“It was impossible to find this place, but I’m glad we did. This is definitely my new favorite bar,” a college-aged customer at Sugar Mom’s said.
She had just finished work at one of Old City’s art galleries and spent 15 minutes circling the streets with her friends looking for Sugar Mom’s. They finally parked their car on Market Street and wandered down a nearby alley. There it was – a homey glow nestled behind some trees, like the candy cottage in the dramatic fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” And when they got inside, they saw that the comparison wasn’t far off.
Sugar Mom’s is a brick-walled basement bar. The lighting is dim: this isn’t the type of bar you frequent to see and be seen. The room is only lit by plastic strings of lights scattered around the walls and the subtle glows given off by pinball machines and old-school arcade games.
And, of course, there’s the jukebox – filled with the most eclectic selection of any bar I’ve ever been in – with artists ranging from Weezer to NWA, the Clash to James Brown. The music filters through the bar at a moderate volume that allows patrons to actually hear one another when they talk, whether they’re seated at the bright blue bar up front or in one of the carnival-ride cars in the back. I spoke to manager Ken Perry on a Friday night, shortly after his shift started – and one of the first questions that I had to ask was about that crazy jukebox.
“The guy who runs the jukebox is Robert Perry – no relation,” Perry told me. “He’s kind of a partner with the owner – not financially, but he runs our sister bar, Tattooed Mom’s [on South Street]. So he takes care of both jukeboxes.”
That’s not the only thing the sister bars have in common. Everywhere you look in both bars, you’ll find a little piece of something that makes you smile – whether it’s a plastic party favor toy, a Dum Dum lollipop or one of the many random objects that serve as ashtrays. And this fun-filled décor is no mistake.
Though Perry is only in his first year as manager, he has been working at Sugar Mom’s for the past seven years, so he’s got a pretty good handle on the place. He tells me that the bar was opened in 1994 by owner Kathleen Hughes. And it was definitely her input that brought the magic of Sugar Mom’s to life.
“[Kathleen]’s parents owned an amusement park in Mechanicsville, Pa. So a lot of the amusement park-looking stuff came from that location.”
But this bar isn’t all atmosphere. With almost 10 beers on tap (many of which are priced around the $4 to $5 range) and mixed drinks that are likely cheaper than what you’re used to paying in Old City, the highly-tattooed bartenders will make sure you get more bang for your buck.
Additionally, they have food specials several nights a week. I was there on a Wednesday night, which is the most infamous night of all at Sugar Mom’s – pierogie night. For 25 cents a piece, you can get a nice basket of fried pierogies, which I quickly learned are top-notch bar food. Nearly every single person who came into the bar that night went straight up to the bar to order pierogies – with their drinks as a mere afterthought.
As for Perry, he’s pretty keen on them, as well. When asked what a first-time at the bar should order, he recommended “The Pabst draft, because it’s cheap and we always have it. If you come on a Wednesday, get the pierogies, and on Thursday we have burger specials. My favorite thing is the chicken club.”
Whether you go for the food, the atmosphere, or you just want to see what it’s like to drunkenly play video games somewhere other than your house, Sugar Mom’s is definitely worth checking out.
Just make sure you have a good sense of direction when it comes to navigating the streets of Old City.
Chrissy Reese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the know…
225 Church St.