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March 3, 2023

Hidden Bars & Restaurants in Philadelphia

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Omakase by Yanaga Photo by E. Marenco
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The Space at Insomnia Cookies CookieLab Photo courtesy Insomnia Cookies
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Elbow Lane at Harp & Crown Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia
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PHILADELPHIA, March 1, 2023 –  Philadelphia’s dining scene is often lauded, and rightfully so, as it’s home to award-winning chefs, nationally recognized restaurants and neighborhood favorites. For those looking for a culinary experience off the beaten path, however, you’ll want to check out Philadelphia’s hidden gems.

Imagine an Irish dive bar serving up five-star Italian cuisine from a basement kitchen. Or a hip barbershop that’s a front for a secret backroom cocktail lounge. Here in Philly, you can find a private hoagie-and-pizza omakase service, a subterranean bowling alley below a trendy Center City gastropub and much more.

From a cheese lover’s delight at Di Bruno Bros.’ after-hours tasting encounter to drinks with friends at Hop Sing Laundromat or The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (speakeasies both listed among the best bars in America), the following hidden hotspots are worth the effort to seek out.

Read on to discover more about these unique spots.

After Hours at Di Bruno Bros.

Take a peek behind the scenes and enjoy a singular Philadelphia nighttime gastronomic experience at a local culinary landmark during After Hours at Di Bruno Bros. Offered Monday through Saturday for 10 to 16 guests at the Italian Market location and weekends for 12 to 30 guests at Franklin Market, cheese-lovers can sample nearly anything in the shop, plus enjoy guided cheese, charcuterie and antipasti tastings and hear tales from the stores’ cheesemongers in a private, two-hour, after-dark tasting, learning and shopping experience.

Another option: Head to Di Bruno’s flagship Rittenhouse Square location and saunter up to second-floor Alimentari Upstairs at Di Bruno Bros., a full-service, waitstaffed Italian café, dining room and lounge offering small plates, cheese and charcuterie, pizza alla Roma, cocktails, local beers and exclusive wines during regular store hours.

Where: After Hours at Di Bruno Bros. – Italian Market, 930 S. 9th Street

Backroom at Blind Barber

Like a superhero’s hideout, what looks like a mild-mannered (but fashionable and Bryce Harper-endorsed) barbershop from the street marked solely by a nondescript striped barber pole hides a secret. After 5 p.m. from Thursdays through Saturdays, patrons not in need of a trim can walk past the three black-and-chrome Belmont barber chairs, through the unmarked white door at the back of the shop, and be transported back to the 1970s at the Backroom at Blind Barber. This moody cocktail lounge serves exclusive mixed drinks and full bottles, canned beer, and creative bar snacks, headlined by three gourmet grilled cheese sandwich selections.

Where: Backroom at Blind Barber, 1325 Sansom Street

The Cage Cocktail Bar

Deep Bucks County may not be where you expect a hidden speakeasy — especially one inside a chain pizza joint. To get to The Cage Cocktail Bar, a Warrington spot featuring locally sourced, onsite-grown, and hand-made mixes and ingredients, visitors must walk through the Select Pizza & Grill dining room (with or without stopping for a slice) to reveal an Instagram-friendly bar adorned in bird cages and living garden walls. The drinks — including weekend mimosa towers — shine with creative twists on mainstays like old fashioneds and martinis.

Where: The Cage Cocktail Bar, 855 Easton Road, Warrington

Char & Stave

What do a coffee shop and a bourbon bar have in common? Well, in Ardmore, they’re one and the same. Created by Bluebird Distilling founder Jared Adkins, Char & Stave opened just off Lancaster Avenue in 2022, serving its own house-roasted coffee aged in whiskey and bourbon oak barrels as well as pouring creative cocktails featuring the small-batch spirits and artisan coffee. Also on offer: weekly quizzo and live music.

Where: Char & Stave, 21 Rittenhouse Place, Ardmore

Elbow Lane at Harp & Crown

Everyone loves a good beer while they bowl a few frames, but you probably haven’t experienced anything like this. Head downstairs at trendy Rittenhouse Square gastropub Harp and Crown and you’ll find a secret full-sized, two-lane bowling alley and cocktail lounge known as Elbow Lane. Bartenders at the subterranean bar serve spirit-forward drinks while pin jockeys sling strikes and spares on the dual lanes available after 5 p.m. — first come, first served — for $100 an hour (including shoes) for up to eight players.

Where: Elbow Lane at Harp & Crown, 1525 Sansom Street

Fermentery Form

Down an unassuming alley in West Kensington is a pale green lightbulb next to a rickety, unsigned garage door. When that light is on, Fermentery Form is open for business. (You can also check the spot’s “by announcement only” open status on Facebook and Instagram.) Not quite a brewery, the Form doesn’t brew on site, but brings in unfermented beer created elsewhere and then allows it to ferment, blend and age, a process known as “mixed fermentation.” The results are crisp, refreshing beers, executed in the style of Belgian lambics and French farmhouse ales that can be enjoyed inside or out in the alleyway.

