Spying McGillin’s Olde Ale House tucked away on a narrow alley just off the main streets in Center City is like catching a 3D glimpse into Philadelphia’s historic past. The only business on this teeny strip of road between massive high rise buildings and just 2 blocks from City Hall, the warm glow from their vintage looking neon sign beckoned us to step back in time on a chilly December evening.
I didn’t know what to expect from the Oldest Continually Operating Pub in Philadelphia (150 years, this year!) and was crossing my fingers that the place had retained some of its authentic charm and not succumbed to the faux historical look popular with businesses in touristy areas, or turned into a sporty frat bar.
When we saw the care that was taken with their neon sign ( only 7 years old but an exact replica of their original sign- see below about that) and the cheery holiday decorations we hoped for the best, opened the narrow swinging doors, and ventured inside.
We were greeted with a dark cozy room, bar on one side, tables running down the center, and best of all on this frigid night – a roaring fireplace with a table for two, as if it was waiting just for us!
(Retro Roadhusband deciding between a McGillin’s Real Ale and McGillin’s Genuine Lager both of which are brewed in locally in Adamstown PA by Stoudt’s)
McGillin’s is owned and operated by the same family since 1958 (current owners are Mary Ellen Spaniak Mullins and her husband Chris Mullins) and only the 2nd family to own it since it opened in 1860. All of their food is made from scratch, and in 2008 it was named by Gourmet Magazine “one of the 14 coolest bars in the U.S.” Click here to read more about McGillin’s history.
We loved the low key charm of the place and noted foreign tourists and local alike warming up with good conversation and food on this cold winter night. There are all sorts of vintage signs ‘n’ things up on the walls, giving a feeling of the age of the place and you’re seeing token of each decade’s passing here. Lest you think it might be a stuffy museum, it also has a relaxed feel and energy of a current business.
If you like to roam around places like I do, to check things out, going to the “small room” is a good excuse to do so here, as it’s on the 2nd floor. One of the unexpected treats when you return to the 1st floor is this over-sized black and white photograph of the streetscape nearby- just a block away in real life, but decades away in history.
(if you’ve never seen it in real life, to this day Philadelphia’s City Hall rises in the center of the city like a giant whipped cream confection- all lit up in the evening it’s a gorgeous landmark- check it out some time!)
Also a nice touch for those of us who collect stuff, there are free post cards – one of which depicts a restored version of a 1950′s era McGillin’s sign, renovated by Davidson Neon (who you will hopefully hear more about at some point on Retro Roadmap) and now on display along with other wonderful neon from their sign collection at The Center For Architecture, (which I hope to visit soon as well!)
Click here to see a video of Davidson Neon’s vintage neon sign collection as well as some cool shots of the old McGillin’s sign.
I know the photo below is blurry, but I wanted to try to capture the relaxed ambiance and vibe of the place. Using my flash gave me a washed out picture of slightly banged up tables and chairs, and while yes, there are tables and chairs there, this place is a lot more than that.
As I sat back down at our table an older gentleman made his way from the bar to the juke box and played “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. There may not have been chestnuts roasting on that open fire, but listening to that wonderful song in such a historic place is a memory I will keep with me for a long time.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House
1310 Drury Street
Philadelpiha, PA 19107
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