The most important asset to the frugal drinker is without a doubt the dive bar. Dive bars, for the unfamiliar, are bars with cheap drinks and decorum to match. A true dive bar will generally be unclean, have rude and unattractive staff and a bathroom that somehow makes you feel violated once you use it. Usually, a good dive will be far out of the way in places like South Philadelphia or Fishtown, however there are some good ones in Center City if you can find them.
Our first stop was one of the greatest dives in all of Philadelphia: McGlinchy’s at 15th and Locust streets, a bar that displays its many “cheapest drink” awards all over the poorly lit establishment. (Ryan’s Note: My dad used to go here in the 1970s and he says it hasn’t changed a bit.) You’ll be hard pressed to find a beer for less with most pitchers under $7, $3 pints of Guinness and bottles running you at just $2.05. Nickels on hand would have been a plus, considering you pay per drink to the waitresses when you get a table, who insists on giving you exact change. They must have something against tabs.
It’s important to keep in mind that the money you save at McGlinchey’s is money that other bars put into things like ambience, cleanliness (Corey’s Note: My roommate once got a glass with a booger on it, true story) and the quality of the staff. Many of the waitresses look like they could be prison guards, and they act like it too.
After three beers set us back a mere $8.15, we then decided to head over to Dirty Frank’s, at 13th and Pine streets. Or, at least that’s what we had been told it’s called. With no marquee over the door or any visible signs inside, we weren’t completely sure.
Dirty Frank’s is the epitome of a dive bar. The fact they even bothered to put an “employees must wash hands” sign in the bathroom seemed ironic, since no amount of scrubbing could make you feel clean after standing in there.
As we bought our drinks, we noticed a man passed out on the bar floor, and nobody was doing anything about it. After watching several people step over the poor guy, our concerned friend alerted a bartender (who probably already knew the guy was there, but just wasn’t doing anything). A bouncer came over to wake the guy up and throw him out. His first words after he came too were, “Do… do you have your gun?” Yup, guess it’s that kind of place.
Prices at Dirty Frank’s seemed pretty good. Pitchers were $7 and under, a pint of Lager was $2.50 and a Magic Hat runs you $3.50. There was no service at tables (probably because no one ever bothered to clean them) so all drinks had to be bought at the bar. In the center of the bar, Dirty Frank’s keeps a box of pizza stacked up for patrons to eat…for free. By the looks of it though, this pizza could probably remember the days of prohibition.
Is it worth it? If you’re willing to trade looks for a certain monetarily casual attitude, then dive bars are the place for you. We finished the night having spent about $17 each. If hygiene is an issue, you might be better suited finding another avenue for drinking. We, however, do not have that problem and if worse comes to worst you can always beg the kind people at Wawa to use their bathroom.
Our beef? McGlinchey’s is perhaps the smallest bar in Philadelphia and is always crowded. If you decide to go, make sure you are quick about getting a table because otherwise you will be grinded by every stranger that passes by. Dirty Frank’s seems cheap, but we ordered a 16 ounce can of Pabst and found it was $3! Pabst should never cost more than $2 in any form. Pabst, like dive bars, is only tolerable because it is cheap.
Ryan T. Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Corey Fenwick can be reached at email@example.com.