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Oh hai, winter. Welcome to the temperature range best described as “I don’t care if that dude from Tinder is texting me, I’m not taking off my gloves.”
Philly offers tons of ways to battle the freeze, all more fun than huddling by your desk with an electric heater. From the coziest fireplaces to the hottest bowls of soup to warm, soothing booze, here are the best ways to warm up in bars and restaurants this winter.
Thing about fireplaces in restaurants is, many are just there for show, glassed-in boxes of blue flame dancing over perfectly manicured “logs.” The real ones — the ones that throw sparks and burn wood and smell like fire — those are the ones that warm you up.
Growlers — Black leather couches surround the hearth built into the brick walls of the back “living room” of this Bella Vista hang, so you can get extra comfortable while sipping beer and toasting your feet.
The Dandelion — Of all Stephen Starr’s restaurants, this English pub Rittenhouse is probably the most laid-back, and the fireplaces on multiple floors are a big help (as are the hand-pump cask ales).
McCrossen’s Tavern — Score a table in the small dining room behind the front bar at this Fairmount joint to sit next to a roaring flame while you eat burgers and drink great wines.
Moriarty’s — If you dismiss this Wash West spot as just another Irish pub for bros and sports fans, you’re missing out on a truly great beer list and a half-dozen fireplaces, all elevated above floor level.
Standard Tap — Climb the stairs to the second floor of this NoLibs anchor for the best local drafts in front of a crackling hearth flanked by two bookshelves.
Hawthornes Cafe — It’s not open (again) quite yet, but mark this South Philly beer cafe and bottle shop down for later this month; the revamp after last year’s, uh, fire included expanded seating around the hearth.
Killer spicy food
Heat yourself from the inside out with spicy food from across the globe — just be sure to wear layers, because these dishes will have you peeling them off as you bask in the fiery flavor.
Pho 75 — There’s one reason Anthony Bourdain stopped at this Washington Avenue pho house for breakfast while filming in town: most local chefs call it their fave. Just swirl some extra chile paste into your bowl and slurp away.
Cafe Diem — A fantastic alternative to pho is a spicy beef soup called bún bò huế, and this tiny joint on South 8th Street makes the best in the city. If you’re feeling brave, ask for the real-deal Vietnamese version and get ready to sweat.
Han Dynasty — Choose a spice level of six or higher at Han Chiang’s Old City or University Sichuan and get ready to suffer in the most delicious way possible. Dry pot lamb, hot sauce fish or dry pepper pork will do you right.
Taqueria Feliz — When in Manayunk, this cantina is the place to pick up some spice, and as much as the chefs give good heat with fresno chiles in the tacos “gobernador,” the bartenders hold their own with the fiery three-chile margarita (above).
Top hot chocolate
If all you want to do with hot chocolate is use it as a temporary hand warmer, a packet of Swiss Miss will do you fine. If you want to actually sip it, drinking in delicious heat that soothes your brain with chocolate magic, these joints step up the game.
Ants Pants Cafe — This Aussie BYO at the edge of South Street West has a full dining room in back and a coffee counter up front, where solid chocolate buds are melted into steamed milk and frothed with Ghirardelli cocoa powder.
Cafe Con Chocolate — With chocolate in the name, this Point Breeze cafe run by a Mexico native is a no-brainer for a hot cup. Try the oaxaca version, rich and dense with cinnamon and chile mixed in.
Talula’s Daily (above)— On Washington Square, this bright cafe offers two giant mugs to choose from. Stay alert with the housemade marshmallow-topped vanilla-caramel cocoa, or give into the buzz with the La Colombe rum-spiked brown sugar version.
Rim Cafe — Be prepared for a show if you duck into this hideaway at the foot of the Italian Market. Owner Rene Kobeitri will shout “Make it happen!” at least three times while creating one of the most decadent chocolate drinks you’ve ever seen.
Franklin Fountain — Steamed to order with Dutch cocoa and salt, “Wilbur’s American Cocoa” is a great option at the Berley brothers’ throwback soda fountain in Old City, but you could also go for a “hot milkshake” (!) with a fresh-baked slice of pie layered in.
Best warm booze
Hot toddy from Vedge
True story: you don’t need to combine anything with a shot of liquor in order for it to warm you up. Better story: mixed with hot cider or steaming cocoa, the booze will be tastier, last longer and not make your friends hate you.
Emmanuelle — Behind the Piazza (and with a vibe opposite the bars on the other side of the wall) is this sultry cocktail hideaway, where Phoebe Esmon and Christian Gaal use special mid-century modern toddy cups for their menu of spiked warmers.
Aldine — The bar is small at this new Rittenhouse restaurant just above Drinker’s in Rittenhouse, but the drinks mixed by ‘tendress Jennifer Sabatino are grand, including her sugary hot buttered rye.
The Gaslight — Whenever it snows, there’s an all-night happy hour at this Old City tavern, where you can score bourbon-spiked hot chocolate for just $5 per cup. Pair it with some snacks from Jason Cichonski’s kitchen and settle in for the duration.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House — When you want Irish coffees done right, look no further than this centuries-old pub in Midtown Village, where the shots are generous and the prices are almost ridiculously low.
Comfort food winners
A full belly is a sure-fire way to stop your teeth from chattering, and satisfying American classics are the perfect way to make it happen, with childhood memories wrapping around you like a warm blanket.
South Philadelphia Tap Room — The full menu is served through 1 AM at this South Philly beer haven, so whether it’s cheddar mac with pickled jalapeno or the famous tomato lager soup with three-cheeses of grilled goodness oozing onto the plate next to it (above), you’re covered any time of night.
Grubhouse — Think of a diner, than make the food really inventive and totally delicious. That’s what you’ll find at this tiny enclave on West Passyunk Ave, worth a trip off the beaten path for chef Christopher Ritter’s decadent specials.
Good Spoon Soupery — Fishtown has a new go-to spot for great bowls at this adorable cafe, where the take-home soups made famous at farmer’s markets around the city are now available in sit-down form. Bonus: most of them are vegetarian, gluten-free or both.
Jones — Surprisingly homey dishes make up the menu at Stephen Starr’s American tavern off Washington Square. The chicken pot pie, meatloaf and fried chicken are all as hearty as any roadhouse, but the service is always top-notch.
The Belgian Cafe — In Europe, a bowl of mussels is considered the ultimate comfort food, and this Fairmount pub will prove why. Alternate pairings with a nice, high-ABV Belgian brew are a plate of buttery German spaetzle noodles, chicken ‘n’ waffles or Manhattan clam chowder.
All photos by Danya Henninger