Somewhere between the third and fourth drinks, the bar-goer might feel his or her hand wander to the small dish on the bar, most likely filled with some type of salty snack – probably not a Dum Dum lollipop.
However, that’s exactly what patrons will retrieve at Sugars in Old City. The bar and wooden counters scattered throughout the establishment are adorned with dishes full of goodies reminiscent of childhood, including lollipops and plastic frogs that would feel at home in a goodie bag from a kid’s birthday party.
The sweet adornments were added to the bar as a replacement for something less youthful – smoking.
“We started that because you used to be able to smoke down here,” bartender and former Temple student Steven Stroud said. “Once smoking stopped, we put out Dum Dums and toys on the tables instead of ashtrays.”
Complimentary candy isn’t the only childlike feature of the bar – the brick walls are covered with circus-themed decorations, such as large portraits of clowns and large, lit letters that read “LAUGH.” A pony statue is perched by the bar, and a pinball machine begs to test your reaction time after a few beers. Even the menus are designed with illustrations of giraffes, dogs and owls donning formalwear with poise.
“It’s definitely kitschy,” Stroud, an employee of Sugars for nine years, said. “That’s what we’re going for, too.”
What’s Stroud’s favorite quirky piece?
“Probably the predator mask that [the owner] has behind the bar,” Stroud said.
The bar hasn’t always been called Sugars, however. Formerly SugarMom’s, the establishment dropped the maternal half of its name about a year ago, Stroud said.
“We all used to call it Sugars [while] working here,” Stroud said. “I think it was a part of that.”
Sugars is located in the basement of 225 Church St. in Old City. The quirky dive bar undoubtedly stands out from its atmosphere, but Stroud said its unusualness and historic draw only does it good.
“This building has been here since the 1840s,” Stroud said. “A lot of people are just sort of drawn to it.”
If the ornate interior isn’t the main attraction to customers, it’s likely that the specials are. Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 2 a.m., Sugars aims to please not only the night owl but also the lunch crowd. Burgers and veggie burgers are only $3 on Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to midnight. During the same time period, Shock Top beer or a red, white or blue Kamikaze cocktail is $3, and pierogies go for 50 cents each.
“A lot of people come in here during lunch just to hide and have a beer before they go back to work,” Stroud said.
Sugars also offers many drink specials. On Fridays and Saturdays, patrons can enjoy half-price drafts from 5-7 p.m. and from 10-11 p.m. The bar also offers a Pabst Blue Ribbon pounder with a shot of Jameson whiskey for $7 – a deal Stroud encourages visitors to try.
“It’s better than a Citywide [special] because it’s a heavier shot,” Stroud said.
The bar has also seen its fair share of celebrities enjoy its many specials and fun atmosphere, Stroud said.
“A lot of bands and stuff roll through here,” Stroud said, such as Mike Patton from Faith No More.
Despite its occasional celebrity clientele, Sugars is undoubtedly a casual bar, fitting for a night when jeans and a T-shirt seem most appropriate.
“The bartenders will probably be wearing the same thing,” Stroud laughed.
The long tenures of employees like Stroud are a testament to the laid-back mentality and fun atmosphere that Sugars has to offer.
“I enjoy working here,” Stroud said. “Everyone that has been working here for the most part has been working here for a long time. There’s a little family mentality here.”
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jenelley.