Life’s Lessons Learned #53: A Few Bars in Philadelphia

A young man from the likes of Lancaster could be a bit overwhelmed by the “big city” of Philadelphia. You can, however, only spend so much time reading and watching television in your hotel room. I ventured out into the city. The Bellevue was well located, about a block or two from City Hall – which marked the center of Philadelphia. My car was put away somewhere in a garage, but there was much to see and do within walking distance. There were interesting shops and restaurants within blocks of the hotel, and I took the advice of Charlie Bender and began to treat myself to some good food. I also discovered a few interesting bars.

Behind Wanamaker’s Department Store, in an alley was McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest pub in continuous operation in Philadelphia (established 1860). In 2007, the national trade magazine Nightclub and Bar included McGillin’s in its Editors’ Choice Top 100 bars and clubs in the United States. (’s_Olde_Ale_House) McGillan’s was an Irish themed pub, that was always lively, and loud. I remember one Saint Patrick’s Day night when I saw people circumvent the bouncer/doorman by crawling into the pub through a bathroom window! I enjoyed nights at McGillan’s.

McGillan’s Olde Ale House

I found another interesting bar, by word of mouth. I had been told about a place that was frequented by every conceivable sort from bank presidents – to politicians – to working stiffs. Their website ( states the following:

“Dirty Franks, a local watering hole dating back to prohibition, has become somewhat of an “institution”. The scrawls, scribbles and writings on its walls prove that people from all walks of life have either stopped by on their travels, or made it their home.

Aspiring writers, starving artists, the political, apolitical and the apoplectic, drunkards and recovering drunkards, the bright and the dim, those who want to root for or jeer the home team, comics and fancies, musicians and dancers, the reserved and the verbose, your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses, are just some of whom make Dirty Franks what it is and has always been – a sanctuary.”

Now that was an interesting place to sit a spell and take up a conversation with those around you. One thing stands out in my memory of Dirty Franks. The place had a horseshoe shaped bar with a bathroom at each end of the shoe. This was the first and only place I had ever been that had two bathrooms, but did not designate one as men’s and the other as women’s. Today, with the recent discussion of transgender issues and bathroom selection, this bar was way ahead of its time. I have not been there in fifty years, but it appears that the place has cleaned up a bit from those days, when it was more of a corner bar. I enjoyed Dirty Frank’s.

Dirty Franks

In my bar hopping in downtown Philadelphia, not all of my excursions were as successful, but they were, none-the-less, memorable. One place I walked into turned out to be what was then called a “B-Bar” – a cheesy bar with hostesses hustling drinks. This was new to me, and I certainly had not sought it out. As soon as I sat down at the bar an attractive young woman sat next to me and asked if I would buy her a drink. I did so, and she quickly downed a shot glass filled with what was probably tea. I left right after that. There was another bar where I walked in and discovered the entire clientele was made up of well-dressed and well-groomed male couples, several of who looked up and smiled at me. I’m not gay, so I went back to Dirty Franks.

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