Philadelphia’s revived speakeasy scene
Choose between two bars – one beer, one cocktail – where the beverage options are plentiful. The Book of Libations is a long list of classic and modern concoctions, punchbowls and beer-inspired cocktails. The Mystic Circle (tequila, celery syrup, fresh lemon juice, soda) and the Cockaigne (cognac, a strawberry shrub, orange bitters, sugar and sparkling wine) are excellent. Beer-drinkers will delight at the 20 rotating drafts and more than 100 domestic and international bottles. Farmer’s Cabinet will soon add five of their own beers to the tap.
Slated to open this autumn, the buzz surrounding this Chinatown cocktail lounge has kept it anything but low profile, albeit to the owner’s – the singularly-named Lêe – dismay. While he may still have some tricks up his sleeve, here is what we know so far: the main entrance will lead customers through a shoeshine stand (free for patrons), open daily from 5 pm to 8 pm; the main space will feature a 40-ft-long bar and house the largest collection of liquor bottles in the city.; décor will include fold-down theatre seats, antique candelabras, Danish light fixtures, an old wooden door and a penny-covered foyer floor.
This modern day speakeasy channels Prohibition in name, feel and setting. The Prohibition Taproom is tucked away among the warehouses on 13th Street, discovered largely by word of mouth and marked by a neon red “Bar” sign. Owners confirmed suspicions that their establishment occupies a former real-life speakeasy, known as “Zip’s”, when the original Zip walked in just a few months ago.
The establishment has eight rotating beers on tap and has ploughed through 800 kegs since opening in 2008. “Hoppy li’l Hudson” (named after the owner’s daughter) is a hand-pumped IPA made by Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company and is exclusively available at the Prohibition Taproom. On Sundays, patrons are invited to listen to tunes from the past – Prohibition era and otherwise – during BYOV (bring your own vinyl).
In West Philadelphia, Fiume (45th Street and Locust Street) is a Philadelphia secret so well kept that even most neighbours are unaware of its existence. On the far edge of town, occupying the second floor of an Ethiopian restaurant, in a converted townhouse, is small dive with an unmarked entrance. While its décor is more traditional, its air of exclusivity is vintage speakeasy. Come for the beer selection or a stiff drink -- you will not find elaborate cocktails here. On Thursdays, they remove all of the tables and feature live bluegrass, an ode to America’s country heritage, in the bay window.