Where: Fermentery Form, 1700 Palethorp Street

The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.

Named for the front that boxer-turned-bootlegger Max “Boo Boo” Hoff used for his Prohibition-era alcohol ring, Rittenhouse Square speakeasy The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. goes so far as to use a fake address on its social media and website. Reopened in a new location in 2022, The Franklin lies off a back alley at the rear of The Franklin on Rittenhouse hotel, and has added reservations, a food menu and vodka — all things their previous location eschewed. If you can find the unmarked entrance (real address snitched below), you’ll have earned a drink.

Where: The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company, 1715 Schubert Alley

Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation

The only master-worthy food at most museums comes embedded in paintings of soup cans, bowls of fruit and last suppers. Not at the Barnes. Now headed by acclaimed chef Michael O’Meara, the Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation is a full service indoor/outdoor dining spot deep inside the Benjamin Franklin Parkway art institution serving weekday lunch and weekend brunch with a menu focusing on fresh local and seasonal ingredients. Purchasing tickets to tour the museum isn’t required to dine (but we highly recommend it).

Where: Garden Restaurant at the Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Good, Bad & Ugly

In the heart of Chester County, Good, Bad & Ugly (GB&U) is an underground bar below West Chester’s Stove and Tap, glowing with Warhol-inspired pop art, movie posters, colorful pool and shuffleboard tables, video games, and mood lighting. Open until 2 a.m. — much later than other nearby neighborhood restaurants and bars — GB&U has quickly become a suburban destination for cocktails, wine and bar snacks.

Where: Good Bad & Ugly, 158 W. Gay Street, West Chester

Graffiti Bar

Hidden down a narrow chain-link-fenced Midtown Village alleyway, under a small neon sign, is Graffiti Bar, celebrity chef Michael Schulson’s 30-seat open-air patio serving its neighbor Sampan’s same acclaimed Asian favorites like satays, dumplings and spring rolls in a cheery al fresco space. (No worries: There are heat lamps and a glass-lattice overhang for cold or rainy dining.) Ever-changing vivid graffiti murals complement the spot’s delicious cocktails, five-buck happy-hour bao buns and TVs behind the bar for Philly game days.

Where: Graffiti Bar, 124 S. 13th Street

Hoagie Room at Pizzeria Beddia

Pizzaiolo Joe Beddia’s renowned pies took the city and the nation by storm when his Pizzeria Beddia was named Bon Appétit’s Best Pizza In America and one of the “Greatest Places” in the world by Time Magazine. His hours-long wait walkup window moved into a full-blown Fishtown pizzeria space in 2019, a spot that also serves up a very Philadelphia dining experience: a private two-hour pizza and hoagie omakase feast in a Hoagie Room. The intimate hideaway inside the pizza parlor offers a $75-per-person all-in smorgasbord of Philly goodness for parties of six (no more, no less) that includes a round of cocktails, apps, and a chef-chosen selection of hoagies, pizzas and signature soft serve to boot.

Where: Hoagie Room at Pizzeria Beddia, 1313 N. Lee Street

Hop Sing Laundromat

No phones. No photos. No shorts, no flip-flops, no sandals. These are just a few of the rules that, if broken, will get you added to the nearly 5,000-name “banned list” at Hop Sing Laundromat, which owner Lê (no last name) lovingly calls the “World’s Greatest North Korean Cocktail Bar.” To access the famous Chinatown speakeasy, patrons must find the buzzer at its unmarked, nondescript metal door and wait for the doorman to shuffle you into the anteroom where the rules of decorum are explained and IDs are scanned to sift out previously banned offenders. Then — and only then — are you granted access to one of Esquire’s Best Bars in America and Condé Nast Traveler’s Greatest Bars in the World. Oh, and leave the plastic at home: It’s cash only.

Where: Hop Sing Laundromat, 1029 Race Street

Listening Room at LMNO

Be a little careful when nature calls while dining at Stephen Starr’s LMNO, because that bathroom door may not lead to the bathroom. A secret passageway funnels guests to the baja restaurant’s hidden Listening Room, a cozy, clandestine music spot where the cocktail bar’s wood-paneled walls give way to shelving housing hundreds of vinyl records where some of the city’s top DJs spin live on all-analog stereo equipment. Reservations for the Fishtown hangout are highly recommended.

