Dirty Franks 1

Stop One: McGlinchey’s (259 S 15th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102)

“Wait a minute…’ Amity asked quite shocked as we entered the bar from out of the rainy afternoon and she quickly reached for her pack of cigarettes and a lighter.. ‘You can SMOKE in here?’

‘Yes…’ Kelly grinned as she ordered from the bartender the first of many Yuenglings that she had over our four days in the City of Brotherly Love. ‘Yes, you can.’ … and that was our welcome back to one of our favorite dive bars in Philadelphia: McGlinchey’s

Apart from an occasional cigar every now and then, I’m not really a smoker anymore. Do I miss smoking in bars? Not really. It’s kinda nice coming home from bars and not smelling like an industrial chimney. However, from what I heard about Philadelphia’s smoking laws, they seem a bit more civilized. From what I understand (and I may be wrong), if the bar doesn’t really serve food, it’s up to them if they want to allow smoking or not. That’s it. As far as I know, McGlinchey’s is the only bar in the city that still allows smoking (They do serve 75 cent hot dogs… but I don’t know if that really can be classified as food). 

Hell, I used to have college classes back among the tables and booths here years ago (yes, one of my ‘professors’ held some of his classes at this bar. Ah… Temple University Center City Campus art classes).

This bar never changes. It was one of the first bars I was dragged into back in college when I finally turned 21. Maybe a little less smoke, but the place still pretty much looks exactly the same, Hell, I used to have college classes back among the tables and booths here years ago (yes, one of my ‘professors’ held some of his classes at this bar. Ah… Temple University Center City Campus art classes). The same colored glass windows, the faded mural on the one wall opposite the line of mirrors on the far wall, the same Nirvana CD still on the jukebox, the same Pac-man tabletop machine in the corner, the same utterly brilliant dimpled British pub Imperial pint mugs, the same graffiti on the restroom walls…

McGlincheys 1

The partial Drunkard crew that came out to Philly (Nick is one of the hosts of the Modern Drunkard Podcast, while I draw things for the magazine) had all taken the train down from New York City that morning after two nights crawling around in that city. Our first stop, of course, had been the Mutter Museum ( K and I had asked our friends that morning what they wanted to see in Philly first. ‘Dead things!’ was the overwhelming answer. If you are going to start drinking soon, you may as well start with a good creepy medical oddity scare…  Look, a wall full of skulls and fetuses in jars… I need a drink. ) The heavy rainfall over the city was also another good incentive to get indoors with a stiff cocktails.

The building McGlinchey’s is located in has been around since about 1922. Mr. McGlinchey’s (a later owner of the property) started a restaurant (McGlinchey’s Restaurant) on the second floor, above some shops, around 1940. Ten years later, the shops were gone, the restaurant was gone, but the bar was firmly in place on the first floor with the landlord living the floors above it, which had been converted into apartments. Mr. McGlinchey’s decedents still own the building and manage the bar to this day.

“I grew up in the city, “ I replied as I sipped my whiskey. “Someone is always trying to put something in you, whether it is drugs, booze, or…. other things.”

‘Did I ever tell you about the time years ago when some old man tried to pick me up as I sat here at the bar?’ I mentioned to Kelly as I gestured with my drink towards one of the barstools at the corner. ‘He kinda looked like Santa Claus as well, which itself made its own level of creepy and scaring memories. I’d been sitting there quietly with a drink, waiting for a friend before we headed out to a show at the Tower Theatre out on 69th street. I think the old creep was disappointed that I actually left with a lady.’ 

“I can just picture young innocent Karl at the bar, drinking his beer, while some old lech comes on to him,” Kelly laughed. “Did you wonder what was going on? Did your eyes get all big when you finally realized what he actually wanted?”

“I grew up in the city, “ I replied as I sipped my whiskey. “Someone is always trying to put something in you, whether it is drugs, booze, or…. other things.”

McGlincheys 2

Amity (who had never been out to the East Coast before) was confused as she looked at her pint. ‘I don’t understand. You tell me I’m drinking Yuengling, but you ordered ‘a lager’ or a ‘porter’ from the bartender.

Both Eric and I shrugged, as we were both originally from the area. ‘It’s just that way.’ 

