OK, here goes. Here's my recap of my recent weekend trip to Philadelphia. I'm a bit lazy to look up all the destinations but they are easily found in Google to get addresses. I'll try to post up some pictures soon. I hope this can come in handy.
PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 2009
Philadelphia was one of the last remaining U.S. beer destinations that I hadn't visited yet. It just never seemed to make it to the top of the priority list - Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, New York - usually ended up first. But I recently decided to take a long weekend trip to Philly and I'm glad I did. I thought Philly was going to be a great beer town. What I didn't expect was it to be a great destination overall.
What follows is a bit of a running diary of the trip.
We arrive at Philly airport, which is about 25 minutes by train right to downtown. $7 for the trip, trains run about every half hour. Super convenient and easy to get to the core. There are many direct flights to Philly from Pearson and it's on Porter's future expansion plans.
We orient ourselves and check into the hotels. I stayed at the Independent Hotel, a boutique hotel on Locust St. in between 12th and 13th. It's a great location, has free wifi, free coffee and little breakfasts delivered right to your door in the morning. There are often room deals here through Travelzoo. Hotels can be found even cheaper downtown on Hotwire.
The downtown area of Philly is easy to navigate and walking friendly. It's laid out as a logical grid so finding things is very easy. Exploring Philly is fantastic - lots of little residential alleys to wander down and interesting old buildings to look at.
We started the beer weekend at Jose Pistolas - a pub with Mexican food and great beer (a rare combination). It was the first of many special events - a Weyerbacher lunch with a fresh firkin of Double Simcoe IPA. Evidently it was Adam's birthday who was working at the bar. While trying out the beers we met the guys from Weyerbacher including Bob, Chris and Mike, and Mat from Philly Beer Scene magazine. We sampled the range of Weyerbacher available (Hop Infusion, Winter Ale, Merry Monks), had some delicious tacos and moved on.
Next up was Friday the Firkinteenth, a cask festival that occurs every Friday 13th at the Grey Lodge. The Grey Lodge is in NE Philly so a cab, ride or transit is required. This was a beer frenzy, with everyone clamoring up to the bar to try the casks. They had at any given time about 6 available, and when one drained the next was tapped. It made the event that much more exciting with new taps constantly coming on. The crowds spilled onto the street and nobody seemed to mind. We had a few cask goodies including Philadelphia Joe Porter, Yards Washington ESA and Stoudts Winter.
After some cask ales we headed back downtown to Monk's Cafe. As probably the most well known beer destination in Philly, Monk's doesn't disappoint. The space is comprised two areas - a front bar and back bar with varying tap selections. Make no mistake, Monk's is a beer haven. They have great food, friendly staff and killer beer - tons of Belgians and US Belgian styles on tap and in bottle. Not much can be said other than it's an essential stop. Try the Buffalo frogs legs.
Our last stop on Friday was Tria, which is an upscale bar/restaurant at Rittenhouse Square. Reminds me of the kind of bars on College Street, but with good beer. I had a Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin and we called it a night. They did have good looking cheese and meat boards and they didn't skimp on portions.
Saturday morning brought about a walk to the Reading Terminal Market, a food market right in the heart of downtown with lots of options for cooked food and things to purchase. On one side of the market is an area dominated by stalls managed by Pennsylvania Dutch. The Dutch Eating Place is a sit-down and takeaway restaurant with lots of food options. Worth having a bite, it's very unique. Note that the Dutch are only there Wed-Sat. Carmen's makes a fine hoagie as well (thanks Gary for the reco).
Walking through the city led us to the historic Independence Park, home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It's free to check out the bell so it's worth poking your head in. Philly has a ton of historic buildings as you wander - as we constantly joked everything in Philly is a "first".
Getting near the Delaware River we stopped in at the brewpub Triumph. Great way to start the drinking day with their sampler tray consisting of nine beers. Triumph's selection is very diverse - everything from a Jewish Rye to Altbier to Imperial Stout. The Eulogy Belgian Tavern is across the street from Triumph but we didn't feel like doing a double drink just yet so we kept walking.
As we walked north we wandered by Elspeth's Alley, which is known at the longest continually occupied residential street in the U.S. A neat street to check out. Continuing up led us to Northern Liberties, an area of the city undergoing an urban revitalization. There are lots of little shops and cafes, new condos but also decades-abandoned derelict buildings. Worth an explore.
On 2nd street and Poplar is the Standard Tap, known as one of Philly's first "gastropubs". It's an interesting moniker as pretty much all of the bars we visited serve food, and not just pub grub either. But I believe the Standard Tap serves all things local. Their beer was certainly top notch (Yards, Troegs, Victory, Flying Fish, Victory), as were the fries.
Continuing north we ended up at Johnny Brenda's, an old school music venue. Imagine the Horseshoe but with awesome beer. On this particular Saturday they happened to be hosting a "Wet Hop Rodeo" serving all wet hop beers. Another observation is that bars have beer stuff all the time. Incredible. Another Saturday, another beer event. Lucky us. We tried beers including Sierra Nevada Harvest, Weyerbacher Harvest, Rogue Wet Hop, Manayunk Hop Harvest, Victory Harvest Pils - what a delight.
