Downtown Philly Bar Crawl

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The density of Philadelphia's city core produces a pleasantly convenient dive bar stroll.
Beck Tavern - Columbus Dive Bar - Interior
Finding bars in downtown Philly is not a difficult prospect, the city’s density a big boost to spotting a place to duck in for a post history tour High Life. And thanks to Philadelphia’s rich history, the Philly dive bar scene is thriving, Center City one of the more prominent hot spots in the city alongside fellow dive bar hubs South Philly and Fishtown. This particular pub crawl winds through downtown Philadelphia’s rigid road grid, spotlighting stops that might otherwise slip detection like Top’s Bar and its second-story location or our first stop, old city-style McGillin’s Olde Ale House, located on an alley.

Those worried that investing too much time in a Philadelphia bar crawl might mean one less cheesesteak, fear not, as Oscar’s Tavern offers a nightly special perfectly tailored for such an occasion. And though some of the stops included here run a bit on the subtle side, our last stop, Dirty Franks, bucks that trend thanks to a passive, two-wall, wraparound mural featuring famous and sometimes notorious “Franks” through history. 

Philadelphia is, of course, well-stocked with dive bar crawls, the will to drink in authentic surroundings a nice excuse to explore the city. These stops provide only a snapshot into Center City's downtown possibilities, offering a dive bar-fueled license to learn a bit about Philadelphia and dig more fully into a conversation with friends about the true nature of liberty over a Narragansett. 

For those seeking a bit more adventure, a number of extension opportunities exist, including happy hour-friendly Locust Bar and city icon Bob & Barbara’s on South Street (another good starting point for any number of pub crawls). But this core bar crawl Philadelphia experience keeps the effort manageable, the meandering path from first to last suggested stop totaling only 20 minutes of walking.

The Stops

1. McGIllin’s Olde Ale House

1310 Drury St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Google Map
(215) 735-5562
Web Site Link

McGillin’s Olde Ale House sets a high bar for a team dive bar crawl through Center City Philadelphia thanks to an atmosphere that feels a bit like a cathedral crossed with a German beer hall. More a dive tavern than it is a true dive bar, McGillin’s also happens to be a city institution with a history that dates back to 1860. Not to be missed is the robust collection of signs found dotted throughout the McGillin’s space, some of them the last remnants of long-running nearby businesses. Across three generations, McGillin’s has been family owned and operated, a trait that has enabled the space to feel like an authentic tribute to its 1860 roots despite the city’s vast transformation outside the McGillin’s front door.

2. Oscar’s Tavern

1524 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Google Map
(215) 972-9938

Seeking out the dive bar capital of Center City means hunting down Oscar’s Tavern, open since 1972 and home to the sandwich-and-a-half cheesesteak special every night after 4 PM. The special was instituted during a time when downtown Philly bars saw more lunch traffic thanks to nearby workers than they did evening business, the cheesesteak offered as bait for those 9-to-5 employees nearby to stick around. The Oscar’s Tavern cheesesteak is a good deal and worth a try, evening special or not, the red shingled trim out front iconic as Philadelphia dive bars go.

3. Locust Rendezvous

1415 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Google Map
(215) 985-1163
Web Site Link

Be sure to double check walking directions as two similarly-named bars can be found on Center City’s Locust Street including this bar, Locust Rendezvous, and the simply-named Locust Bar further east. The bar’s bright red awning is difficult to miss, gateway to a snug space with a surprisingly deep food menu. Locust Rendezvous leans a bit more into bar food than Locust Bar and other nearby drinking options, the kitchen mercifully open until 1 AM daily. Opened in 1989, Locust Rendezvous has seen renovations over the years, edging it to probably the top-end of dive bar classification, but wood paneling is wood paneling and Locust Rendezvous is covered in the warm, dive-friendly wall covering.

4. McGlinchey’s Bar

259 S 15th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Google Map
(215) 735-1259
Web Site Link

As one can tell by the smoke rolling out of the front door, McGlinchey’s is one of a handful of Center City dive bars that still allows smoking. For those that can handle the smoke, McGlinchey’s Bar is a worthwhile trip into history, the dive bar opened in 1922, ultimately passing into the hands of the Sokol family who have operated the space for decades. Rich, stained-glass windows add to the dimly-lit ambiance inside where a massive mural donated decades ago by the Atlantic-Richfield Company of a man and a duck can still be seen. The artwork was at one point a billboard intended for temporary use, offered to McGlinchey’s Bar as thanks for routinely attracting the company’s employees during lunch hours.

5. Top’s Bar

261 S 15th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Google Map
(215) 735-1259
Web Site Link

The second floor above McGlinchey’s Bar has rotated through a number of concepts over the years, including a stint as the first iteration of McGlinchey’s before that dive bar migrated downstairs and took over what was at that time a bookstore. In 1976, the family that owned McGlinchey’s and its building converted this second floor space into Top’s Bar, first intending the business as a downtown Philadelphia disco. Another stint as a live music venue eventually gave way to instead guide Top’s Bar toward its current status as sibling dive bar to McGlinchey’s downstairs.

6. Dirty Franks

347 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Google Map
(215) 732-5010

One of the best dive bars in Philadelphia, Dirty Franks is easy spot thanks to the nearly two block mural that wraps around the building depicting famous “Franks.” The structure was built in 1927 and the bar within opened in 1933. The horseshoe bar in the center of Dirty Franks is iconic at this point, the ceiling around it dotted with paper snowflakes cut and displayed by regulars. Few honors carry quite the same weight of importance as the Dirty Franks Customer of the Year award, commemorated through plaques that can be seen along the Center City dive bar’s walls.