I’ve never been on a pub crawl.
The whole concept is unseemly, as far as I’m concerned. Traipsing from dimly-lit bar to dimly-lit bar, sucking down pints of average beers, possibly piling onto a ale-soaked yellow school bus to be shuttled to the next dank destination.
It never occurred to me that I could convert the pub crawl concept into something a little more appetizing until I did it last month, entirely by mistake.
It was a Friday, and our good friend Mary Ellen (AKA Melon) emailed Elise and I about heading out to happy hour. As it happened, her email arrived simultaneous to Elise taking flight for Australia, so I certainly had nothing better to do with my evening. Melon’s reason for happy houring was that her husband was at a baseball game, and the resulting absence of significant others yielded the result of us drinking through six bars over the course of six hours.
I’ve been referring to that as “The Pilot Crawl,” whereas last evening’s adventures definitely qualify as an inaugural event. The goals, which were emailed to all participants along with a bar schedule, were as follows:
(1) Seeing each other outside of rehearsals and meetings
(2) Sampling new and different bars and restaurants
(3) Enjoying a wide variety of drinks
(4) Staying slightly-but-blissfully inebriated for as long as possible
(5) Paying with cash
The event began with myself and fellow musician Jake at the Sansom Street Oyster House (1516 Sansom Street) around five o’clock. We settled in at the bar with a surprising cheap order of happy hour beer and wine, clams, mussels, and shrimp.
The architecture of the Oyster House doesn’t scream “upscale,” but scotch-drinking regulars and the raw menu definitely made it a worthy kickoff choice. Our concept wasn’t necessarily that our locations be as posh as possible, just that we carry ourselves in an upscale fashion from one destination to the next.
Soon all seven primary players in the crawl had all arrived (minus an eight who would have apparently gone into anaphylactic shock if he touched any of us who had just eaten clams. Seriously.)
Slightly after six we moved on to Davio’s (111 S. 17th), a swanky Italian bar and restaurant. Their happy hour special was $5 well martinis and free pizza. As of no longer being twenty-five I’ve given up well-drinks as a concept, but it turned out that their well-vodka was Smirnoff, which is at least palatable (if not preferable).
What we didn’t know ahead of time was that happy hour also encompassed $5 wine and $3 lagers. Suffice to say, between the trio of drink specials, the occasional round of free pizza, and the austere environment we were big fans of Davio’s, agreeing to revisit it at a later date for dinner.
The Davio’s bartender suggested we peak into Sofitel as a possible insertion to our schedule, but around seven all of it’s cushy seating looked to be long-term parked-in by people with no place else to be.
Having picked up our eighth participant in Davio’s, we continued to our regularly scheduled third location, The Rum Bar.
The Rum Bar (2005 Walnut) was an almost unanimous nomination by friends of the crawl, and we immediately understood why. Great decor, friendly servers, gourmet appetizers, and a rum list that ran the full length of the menu. Plus, a small-but-palatable selection of beers.
We grabbed a corner booth and ordered a round. Much to my delight, my drink – a mojito made with cilantro instead of mint – was judged to be the best at the table.
Rum Bar is unanimously endorsed by the crawlers. Half-price mojitos on Mondays.
We then picked up two additional crawlers – Melon (!) and her husband – simultaneous to losing our Davio’s addition. Now eight-thirty and much too sober on average, we headed to the upstairs lounge at Fuji Mountain.
Fuji Mountain (2030 Chestnut) was the only true disappointment of the night – the bar was tiny and unremarkable, and the tenders were brusque. The sake selection salvaged the trip for us, but in the future I’ll stick to visiting Fuji for my high-end sushi lunch breaks.
Here we had a bit of a crisis. The next bar I picked was my personal gimme, The Continental Midtown Continental. However, we weren’t really feeling a Steven Starr vibe at this juncture, so we negotiated a new location.
The majority of us were in the mood for a pub, but all of the good ones were a few blocks away. We headed in that direction, making an ever-so-brief pit stop in Devon because Lindsay and I were craving martinis, but it was (per usual) overcrowded at the bar.
