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Sassafras Philadelphia – Charming Historic Bar / Restaurant in Old City A Mod Betty Fave!

Posted on: February 2, 2018

With so many generic bars and restaurants cluttering busy 2nd Street in Old City Philadelphia, slipping into Sassafras is a bit like sliding through a portal and transporting yourself back a few decades. Which is one of the things Mod Betty love so much about this place!

Sassafras - 2nd Street Philadelphia - Retro Roadmap

Its official origins are a bit murky, but with its close proximity to the Delaware River waterfront, the bar is thought to have been a longshoreman’s hang built around 1870 (its also rumored to have been a “house of ill repute” according to current co-owner Donal McCoy.) Somehow surviving through Prohibition – perhaps as a speakeasy – its grand carved wooden bar and back bar remain from that earlier era.

Sassafras - 2nd Street Philadelphia - Retro Roadmap

The vintage tilework and original tin ceiling were discovered underneath fake wood paneling when ownership changed hands in the early 1970s. According to McCoy:

The current building owner bought it with her now deceased husband in the early 1970s when it was a shot and beer joint known as the 48 Bar (due to address). They ripped off the old fake wood paneling from the walls and discovered the beautiful tile work underneath. Sassafras was born!

During the early days, Rene Honzik (the husband) would stand at the door in a tuxedo and pick and choose who could come in. (Remember, this was in the days when there was basically nothing else in Old City.) Sassafras would vie with other larger, swankier establishments for the largest champagne order in the city from state stores!

Mod Betty interrupts – I LOVE THIS PART:

Sassafras was known as a hangout for folks from all walks of life. Artists and musicians would rub shoulders with lawyers and captains of industry. Contractors and financiers alike would belly up to the same bar.

My kinda place, then and now!

Within the past decade the original Victorian-era vintage charm has been freshened up, but leaving some of the eclectic additions of the previous decades (think “why is there a couch in the upstairs ladies room?!”) Above the bar you’ll spy their dapper mascot “John DEER” (har har!) who often has his outfit changed depending on the season (Go Eagles!)

Sassafras - 2nd Street Philadelphia - Retro Roadmap

Not just a bar, they serve lunch and dinner daily (ask about the specials) and there are small tables and booths are towards the back. There’s a nice assortment to choose from on the menu and if you’re a burger fan you’re in luck, as they range from sirloin to ostrich and veggie.

Sassafras - 2nd Street Philadelphia - Retro Roadmap
Speaking of luck, if you time your visit right you may hear a jazz combo playing, tucked into the front corner of the bar. A lovely place to visit throughout the year, once the weather turns brisk this is the perfect spot to sidle into, seat yourself at the bar and imbibe a warming whisky cocktail as the dusk falls.

Sassafras - 2nd Street Philadelphia - Retro Roadmap

(And if you’re there with Mod Betty, perhaps you’ll hear of the time she and a gal pal came here – years ago –  and got a bit too tipsy! Oh thank goodness these tile walls can’t talk. )CP at Sassafrass 2007