By Kae Lani Kennedy, Foodable Contributor
Casual or proper? Dress up or dress down? These are the common questions that are brought up in the debate on where to go out, but what if both vibes could coexist in the same establishment? In Philadelphia, restaurateurs have embraced the city’s philosophy of “come as you are” and created gastropubs that are welcoming to all classes of diners. These “swanky dives” are bars that are meticulously decorated with edgy, dive bar elements balanced with a wide variety of craft beers and unique twists on pub classics conjured up by some of Philadelphia’s most experienced chefs.
In the South Philadelphia neighborhood of Pointe Breeze, American Sardine Bar’s exterior appears divey, with dim lights and an oversized sardine can hanging from the building. The well thought out selection of craft draughts and cans paired with odd sandwiches that tends to draws a crowd. Owner John Longacre and his chef, Scott Schroeder have teamed up to create a gastropub with a retro feel that is both classy while remaining relaxed. Schroeder’s ever-changing menu of wild sandwiches, adds an element of whimsy to the atmosphere. Though a new menu appears on a weekly basis, some menu items have included charming sandwiches such as the fried Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich encrusted in Frosted Flakes and the Spam Pandesal Sliders.
Signature Dish: The $2 Sardine Sandwich
1800 Federal St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
Center City offers plenty of outdoor seating, but no bar has an outdoor area quite like Sampan’s Graffiti Bar. If you venture through a narrow alleyway you’ll find that there’s a back patio behind Sampan that has been transformed into a bar serving quality cocktails and contemporary Asian dishes created by chef Michael Schulson. The sleek decorative elements give the bar an upscale vibe, but the large graffiti mural taking up the entire concrete wall gives Graffiti Bar an edginess that makes it a trendy hangout spot. Heat lamps, umbrellas and an overhang above the bar allows this all-weather patio to remain open during any season.
Signature Dish: The Pork Bahn Mi
124 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Fishtown’s own Mexican pub, inspired by taco trucks in Los Angeles, is considered one of the city’s more authentic taquerias. Translating to “Crazy Fish,” the décor consists of novelty items including a menagerie of pez dispensers, a collage of Mexican comics serving as wallpaper, and random paintings of landscapes. The newly renovated dining space behind the bar tones down the novelty of Loco Pez, giving bar goers the option for a classy dining experience, but also the choice to still get a little roughed up by their signature margarita or the fruity sangria.
Signature Dish: Chef Joe Hunt’s home made Gabacho in burrito, taco, quesadillas or enchiladas form. However, if ordering from the secret menu (modeled after In-N-Out), pick the Surf-n-Turf, a combo of carne asada and shrimp.
2401 E Norris St, Philadelphia, PA 19125
With its ornate, dark-wood bar and wide variety of beers on tap, Khyber Pass Pub is like any traditional American pubs, but it’s the southern styled menu, Louisiana spices, and classic Carolina barbeque that gives this gastropub a swanky flair. Chef Mark McKinney ensures that only the best ingredients are used, purchased from providers specializing in each dish. For example, the po-boy sandwiches use Leidenheimer French breads and andouille sausages from Best Stop; both of which are shipped up from Louisiana. The ambiance sets a mood that is appropriate for a date or even watching sports with friends.
Signature Dish: The $3 bag of bacon-grease popcorn.
56 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106