Hopping in a cab we headed down to the Flyers game. The Wachovia Center is in a sports district where the baseball and football stadiums are both located. The game was fun and we even found Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. Tickets were easy to get unlike our Maple Leafs. But like the Leafs the Flyers did lose the game.
Post game we stayed in the south side, hitting the South Philly Tap Room. Fantastic place. Lots of beers to try. It's located right in a residential neighbourhood - if only neighbourhood pubs were like this in Toronto. Again, an over-the-top tap selection including Southampton, Founders, Bear Republic, Elysian, Stoudts and others. An observation about Philly bars is that they don't focus on mega multitaps, but small selections of all outstanding beers.
We kept on to our final stop, the Devil's Den. Again, upscale bar which was packed on Saturday night. Had some grub, very good and some more interesting microbrews (they had Aventinus(!) on tap, Avery, a Two Brothers/Urthel collaboration, Left Hand, Dark Horse and more) to finish up.
Sunday morning involved hitting the SEPTA (Philly's transit) regional rail for a trip out to Merion. To say Merion is an affluent suburb would be an understatement. The houses here are estates. About a mile from train station is the Barnes Foundation. After two checkpoints to get onto the property, the Barnes is a most impressive private collection of predominately impressionist art - Renoir, Cezanne, etc. Barnes seemed to have a fascination with nude females as this particular image appears regularly. The compact galley has all the work tightly packed on the walls which makes for a dense art experience.
The Barnes is a subject of some local controversy as it is moving to a new gallery downtown. Seek out the documentary The Art of the Steal for a perspective on the matter. Although I think having the gallery downtown is convenient, I quite enjoyed the trip out to Merion for the experience. Visiting the neighbourhood is part of the fun. You have to book in advance and there's no food or coffeeshops at the gallery or the surrounding area, so eat first.
After getting back downtown for some shopping (there's no sales tax on clothes in Philly - so get some new gear), we took a break at McGillins Old Ale House. McGillins is the oldest pub in Philly, dating back to 1860. Fun place, good beer too (Stoudts, Dogfish, Sly Fox, Yards and more).
We kept walking, north towards the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (don't forget to stop at the iconic LOVE sign). The parkway is a large divided street (think University Avenue) in an area known as the museum district, and there certainly are lots of museums. At the end of the street is the immense Philadelphia Art gallery, famously known for its steps featured in the film Rocky. There is a statue of Rocky at the bottom of the stairs and you can jog up the stairs along with everyone else.
Not being satisfied yet, we cabbed up to a section of the city called Mount Airy, an area on Germantown Avenue. The cab took us through Fairmount Park which was very cool. Germantown is a great little strip, with a cobblestone street and lots of little shops.
On the street there were two places that couldn't be more different but both outstanding. The first was Earth, Bread & Brewery, a brewpub which is about a year old. EBB is a two floor restaurant with a huge flatbread oven on the main floor along with the brewtanks on visible on the lower level. They had four house beers available and crazy good guest taps including Two Brothers, Great Lakes, PBC and Founders. Their house styles were very unique styles - Berliner Weisse, Biere de Garde, Trappist and IPA. Consumed an excellent flatbread (try the Seed) and very delicious beer. On Sunday night there were lots of families there so a friendly spot if you've got some little ones.
Just a couple of doors up the street is McMenamin's (no relation to the chain of the same name on the west coast). McMenamin's is a classic neighbourhood sports bar - but again awesome beer (Lost Abbey, Elysian, Stone, Dogfish, Ommegang, Victory and even Southern Tier). We caught the tail end of the Eagles game which unfortunately ended in a loss for the home side. Not a good weekend for Philly teams.
Grabbing cab back downtown we hit another brewpub right in the heart of the city - Nodding Head. This was a fun place - on Sunday night they had a guy with a thick accent doing trivia questions with the crowd for prizes. Friendly folks there and we chatted with some locals at the bar over their house beers, including a 60 Shilling Scottish, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Blonde Ale, Altbier and a cask ale.
We felt it was appropriate to finish off at the granddaddy, so we headed back to Monk's. We ran into Tom Peters and Bernadette whom I both met at the Dogfish Head dinner at beerbistro last year. It was great to chat with Tom and he generously gave us some beer to try (an excellent bottle of Jambe de Bois and the Monk's Cafe brew to take home - you can do that in Philly). That closed off the night and the most outstanding beer weekend.
Monday morning brought the realization of having to go home. A quick wander brought me down to the south side again, through the Italian market and along South Street. I quickly realized there was even more of Philly to see and explore, but that would have to wait.
If you are a fan of beer, you have to go to Philly. If you are a fan of urban adventures, you have to go to Philly. It is easily walkable, has lots of history and interesting sites. The beer pubs are beyond compare - you can find a pub to suit your tastes and it'll have great beer. There were places on our list that we just couldn't get to - more for next time.
Philly is an incredibly friendly city. We were constantly meeting people and we would run into them throughout the weekend at the different pubs. They seemed geniunely interested in chatting and it is easy to have a conversation about beer or the state of local sports teams.
Philly is a bit of an overlooked destination, but it is a gem. It's truly a great place to visit. It's easily accessible from Toronto (90 min flight), hotels are cheap and so is food and beer. Philly gets my highest recommendation. Just go, you won't be disappointed.