IT’S EASY to get into a rut when you’re drinking: The same old beer, the same old joints. Who can blame you when the suds are so good in this town?
This year, I made a resolution to visit some new places, especially out in the scary ‘burbs, and darned if I didn’t discover some primo watering holes. If you’re traveling in uncharted waters this holiday season, you might find yourself near one of these. Stop in – and get out of that rut.
Mesquito Grille (128 W. State St., Doylestown).
The menu boasts 150 bottled beers, and none of them is run-of-the-mill. Last week, I had a draft Harviestown Old Engine Oil, the first time I’ve seen this inky-black old ale on tap anywhere. The bar’s World Beer Tour focuses on beer and cuisine of a different country each month. Oh, and that incredible beer selection is available for takeout.
Half Moon Saloon (108 W. State St., Kennett Square).
If your significant other drags you to the holiday light display at Longwood Gardens, insist on a visit here for lunch or dinner. The former Kennett Kandy Kitchen is now a 27-tap, tin-ceiling tavern with three hand pumps serving cask-conditioned ale, and a Belgian-heavy bottle list. Check out the wild game selection (yak, kangaroo) and rooftop dining room.
Flying Pig Saloon (121 E. King St., Malvern).
I’m going to make a bold statement here and say this is the best beer bar in the Philadelphia suburbs. And that’s saying a lot, because right down the road in Exton is the Drafting Room, which many beer freaks tout as one of the best on the entire East Coast.
The Flying Pig is so good, it would fit right into any neighborhood in the city. Twenty taps with plenty of locals and Belgians, a hand pump, decent bar food, TVs, a couch and the one thing that pushes it over the top: a cellar of vintage bottles. Even for this inveterate city boy, it’s worth the drive out Lancaster Avenue.
Crabby Larry’s Brewpub Steak & Seafood House (237 W. Butler Ave., Chalfont).
Undoubtedly the least-heralded brewpub in the Philadelphia vicinity, this tiny joint never built much of a reputation for its suds. But recently it hired a new brewer (from nearby Keystone Homebrew Supply) who is rounding the styles into shape. I enjoyed a very nice dry stout, and even the unusual raspberry lambic was a good sip.
Spinnerstown Hotel (2195 Spinnerstown Road, Spinnerstown).
No, this is not one of those blue-hair dining rooms that seem to plague the region’s historic taverns. This circa 1750 hotel has more of the feel of a rambling road house, with a fine menu and excellent service. But you’re here for the beer, and for that you have to turn to the 34-page (yes, thirty-four) beer guide that’s strong on Belgians and American micros.
Great Divide, Jolly Pumpkin, Southampton, Three Floyds, Ommegang, St. Bernardus, Rochefort, Urthel, Fantome – it’s the 1927 Yankees lineup of beer makers. And, I hear the restaurant just added a hand pump to its tap list.
Union Jack’s on the Manatawny (546 Manatawny Road, Boyertown).
Remember that time you got lost on purpose, tooling around the backwoods of Berks County, stopping in at whatever joint looked interesting? And then you lucked into an old tavern with outdoor seating right next to a quiet stream, where the kitchen specialized in fresh grilled food? And, the bar had something like 20 taps and 300 bottles? This is that place.
Closer to home
Not to leave the city uncovered, briefly here’s six more joints you may not have discovered yet. (Note to suburbanites: These places are worth the trip, if only to get your butt into a real city tavern.)
Three Monkeys (9645 James St., Torresdale).
Finally, Northeast Philly has a decent beer bar (other than the superb Grey Lodge in Frankford). Located directly across from the Torresdale train station, it offers outdoor seating in the Monkey Court, a better-than-average kitchen featuring Asian-fusion, a beautiful antique back bar and a house beer by Stoudt’s.
Old Eagle Tavern (177 Markle St., Manayunk).
This is real Manayunk, not Main Street, which means no valets and, unfortunately, no parking spots. But once inside, you’ll find an outstanding tap selection, real bar food and frequent beer dinners that focus on regional craft brews.
Pub on Passyunk East (1501 E. Passyunk Ave., South Philadelphia).
That’s P.O.P.E. to the locals, who increasingly seem to be bicycle messengers and tattoo artists. Check out the variety from area breweries during the Wednesday night Crawl with Claus during the Christmas season; it drops in on all the Passyunk Avenue taprooms.
Mermaid Inn (Mermaid and Germantown avenues, Chestnut Hill).
This beloved dive always offers a surprise or two on tap, but I’m happy to stick with the Dogfish Head while enjoying live acoustic (e.g., not ear-splitting) jams. Maybe I’m just getting old.
Southwark (4th and Bainbridge streets, South Street area).
This might’ve been the single best restaurant dinner I enjoyed in ’06. But you don’t come to Joe Sixpack for the food, so let me add that the beer selection more than holds its own against the wine list.
Bar Ferdinand (1030 N. 2nd St., Northern Liberties).
OK, maybe everyone in the city already knows about this excellent tapas bar. But if you’re behind the curve, try the sauteed mussels and the Allahambra Negra.