Where: Listening Room at LMNO, 1739-1749 N. Front Street

Murph’s Bar

The name, the drinks, the décor and even the big green shamrock on the sign outside Murph’s Bar all proudly scream “Irish pub.” But the dive has become popular around Fishtown for its delicious menu of — wait for it — Italian food. Why? One day, Italian emigre Francesco Bellastelli wandered into Murph’s looking for something to eat, only to find food was not being served. Owner Greg Walton asked Chef Francesco if he wanted to rent out the kitchen to curate his classic Italian dishes, and the rest was history. Now, the pub’s one-man kitchen plates up hearty red sauce entrees, from delectable pastas to branzino and rack of lamb. Be sure to get there early: The small bar fills up quick and can come with a multiple-hour wait.

Where: Murph’s Bar, 202 E. Girard Avenue

Omakase by Yanaga

Chef Kevin Yanaga, known as the Philly Sushi Whisper, opened his popular Izakaya by Yanaga in 2022 to rave reviews for its small, affordable plates and accompanying drink selection. But the other half of his sushi empire — appropriately in Fishtown — sits behind double doors at the back of Izakaya’s dining room leading into his hidden Omakase by Yanaga room, a private sushi dinner experience with an individualized menu determined completely by the chef (omakase literally meaning “I leave it up to you”). The stylish all-black alcove with room for just eight guests offers a 25-course (you read that right) Kaiseki meal consisting of a dozen nigiri, nine amuse-bouches, three modern sushis (served with gold caviar, of course) and dessert, plus tailored saké and wine pairings, for $195 per person.

Where: Omakase By Yanaga, 1832 Frankford Avenue

Pretty Bird Smash Burgers

A pretty popular Bucks County café offers a pretty delicious secret by night. Come 4 p.m., Yardley’s cozy Pretty Bird Coffee café transforms into the sizzling Pretty Bird Smash Burgers, offering a small but tasty menu of angus beef burgers, fries and salads, as well as a selection of beers from Vault Brewing Company, located across the street and conveniently owned by Jim Cain — who also owns Pretty Bird.

Where: Smash Burgers at Pretty Bird Coffee Roasters, 7 S. Main Street, Yardley

Ranstead Room

There are speakeasies, and then there are speakeasies run by Stephen Starr. The famed Philly restaurateur is the brain behind Ranstead Room, a classically styled cocktail bar located down Ranstead Street (behind El Rey), past two trees and through a hidden, nondescript black metal door imprinted with mirrored “R”s set in a red-bricked façade. Once you make your way inside, you’ll find a dark, moody, 1930s-style speakeasy adorned with leather booths, dark wood accents, and some of the city’s best cocktails and their mixologists.

Where: Ranstead Room, 2013 Ranstead Street

The Space at Insomnia Cookies CookieLab

A big thank you to whoever wished the concept of “bakery speakeasy” into existence, because that’s what locally owned late-night dessert heaven Insomnia Cookies manifested at their Passyunk Square outpost, situated right between cheesesteak icons Pat’s and Geno’s. Not only is this location home to Insomnia’s CookieLab, a spot through a secret door disguised as a bookcase with a secret menu of experimental, never-before-tasted cookies and milkshakes, but it’s also home to a hidden spot inside a hidden spot. The Space at Insomnia CookieLab is a private BYOB party room where you and up to 32 of your cookie-loving friends can devour a cookie charcuterie; a DIY cookie buffet with spreads, drizzles and toppings; and a create-your-own milkshake bar.

Where: The Space at Insomnia Cookies CookieLab, 833 Wharton Street

Stevens’ Prophecy at W Philadelphia

Upon walking into the W Philadelphia hotel, you don’t enter the lobby — you enter what the “living room,” a public space to gather. But continue straight through, past the custom ceramic skulls, to find the hidden Stevens’ Prophecy at W Philadelphia, an urban saloon outfitted with bespoke artwork and design features honoring Philadelphia native Grace Kelly. Even the bar’s name itself is an homage, referencing the princess’ yearbook superlative at Germantown’s The Stevens School which prophesied the future royal ingénue would become “a famous star of stage and screen.” The cozy lounge offers handcrafted cocktails made from small-batch limited-run spirits, fine wines and small plates, all veiled from view of the general public behind a one-way mirror looking out upon excited tourists and weary businessfolk in the lobby. Errr, living room.

Where: Stevens’ Prophecy at W Philadelphia, 1439 Chestnut Street

Writer’s Block Rehab

Whether you love to write, love to read or just love to belly up to a cool bar, Writer’s Block Rehab is a hidden story you’ll enjoy unraveling. The book-and-author-themed craft cocktail bar occupies a detached, standalone rowhome (bookended by parking lots) down a small alley off Broad Street in Washington Square West. The space offers a compact first-floor bar surrounded by custom wallpaper featuring playable word jumbles listing the names of over a hundred authors, and a second-floor “library” bar decorated in trompe l’oeil and vintage globe chandeliers.

Where: Writer’s Block Rehab, 1342 Cypress Street

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