‘Isn’t it brilliant!’ Kelly smiled. ‘I thought it was odd as well the first time I came here. This area is the only area where you can order by style and still get a brilliant beer. Imagine if you walked into a bar in Denver and ordered just an ‘I.P.A.’. They’d think you were mad.’ 

‘Try to order some green chili here…’ I replied. ‘… and then you’ll see mad confusion.’

Stop Two: Dirty Frank’s (347 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107)

After our second round, we left McGlinchy’s and headed back out into the rain towards our next location a couple blocks away: the venerable Dirty Frank’s

Dirty Franks 2

It was a couple months ago back in Denver that Nick asked me about a bar in Philly that he’d been to, but utterly forgotten the name of the place. When he’d last been in the city, years before, he took a tour of some of the bars as he was writing a travel article for Modern Drunkard Magazine. Nick knew that I lived in Philly for a some time, he asked me about this ‘… utterly brilliant bar, somewhere in the city. I don’t think it had a sign. There was a coffeehouse across the street, but the bar itself had a horseshoe shaped bar…’

I had frowned and started to rack my brain for bars after such a vague description. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of the bars in the city and had no clue how many had a horseshoe shaped bar?  No sign? I came up with nothing at the time, but Kelly chimed in ‘Dirty Frank’s’ without even putting down her beer. She has always been the sharper one of the pair of us.

‘Yes!’  Nick said excitedly. ‘That’s the place! I drank there and did a poetry reading at the cafe across the street in-between rounds. If I ever wind up in Philly with you, we need to stop there!’ 

… and here we were in front of the brilliant wrap around mural of all the famous Franks (Sinatra, Zappa, Roosevelt, Perdue, Frankenstien…), and with no sign. The mural is the only sort of pseudo-advertisement for the bar that this is Dirty Franks. 

Update: The bar just added Pope Francis to the mural. Pope Frank will be in the city next month.

For Nick, it had been about twelve years since he’d been back. He nodded, ‘It’s exactly the same.’ 

Kelly grinned like she was coming home. ‘I want to move this bar to Denver. Then I would never leave it.’

Like most brilliant old historic bars (a bar has been in some form at the corner of 13th and Pine since 1933), there is historic debris and art covering the walls. Everywhere you look about the place, there was something to catch your eye. In addition, there it a rotating art gallery on the far back wall. The crowd is an eclectic mix of old neighborhood, young hipsters, art students from the University of the Arts, lawyers, and homeless people. 

‘I hope you also remember…’ , I said to Nick. ‘… that this place is cash only.’ I point up towards the hanging ‘Dirty Frank’s’ t-shirt for sale. ‘It says it on their shirts, so it must be true.’

‘Christ.’ Nick replied as he moved back towards the door. ‘I’ll be right back. Need to find an ATM.’ 

Kelly grinned like she was coming home. This was another place where we came by frequently (I even based a 30 MILES OF CRAZY! strip here.) ‘I want to move this bar to Denver. Then I would never leave it.’

Like many other legendary bars, there are many stories that surround Dirty Frank’s (some hearsay, some fact.) Past owners have tried to change the name, but the neighborhood moniker has always won out to the point where newer owners stopped fighting it many years ago. Of course, Frank’s is also becoming a nationally known bar. Just the other day, here in Denver, one of the former writers for Modern Drunkard asked me, ‘I’m heading to Philly next month. Where should I stop for a drink, other than Dirty Franks? That’s a given.’

Dirty Franks 3

After a couple whiskey and Yuenglings at Dirty Franks and a long walk down into South Philly for cheesesteaks (N & A demanded the full Philly experience, so a hike down to Pat’s we went), we wound up at another my old stomping grounds where I spent way too much time: South Street. I didn’t help that I worked several jobs along the strip as well as lived above one of the shops for several years. The street has changed drastically over the 16 years since I’ve last lived here. The neighborhood had improved, since some places used to be real shit holes. New murals and modern apartment buildings replaced most of the old broken down neighborhood. Still, there are way too many empty storefronts.

‘I wonder if Harry’s Occult shop is still down the street,’ I said. ‘There used to be a mummified monkey in the window back when I lived down here.’

‘Do you need some sort of candle?’ Kelly asked. 

‘No, but some mummy dust and prayer beads may come in useful.’

Update: Apparently, Harry’s Occult Shop has closed. 

