mecca for fans of Bavarian brews. There's a rotating draft lineup of 25 fantastic world-class beers (mostly German), served in 17-ounce mugs. Add in a great bottle selection and you have what some argue is the best overall selection of beers in the city. An extensive German menu, friendly staff wearing traditional Bavarian garb and all drafts $2.95 after 10 PM. Such a deal.

Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant (1516 Sansom St., 215-569-9525). You'll definitely spend some time in the big Independence Brew Pub (1150 Filbert Street, 215-922-4292), right across the street from the Marriott, but it would be tragic not to take the five minute walk up to this second floor gem (above Sansom Street Oyster House, two blocks past Ludwig's and on the way to Monk's) which is center city's other brewpub. Award-winning beers (the Scottish style Grog is an almost perfect session beer) and a great bar staff, plus good grub. This place just feels right for good beer and good conversation. A hospitality gathering is planned here for late Thursday afternoon.

McGillin's Olde Ale House (1310 Drury St., 215-735-5562). Right around the corner from Ludwig's is Philadelphia oldest continually operating tavern. McGillin's first opened its doors in 1860 and has held a liquor license ever since. Featuring a great bar (the original owner brought his cousin over from England to design it), unique tile floor which dates back to 1900 (McGillin got the idea from local butcher shops when he got tired of replacing the wood floor) and great pub ambiance. Not a great beer bar per se, but with its own Red Ale and Lager brewed by Stoudt's and other locals in the mix. Will pour only American brews during Conference week. Other historical destinations: City Tavern (138 South 2nd St. 215-413-1443), a favorite of the Founding Fathers which dates back to 1772; Ortlieb's Jazzhaus (847 N 3rd St, 215-922-1035), located in what was the lunchroom of the original Ortlieb's Brewery.

I>Fergie's Pub (1214 Sansom Street, 215-928-8118). There are several good Irish watering holes like McGillin's in the city but only one of them has, well, Fergie. Fergus Carey, co-owner of Monk's and Grace (2229 Gray's Ferry Ave, 215-893-9580) and author of the hysterical "Ask Fergie" column for Philadelphia Weekly, is nothing less than a Philadelphia institution. And his pub ain't half bad either. Other good Irish: The Black Sheep (17th & Latimer, 215-545-9473), The Bard's (2013 Walnut Street, 215-569-9585).

The Khyber (56 South 2nd St, 215-238-5888). Speaking of history, The Khyber, or Khyber Pass as it was originally named, was Philadelphia's good beer bar before there were good beer bars, a dingy, dark sanctuary where a couple of generations came for the great bands and discovered great beers. Closed briefly a few years back, then cleaned up somewhat and renamed, it remains a fine place for a pint. About a ten minute walk from the Marriott. Also in the area: Eulogy Belgian Tavern (136 Chestnut St, 215-413-1918); Sugar Mom's Church Street Lounge, 225 Church St., 215-925-8219).

Brigid's (726 North 24th St., 215-232-3232). The city's oldest Belgian bar, a cozy corner pub on a quiet street in the city's Fairmount section (adjacent the Art Museum) is the perfect spot for an excellent, mind-bogglingly affordable meal and good beer. Other dining suggestions: Tria (123 S. 18th Street, 215.972.8742), where they celebrate "the fermentation trio of wine, cheese and beer"; Ten Stone (21st & South Sts., 215-735-9939).

The Grey Lodge Pub (6235 Frankford Avenue, 215-624-2696). Okay, you may have to dragoon a native into getting you there, but it's worth the effort. Owner Mike "Scoats" Scotese has turned a former neighborhood tappie into a destination bar with such inventive beer events as Friday the Firkinteenth, The Groundhog Day Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast and Merry Pielsmas (don't ask, but it happens Christmas Eve at the stroke of midnight), and he's done so while not offending or losing the long-time neighborhood clientele. A second floor bar and kitchen have just been added. Two other off-the-beaten-track pubs well worth your coercing an obliging local for a lift: McMenamin's Mt. Airy (7170 Germantown Ave., 215-247-9920), great food and one of the city's more interesting tap lineups; Dawson Street Pub (100 Dawson St, 215-482-5677). That Yards ESA on cask "big bang" thing I mentioned in the beer list above? It happened right here.

Dirty Frank's. (347 S. 13th St., 215-732-5010). Not even close to a good beer bar, but this gritty Philadelphia dive is sui generis and will be magical for those who relish legendary watering holes. Frank's has been there since Prohibition ended and is just as shabby as you'd expect. Generations of students, artists, hip and not-so hip neighborhood folk and exactly the sorts of characters Jimmy Breslin or Damon Runyon might create have frequented the premises and might still recognize it today. Unless things have changed, and they don't usually, the jukebox still plays 45s. Neighbors complained about the dingy exterior a while back and now the front sports a giant mural depicting "famous Franks": Frankie Avalon, Aretha Franklin, the ballpark frank, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Frank Zappa, Frankenstein, St. Francis of Assisi and Frank Sinatra. Go. Trust me.

Early Bird Special. If you're making a week of it and getting into Philadelphia on Sunday, April 10 or before, 15 breweries and 15 local restaurants are combining for The Brewer's Plate, a special event held at the Reading Terminal Market, just across from the Marriott, to offer 30 different food and beer pairings. It starts at 4:30 and it'll cost you $55 to get in the door unless you're sure you'll be there and want to call 215.386.5211 (ext. 102) for an advance ticket and save $10.

Keeping Up. The best and most timely information on the Philadelphia beer scene is, if I do say so myself after confessing that I'm the news and events editor there, found on the website of the Beer Yard, a retail beer distributor in suburban Wayne. We'll be adding event listings and news items for the Craft Brewers Conference before and during. Check it out.

Copyright (c) 2005 Jack Curtin

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