McGillin’s Olde Ale House

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

McGillin's Olde Ale House - Philadelphia Dive Bar - Outside

Field Rating


out of 10

Benjamin Franklin probably drank here right? Feels right.

The Basics

1310 Drury St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107


In Short

Opened in 1860, McGillin’s Olde Ale House is Philadelphia’s longest-running bar thanks to outlasting the Civil War, Prohibition and Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Located down an alley in Philly’s Center City district, McGillin’s wears its age well, the bar’s open floor plan filled with homages to the past amid a vibe that feels part cathedral, part German beer hall, part Irish pub.

Field Note

While every city is quick to point out its oldest restaurant or longest-running business, few stories rival that of McGillin’s Olde Ale House in the Center City district of Philadelphia. As every review of the Philadelphia dive bar is sure to point out, McGillin’s Olde Ale House was opened in 1960, the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The bar’s history is so deep that the alleyway-adjacent structure has outlasted not just Prohibition but the Civil War itself, a claim few dive bars can rival.

Irish immigrants William “Pa” and Catherine “Ma” McGillin opened the Bell in Hand Tavern in 1860. The space became so associated with the husband & wife duo that referring to the bar as McGillin’s felt so natural that the switch was eventually made permanent on the bar’s 50th anniversary in 1910. Though William passed away in 1901 (after ripping out the original wood floor in favor of the tile floor that still exists today), his wife took over operations until her death in 1937.

A special “tea” room on the second floor served as the in-the-know outpost for those looking to skirt the law.

Ma McGillin presided over McGillin’s Olde Ale House during Prohibition, navigating the banning of alcohol by converting the space to a food & ice cream parlor…on the first floor. A special “tea” room on the second floor served as the in-the-know outpost for those looking to skirt the law. Among the many historic treasures found along the McGillin’s Olde Ale House walls sits a collection of every liquor license issued to the Philadelphia dive bar since 1871 (notably omitting the years of Prohibition).

Mercedes McGillin Hooper, one of the 13 children “Ma” and “Pa” McGillin raised in the residence above the bar, took over McGillin’s Olde Ale House until 1958 when she sold the business to brothers Henry Spaniak & Joe Shepaniak (who for some reason chose to spell their names differently). Ownership today remains in the Spaniak family with Herny’s daughter Mary Ellen Spaniak Mullins at the helm since 1993.

Finding all of this history along a downtown Philadelphia alleyway only amplifies the experience of stumbling upon McGillin’s Olde Ale House. Flower baskets out front are routinely filled with colorful accents to what is a profoundly historic-looking exterior. Though many great dive bar signs exist in the city of Philadelphia, the ornate Old English neon lettering atop an outline of the bar itself that hangs above the McGillin’s Olde Ale House front door may be the city’s best.

The original Bell In The Hand sign is among the historic pieces here.

The signage inside rivals the impressive signage outside, numerous Philadelphia icons enshrined thanks to reclaimed signs from businesses and bars gone by. The original Bell In The Hand sign is among the historic pieces here, as are references to old department stores and equally aged bars that didn’t last quite as long as McGillin’s. For all of its charm inside and out, McGillin’s Olde Ale House has been named on about a million “Best Of” lists including Best Irish Bar in the country by the Travel Channel.

The sprawling floorplan inside feels a bit like a stained glass-colored cathedral crossed with a German beer hall somehow mixed with an Irish theme. Pillars dot the floorplan, breaking up packs of tables that sit in the large open main room that includes an equally long bar along one wall. The draft beer selection here is deep and often includes beers brewed specifically for McGillin’s by partner breweries. The food here is surprisingly affordable for downtown Philadelphia, the menu housing bar staples like wings as well as Irish staples like shepherd’s pie.

Related Reviews

Oscar's Tavern

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Red brick, white trim, cheesesteaks.

McGlinchey's Bar

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Historical, smoke-filled dive.

Dirty Franks

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Famous Franks mural dive.