You can never go home again. Coming back to my long ago stomping grounds always comes with a tinge of nostalgia, but gone are all the small local shops and the art collectives. In came gentrification, Starbucks, Dominos, and the chain stores. The list of closed shops reads like the lists of the dead: Zipperhead, Skinz, Blacks, Trash & Vaudeville, Spaceboy, Inferno, Book Trader, Veem, Record Exchange, Philadelphia Pizza Company, Phila-deli, Dobbs…

You have to look around to still see the little bits of the old spark that South Street used to have: Isaiah Zagars’ Magic Garden and mosaic storefront artwork… Repo Records, Eyes Gallery, Mineralistic, Wooden Shoe, The Bean, Lorenzo’s (one of the best slices of pizza that I’ve ever had), Manny Browns, South Street Diner, A Garland of Letters (if you like that sort of thing…) 


Sure, the old comic book store that I used to work at was still there, though they moved a store or two down as well as utterly changed their name. It was still there. 

Oh… and NewMarket is still a big empty lot next to Headhouse Square. I think it’s been that way for about 20 years now. 

Stop Three: Tattooed Mom (530 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147)

So, once we were back on South Street, we had to visit another of my old haunts: Tattooed Mom

‘Well… it’s certainly been awhile since you’ve been here.’ The waitress said to me as she took our orders. I was surprised. Sure, I certainly recognized her, but was way more surprised that she recognized me. It’s been about 16 years and two cities (has it really been that long… yes, it has) since I was a regular at Moms. That is the sign of a GREAT waitress. 

It was all like coming home, which is always a bit bittersweet. Tattooed Mom was Mom’s second bar, after Sugar Mom’s (located in the basement of an old sugar refinery) opened in Old City in the early 90’s. That bar quickly grew popular, so Mom opened Tattooed Mom down here on South Street as a quieter place (which it never was) for her friends. Unfortunately, Sugar Mom’s closed back in 2013. I’d like to say that Tattooed Mom has never changed, but it has. Aside from the waitress, I didn’t recognize any of the faces among the crowd around the bar. There have been too many years between us. Brubaker and Red have passed and gone. Kim, Heather, Marion, Jane Brain, Liz, Brett, and all the others were nowhere to be found. Sure, all the art peering from the back alley windows, along with the toys high on the walls, and a pretty much unchanged menu; but the haze of cigarette smoke was gone, replaced with brightly pastel colored walls. There was a weird uncomfortable vibe about the place that I couldn’t just put my finger on. Maybe it was just too early in the evening. I took a moment to walk up to the pool room and the second bar upstairs. That was far more unchanged. Still looked as if a graffiti bomb went off in the place and didn’t spare the wreckage of furniture. It was all a weird homecoming. 

I was surprised. Sure, I certainly recognized her, but was way more surprised that she recognized me. It’s been about 16 years and two cities since I was a regular at Moms.

“Wait a moment… you have Narragansett beer here?’ I asked, quite surprised, as I saw a few people sipping from the tall white cans (Hi Neighbor!) I was wracking my brain trying to remember the waitress’ name. I think it was Nancy… maybe Sara.

She looked at me confused. ‘Of course, we do.’

‘How long has that been down here? I didn’t know that you could get it outside of New England,’ I asked as I quickly ordered a tall one. 

‘Oh… about two years.’  That was surprising… as surprising as finding Yuengling in Boston when we were back last August. When was the last time I was in Philly? Quickly doing math in my head. Has it been longer than that? Did I somehow miss it last time I was here? Did both beers have some sort of a regional beer exchange plan?

‘Get what you want,’ Kelly added. ‘I’m sticking with Yuengling.’ 

A young guy stood at the bar and asked ‘Can I get two Jaeger Bombs?’ The bartender was rightly unimpressed with the order. Obviously the man had never been in the bar before. 

‘Sorry. We don’t have any energy drinks here.’

‘Umm… okay,’ the man said as he mentally shifted gears to come up with another drink order. ‘Can we get two shots of tequila instead?’

‘That…’, Nick commented as we overheard the exchange, ‘ is the recipe for a bad night waiting to happen.’ 

After about an hour, and several beers, none of us were feeling up for more Tattooed Moms. There was just that weird feeling in the air. I was so distracted by it that I didn’t even get any photos of our night there. We finished our drinks and decided to head back to Dirty Frank’s. I took one last look at the bright carnival of Mom’s and walked away.