Peruse the library, the snowflakes and the bottom of a glass.
Some dive bars are hard to find, selectively obscure locations paired with little signage or windowless buildings. And then there is Philadelphia dive bar Dirty Frank’s that uses an entire city block in two directions to celebrate famous Frank’s through the decades that share their name with the long-time institution. Though the mural is a relatively new addition to a bar history that started in 1933, it does its job in funneling those walking by into the front door cut into the corner of the structure.
The building that houses Dirty Frank’s was erected in 1927, the bar opened in 1933 on its first floor by Louis Silverman, a local cigar store owner, before being sold to Ukrainian immigrant Frank Vigderman who promptly put his name on the wall outside. Called Frank’s Bar back then, no definitive reason is agreed to on how or why “Dirty” became associated with the name of the dive but the moniker has certainly stuck. The faded brown ceiling tiles that preside over the Dirty Frank’s interior certainly fit with the bar’s name, but in reality the space is more ‘dive bar cluttered’ than it is anything resembling ‘dirty.’
The horseshoe bar in the center of the room is the literal and figurative centerpiece of Dirty Frank’s, the epicenter of a dive bar that the Philadelphia Inquirer once described as a “crossroads for errant individuals.” Rumor has it that one such errant individual was Bob Dylan, thrown out of the bar by John Segal, owner at the time, who was unaware of who he was bouncing. One of those regulars is now permanently and physically paired with Dirty Frank’s, the ashes of the individual found within one of the Philadelphia dive bar’s walls.
It is difficult to envision a higher dive bar honor than being named Customer of the Year at Philadelphia’s Dirty Frank’s, where a customer Hall of Fame populates an interior wall with framed photos of regulars. Customer of the Year winners receive plaques and no doubt bragging rights for a full calendar year. Images of other locals can be found throughout the space, along the walls and maybe most prominently within the structure of the bar counter itself, the vintage and faded photos preserved under epoxy. Those same regulars are responsible for the hand-cut paper snowflakes that hang throughout Dirty Frank’s.
Weathered wooden booths making for snug drinking confines thanks to slender dimensions line the walls within Dirty Frank’s. A red, converted phone booth can be found along the bar’s front wall, a small drinking ledge and bench offering a prominent solitary drinking outpost under a vintage Miller sign. Over the benches on one side of the building, the Off The Wall Gallery maintains a rotating selection of local art pieces, a tradition instituted in 1979. Along another wall, a makeshift library of sorts (a pile of books) is just one piece of a busy visual display of classic dive bar odds and ends.
Tucked away around the back bend in the Dirty Frank’s horseshoe bar, a single, well-illuminated dart board can be found next to a pinball machine and Ms. Pac-Man cabinet. The entrance to the bar’s small outdoor space can be found here, the dart area lined with metal, engraved plates from the Olde English Dart League of Philadelphia. This small corner of Dirty Frank’s is easy to spot thanks to a sign with large, red block letters reading “The Pain Center.” And with all of the visual density of the Dirty Frank’s interior, it should come as no shock that there are no windows, and if there were, they would likely be covered up in some way.
Perhaps the best tribute to the Dirty Frank’s space is the inability to capture all of its appeal here, even the small tower behind the bar that shows off the Dirty Frank’s drink selections a packed visual element covered in small signs and framed photos. Such is the case throughout Dirty Frank’s, requiring more than one trip around the bar to take in everything to be seen. This rich, dive bar environment is certainly in the running for best drinking atmosphere in the city, thankfully easy to find if one simply follows the Franks.