For every quantifiable factor that makes a watering hole worthy of date-night consideration—location, price, prettiness, speed with which pain-numbing alcohol is disseminated—there is an impossible-to-anticipate curveball that can turn your evening from kissy to crappy. The Edison bulb lighting makes you look like Lurch. The barkeep's fresh out of rye, zapping hopes for your go-to cocktail/crutch. You suffer a severe allergic reaction from the agapanthus resting in the vase at the end of the bar. Your terrible ex is two stools down. (Sorry kid, there's nothing you can about that last one.)
As much as "let's meet up for a drink" may be polite social code for "let's shake the dating 8-Ball and hope for results that are not face-meltingly terrible," selecting the right bar for the right person and right circumstances can certainly help mitigate the unpredictable. Philadelphia's a town with no shortage of places to meet a date (and places for drinking away the memory of said date, alone, afterward). Anecdotal reports suggest that dating here is godawful, but hopefully this guide to Philly's best bars for dates will help cultivate contrary evidence.
For a First Date: Oyster House
Yes, we all know what they say about oysters, but slow your mignonette-soaked roll: We're recommending Center City Philly's premier seafood house for far more utilitarian reasons. Its agreeable location, classy crowd, relaxed bar, and crisp, subway-tiled look can help quell nerves on a first date, but it's the drinks that'll ultimately soothe even the most anxiety-mottled meet-cute.
One of Philly's more underrated cocktail dispensaries, Oyster House is properly equipped for the classics—they even make their own vermouth, stirred with Martin Miller's London Dry gin for their house Martini ($13). But there are plenty more daring options available, both on and off menu. The stiff but balanced Rhino Tooth ($11, made with bourbon, Bonal, Benedictine, and grapefruit) is a rotating favorite of whiskey drinkers. On the current menu, consider the Sunday Silence Julep (pictured, $9), which introduces Averna and Cynar to the traditional Derby-day setup.
Best time(s) to visit: during happy hour, with buck-a-shuck and discounted drinks, Monday to Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday nights from 9 to 11. If your date is a bust, manager Daniel McLaughlin jokes that he finds the Oyster House staff notably attractive—that could help soften the blow, along with a bowl of snapper soup.
Date With a Beer Lover: Standard Tap
Pulling pints since '99, Northern Liberties' Standard Tap was among the first places of its kind—vocally focused on local draft beer—to make an impression here. Nearly 14 years later, it's still as relevant a pub as ever, its food, booze and broken-in charm making it a wise pick for a date or a pre- or post-dinner drink. It's a romantic space in the most Philadelphia manner possible.
The handsome cherrywood bar on the Tap's ground level is the most logical place to perch for TV-free chats coaxed on by brewed-in-PA IPAs like Troegs Nugget Nectar or Bullfrog Coq Fight. But there's also an outdoor patio and a quirky, nook-filled (and allegedly haunted!) upstairs for all your cutest cloistered couple stuff. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the 20 draft choices (plus two more on hand pump), ask for an easy-to-drink Yuengling Old Chesterfield from the vintage branded kegerator while you plot your next move.
Date With a Cocktail Lover: Jerry's Bar
With respect to excellent specialists like The Franklin and Emmanuelle, all the left-field meanderings, esoteric liquors and Jeopardy! "Potpourri" category drink names can so dominate a date conversation that it's difficult to focus on anything else. For a beautifully appointed not-straight-cocktail bar with a knack for potent potables, try Jerry's in NoLibs. Simple daiquiris (made here with plum bitters), whiskey sours, Aviations—all are made quickly and accurately, with tight beer and wine lists accommodating those in a non-spiritual place.
Though the cocktails are crazy-affordable to begin with ($7 to $9), the price tag gets lopped in half during Jerry's weekday happy hour, running from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Plan a late-afternoon meetup in the enclosed courtyard or rendezvous along the second-floor balcony overlooking the main bar.
Date With a Wine Lover: a.bar
A recent addition to Rittenhouse Square, a.bar is attached to the long-term-stay AKA, around the corner from the hotel's well-regarded a.kitchen. The slim, stylish strongbox, with its coffered ceiling and bronze bartop, is as attractive to the aesthetically obsessed as the drink list is to natural wine fanatics. "Point scores don't mean anything to me. I'm not looking for trophy wife wines by any means," says beverage director Tim Kweeder. "I look for honest wines from honest people."
Pennsylvania's state-run spirits system makes the acquisition of new products on the bar/restaurant level circuitous. Kweeder's experience connecting importers with no local presence with the powers that be means many of a.bar's wines are completely new to the Commonwealth. His legwork translates to a pliable, personality-packed list big on biodynamic choices, all meant to work with a.bar's seafood and charcuterie selections. (Several sherries by the glass, too.) Bartenders are eager to chat up wines and pour sample sips, meaning your oeno-date can double as an informal tasting sesh.
Fun Date on the Cheap: Garage
This newcomer, from the owners of Center City mainstays Vintage, Time, and Bar, is a well-stocked beer oasis at Ninth, Wharton and Passyunk, most recognized as the home of ludicrously lit-up South Philly cheesesteak heavies Pat's and Geno's. Solid business move opening up along a blazing neon intersection visible from space, right? You've actually got to browse a little to locate Garage, as it's housed in the old Satellite Auto Body building and still bears that sign.
Inside, you'll find a spacious digs accommodating pinball machines, Skeeball lanes, and pool tables ideal for breaking up the monotony of a date night. The bar itself specializes in canned crafts. They're stocking more than 150 right now, with more on the way; popular options now include Founders All Day IPA, picks from Uinta and Ballast Point, and a plethora of canned pumpkin beers. No food beyond hot dogs as of right now, but there is a BYOC (bring your own cheesesteak) policy in place. Soon, they'll have their stationary food cart, which will host a series of guest chefs, up and running.