Khyber Pass Pub
Longtime Phillyites know The Khyber as one of the city’s most legendary rock clubs—count Iggy Pop, the Flaming Lips and Pavement among the acts that have hit its slightly off-kilter stage over the years. In 2010, ownership decided to convert the space into a New Orleans-influenced bar and restaurant, much to the consternation of old-school showgoers. Those salty about the changeover began changing their critical tune after digging into the KPP’s real-deal gumbo, po’boys and elaborate draft beer selection.
Khyber Pass Pub's Sazerac ($8)
They pour 20 well-curated beers on tap, plus two in casks, but the Khyber wouldn’t be a NOLA bar at heart without a few a south-in-your-mouth tipples available. The move to make is the exceptional classic Sazerac, made with a quick rinse of Herbsaint, then Old Overholt Rye, Peychaud’s bitters, a bit of simple, and a lemon twist.
One of Old City’s original dining destinations, Fork has been around since 1997, but the tines have changed with the times, both physically and conceptually, over the years. The latest get for Ellen Yin and Roberto Sella’s ever-evolving bistro: chef Eli Kulp, a crafty, ambitious veteran of Manhattan’s Torrisi Italian Specialties who’s shot a serious dose of momentum into the menu. That energy’s spilled over into the bar program, consistently one of Old City’s best.
Fork's Tequila/Cointreau/Green Tea/Agave ($12)
Longtime Fork bar manager Guy Smith didn’t apply catchy names to any of the drinks on his latest cocktail list. Instead, blanket descriptors—“Bubbly,” “Citrus-Based,” “Spirituous”—and straightforward ingredient breakdowns characterize the lineup. “I wanted to see cocktails looked at like food,” says Smith. “It was either that or naming all the drinks after Led Zeppelin songs.” Catchy moniker notwithstanding, this refreshing concoction should dig you out of the darkest depths of Mordor and/or February. Two ounces of Espolón Blanco tequila get topped off with Cointreau and agave nectar; the boozy base is cut with rejuvenating fresh-squeezed lime juice, green tea, and Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters.
Red Owl Tavern
The newest stop on this tour, Red Owl is on the ground floor of the Monaco, Old City’s newest (and easily most modern) hotel. You can glimpse at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell through the giant windows from your barstool, or just watch the barkeeps and open kitchen in action at the modern American tavern.
Red Owl Tavern's The Owl's Knees
Bartender Paul Dellevigne wanted to mimic a hot toddy without actually serving a hot drink, so he came up with this simple spin on the classic Bee’s Knees. The traditional gin is replaced here with Famous Grouse scotch, augmented by honey, lemon, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram, the last bit adding a welcome wintry kick.
Though he’s got several concepts in his pocket at this point, James Beard-winning chef Michael Solomonov has made his largest impact to date with Zahav, the modern Israeli restaurant he owns with partner Steve Cook. Pulling influences from the Middle East and beyond, the kitchen earns its innovative reputation, but there’s good stuff going on behind the bar, as well.
Zahav's Desert Rose ($10)
Zahav means “gold” in Hebrew, but the Desert Rose, one of the restaurant’s longest-tenured cocktails, is unequivocally pink. Thank hibiscus-infused Beefeater gin, which joins Gruner Veltliner, fresh grapefruit juice, muddled cucumber and simple syrup in a coupe glass for this subtle, not-as-sweet-as-it-looks sipper. Zahav’s bar is a solid destination for happy hour: they knock $4 off their house cocktails weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m.
Zento chef/owner Sam Ho is one of Old City’s best fish slicers, as evidenced by his fresher-than-fresh lineup of sashimi and maki both traditional and specialty. And one of the easiest places to get the full experience is at the bar, sampling one of the dozens of sake options while noshing on nigiri and watching an old-school martial arts flick on the TV. We hear Ho and partner Darin Picorella are working on a second Asian-inspired spot also in Old City, so look out for that soon.
Zento's Sake/Fresh Ginger Cocktail ($8)
If you’re a sake neophyte (and most of us are, admit it), Zento’s user-friendly cocktail list is an ideal point of entry. Before delving into the world of unfiltered nigoris and super-potent daiginjos, get a generalized taste for the category via simple drinks like this: three ounces dry sake, poured over muddled fresh ginger and cherry and topped with a fizzy crown of club soda.