Premium taps? Old City pours it on

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Tonight is First Friday, Old City’s uniquely loathsome evening of crowded galleries and cheap wine.

Yo, Joe Sixpack enjoys contemplating naked sculptures as much as the next art lover. But when you get tired of rubbing elbows with people dressed in black, find an excuse to slip out the door and head off to one of the neighborhood’s plentiful taverns.

For, in addition to lots o’ art, Old City is home to the largest selection of beer bars in the city. There are better taverns in other neighborhoods, but nobody has so many tap handles.

At last count (and, believe me, I’ve been keeping count), I found close to 150 premium taps within walking distance of those packed galleries. If you can’t find something to wash out the insipid taste of Gallo in a plastic cup, you aren’t trying.

Old City’s bar scene has been growing slowly for the past two years, and for that I suppose we have the galleries to thank. They’ve attracted tons of visitors and lots of young, new apartment dwellers; it was only a matter of time before they demanded something stiffer than decaf latte.

True, good beer is nothing new in the ‘hood. Most of us who remember the ’70s had our first great beer at the crusty, old Khyber Pass (54 S. 2nd St., 13 taps). Now called simply The Khyber, it’s missing the old charm (not to mention a good portion of the dust), but its beer list is still superb.

Across the street is one of Old City’s newest pubs, The Plough and the Stars (123 Chestnut St., 12 taps). The atmosphere is upscale, and thus may fall prey to the suit-and-tie crowd that overflows the nearby Rococo and Continental bars. Nonetheless, a cozy fireplace will warm your toes while you sip a properly poured Guinness stout.

Though the P&S has an Irish accent, I feel more of the real thing farther up the block, at Brownie’s Irish Pub (46 S. 2nd St., 9 taps), a dark tavern that tastes like a cramped corner of Dublin. Yes, they have Irish stout on tap here, too, but Brownie’s is more notable for its excellent selection of local microbrews (Stoudt’s, Yards and Weyerbacher, among others).

Around the block is the 800-pound gorilla of Old City, Jake & Oliver’s House of Brews (22 S. 3rd St., 60 taps). These guys have glommed onto the craft-brew phenomenon in a big (some would say excessive) way, with a massive draft micro list. Critics diss the atmosphere (it echoes), and others complain the tap turnover is too slow to ensure fresh beer. But I still stop by frequently to sample hard-to-find brews, like Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.

Don’t dawdle there, though – there are three excellent pubs waiting for you north of Market Street.

Sugar Mom’s (225 Church St., 14 taps), consistently offers just about the best selection of local microbrews and exotic imports in the city. Throw in a happening jukebox, a pool table and shadowy, private nooks, and this tavern feels like your best friend’s basement – if your best friend had a kick-butt Beermeister.

A short walk to the north is John Patrick’s (208 Race St., 35 taps), the newest addition to Old City. I wrote about this place a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t bore you with a description.

Finally, if you’re still trying to avoid the art crowd, Charlie’s Pub (114 N. 3rd St., 10 taps) is a good hiding place. The draft list is deceiving (tucked next to the pedestrian J.W. Dundee Honey Brown was a spicy Dogfish Head Pumpkin Ale), and the bottle selection is a killer. I visited for the beer, but left raving about the Middle Eastern menu.

BEER EVENT OF THE WEEK

Beer Philadelphia hosts a Brews Cruise on the Liberty Bell riverboat on Wednesday, featuring a tasting of Celis, Shepherd Neame, Yards and a bunch of other stuff. Tix are 40 bucks (benefiting ALS research; info: 215-629-1131.

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