You might think of Philadelphia as a beer town. But over the past decade, the cocktail scene has gotten so incredibly strong that chances are any restaurant you stumble into will have a reasonably accomplished cocktail program. Still, don’t leave it to chance. Hit these bars for a guaranteed excellent drinking experience.
414 S. 2nd St., no phone, www.bloomsdaycafe.com
Open early morning till late night on Headhouse Square in Society Hill, Bloomsday is a consummate multi-hyphenate, a café-bar-bottle shop-classroom run by a squad of MVPs: Zach Morris and Kelsey Bush of the Main Line’s terrific Green Engine, sommelier-about-town Tim Kweeder, and on cocktails, Lindsey Evans. Staying true to the all-day hours, Evans’ drink collection starts with low-ABV, AM-appropriate elixirs like the “Herbal Tea,” a clarified milk punch spiked with green tea sochu, and the “Chocolate Croissant,” a semisweet sparkler made with prosecco, crème de cocoa and butter oleo saccharum. Things get stronger at night without losing the fun, free-spirited vibe running through Evans’ menu. Blended from honeydew-avocado juice, tequila, Aperol and prosecco, “Born Feral” is the drink of the Summer 2019.
1408 S. 12th. St. no phone, www.palizzisocial.com
Each of the signature cocktails at the hardest-to-get-into restaurant in the city is named for one of Palizzi’s former presidents. There’s the “Smargiassi,” a “Cosmopolitan” riff made with grappa instead of vodka and orange curacao instead of triple sec, and the “La Verghetta,” an Aperol spritz flavored with ruby-red grapefruit and basil. Manager and head bartender Guido Martelli usually runs one special cocktail a night, but make sure to end with the “D’Amo,” a concoction of freshly brewed espresso and brown butter-washed amari capped with clotted cream and a sprinkle of sea salt. It’s a nightcap and dessert all in one.
1615 East Passyunk Ave., 267.858.0669, www.itvphilly.com
There are so many reasons to love Nicholas Elmi’s little East Passyunk bar: that a stool always seems to open up at the exact moment you walk in, the tightrope balance of laid-back vibe and ambitious menu, the smoked trout rillettes on pumpernickel soldiers… The cocktails, of course, are extraordinary, from the tequila-and-red pepper “No Turn on Red” to the bubbly and on-the-nose “Is Rosé a Carb?” made with gin, St. Germaine, strawberry and tarragon. The bar has one of the city’s best spirit-free selections, which has been growing since Elmi stopped drinking alcohol. For example, the “Rocket Fuel” is a zero-proof version of the aquavit-and-arugula “U Jealous, Bro?,” with Seedlip Garden, an elegant UK-crafted non-alcoholic distillation, subbed in for the Swedish spirit.
1602 Locust St., 215.546.0181, www.tequilasphilly.com
A legend in the Philly dining scene—it opened more than 30 years ago—this lovely Mexican restaurant specializes in gin. Just kidding. Blancos, reposados, añejos and gorgeous mezcals line the moodily lit mahogany bar here, stocked by manager David Suro Jr., the founder and chef’s oldest son. The staff is skilled at discussing flavor profiles, aging and terroir for those looking for a pure experience, but there are plenty of delightful cocktails as well, from the smoky tequila-and-mezcal “Michelada Ahumada” to the flawless house margarita rimmed with cactus salt.
261 S. 21st St., 215.546.4232, www.fridaysaturdaysunday.com
The food is wonderful at this Rittenhouse Square favorite, but there are just as many devotees coming in for Paul MacDonald’s cocktails as there are for Chad Williams’ cooking. MacDonald’s drinks are always balanced as carefully as a house of cards, with bitter, sour, sweet and strong all in alignment. You can always count on learning about a new ingredient at McDonald’s bar, whether it’s Chareau, the California aloe liqueur joining tequila and strawberry in the “Made You Look,” or Boomsma Beerenburger, the spiced Dutch bitter anchoring the rye, vermouth-and-yellow Chartreuse “Steel Breeze.”