November 17, 2016

McGillin's Old Ale House in Philadelphia

photo by: lauren/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

McGillan's Old Ale House opened way back in 1860.

Billing itself as the bar that “outlasted the Civil War and even Prohibition,” McGillin’s Old Ale House, the oldest continuously operating bar in Philadelphia, is a major point of pride for natives of the city. After Irish immigrants Catherine and William McGillin opened the Bell in Hand Tavern in 1860, it gradually became known only as “McGillin’s” by regulars. You’ll find every liquor license since 1871, the year that construction on Philadelphia’s City Hall started just two blocks from the establishment, hanging on the wall.

In 1910, the bar celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new brick facade and officially changed its name to McGillin’s Olde (the "e" seems to have been dropped in recent years) Ale House. Catherine “Ma” McGillin, who had taken over operation of the establishment after her husband passed away in 1901, managed to carry the bar through Prohibition by hiring a chef. She served food and ice cream on the first floor and “tea” (i.e. bootleg liquor) on the second.

Ma McGillin finally passed away in 1937 at the ripe old age of 90, passing management of McGillin’s along to her daughter, Mercedes McGillin Hooper, one of 13 children to be raised on the bar’s second floor. Hooper ran the establishment with her nephew Doc for the next 21 years before selling it to brothers Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak (who spelled their names differently) in 1958. It’s been in the family ever since.

McGillin’s has been featured on numerous “Best Of” lists, including being named one of the “14 coolest bars in America” by Gourmet magazine and one of the “50 best Irish pubs in America” by Complex magazine. In addition to these accolades, it boasts a collection of iconic vintage Philadelphia signs from bygone stores and businesses, like Woolworth's and the John Wanamaker Department Store.

photo by: Porsche Brosseau/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The bar survived Prohibition by hiring a cook and serving "tea" on the second floor.

A well-stocked jukebox, Wednesday night karaoke, and over 30 beers on draft are just a few of the reasons to pay a visit to McGillin's. If this Philadelphia institution sounds like your cup of "tea," here are a few things to know before you go:

Location: 1310 Drury St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m., daily.

You're Having: A draft of either McGillin's Real Ale or McGillin's Genuine Lager, both brewed exclusively for the bar.

Best Yelp Review: "Some of my best times in Philly occurred at this wonderful establishment. The history is awesome, the prices are incredible, the people (on most nights) are fun and everyone has a great time."

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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