Lead by Melon, fifteen minutes later we wound up in the basement of The Black Sheep (247 S. 17th) slightly after nine. It was surprising well-lit and -stocked, and featured a rather banging menu of appetizers. On the whole the group approved.
It was here that I switched from my relatively tame drinks to my new favorite special, Jägermeister, Malibu, and pineapple juice. The barman who had first made it for me the night before referred to it as a “surfer on acid on ice,” but he might have just been making it up on the spot – about an hour later he was blowing fire across the bar.
I’ve decided that my personal moniker for it is, “Death To Lindsay,” as it has enough pineapple juice in it to swell her tongue to the size of a bar of soap, so I might as well call it something that makes it obvious that she shouldn’t have any (as, if Thursday was any indication, I am past the point in my evening where I can remember the individual deathly allergies of my various friends when I start ordering mixed drinks with Jägermeister in them).
After the disappointing Fuji pitstop we were now freshly drunk and well fed, and it was at this moment that talk of Bob & Barbara’s as a final location reached a fever pitch amongst the various crawlers.
I can’t exactly reproduce the descriptions I heard of B&B’s, except that I was told there would be no “top shelf” of vodka, and that the only drink special is $3 for a can of Pabst beer and a shot of Jim Bean.
I had some trepidation about it, as cosmo-ordering metrosexual me doesn’t tend to fare too well anywhere that primarily serves cans of low-end beer, so while I considered my attendance I managed to steer us to an intermediate location, The Happy Rooster.
Here we lost Lindsay – perhaps afraid I would try to poison her again at the next bar, Amanda – off to meet other friends in Olde City, and Elise – who was definitely uninterested in what the eventual Bob and Barbara had to offer us, and who had a flight to catch the next morning.
The Happy Rooster (118 S. 16th) is a pub that probably used to be smoky and dire, but is now twinkling and comfortable. At this point we had all switched to beers – even me! – except for Melon, whose default drink is a vodka cranberry. It would have been too-cramped during happy hour, but as a late night destination it was just comfortably full.
Finally, nearing our seventh hour of crawl, the remaining sextet made our way to Bob and Barbara’s (1509 South), where we picked up an additional four attendees who had been on a separate crawl of their own.
B&B’s deserves its own separate post, but I’ll try to do it justice here.
In the days before the smoking ban I can imagine that the place existing in a permanent haze such that you couldn’t see the liquor shelf from a seat at the bar, which was probably for the best considering the vodkas I spotted them adding to their well drinks.
Lacking in a smoke screen, two things were immediately apparent about the bar. One is that it was the Pabst capital of the planet – every surface in the room was covered exclusively in Pabst promotional signs, some of them withered and ancient.
The second was that Bob & Barbara’s has no specific “crowd.” Sure, I bumped into some typical South Street tattoo mavens, and there was a film of preppy collar-poppers having a go at slumming it, but on the whole it really felt like a whole block worth of Philadelphia pedestrians just randomly stopped together to get a drink.
It was completely charming.
I had just settled on bottles of Rolling Rock to tide me through this, our seventh and final bar of the evening, when The Crowd Pleasers came on.
The band was comprised of three ancient black men, whose ages surely added up to a number north of 230 (speculated to be 246). They played a full kit, a saxophone, and an old-style organ (Hammond B3?) with two rows of keys and a set of foot pedals, fed into a battered four-track PA mixer.
The sound was amazing, lurching through fuzzed out piano riffs for minutes at a time before the sax player finally deigned to unleash a slapdashedly deft solo, followed by a ridiculous tight run of full-trio dragging triplets before settling once again into a fuzzed out riff. They played for a scant fifteen or twenty minutes before going on break for the rest of an hour, seemingly oblivious to the other occupants of the room both while playing and sipping beers between sets.
(It was at this juncture that I fell for Bob and Barbara’s completely, sending Amanda a text reading, “Where r U? I love it here.”)
Final call arrived nine hours after the beginning of our crawl, and I was still merrily chugging a Rolling Rock when a large man stood on a chair and made clear that we didn’t have to go home, but we couldn’t stay there.