The Philly Citywide Special Index: Whose combo packs the most punch?

This vital index tells you where you can spend the least and get the drunkest on a citywide special.

Bob and Barbara's, Yelp

The Citywide Special is a thing of Philadelphia legend. The tradition of a beer and shot combo for just a few bucks has been chronicled in the city for the better part of two decades, and the deal that started at Bob and Barbara’s has been adopted, well, citywide.

While the origins of “the Special” — as it’s called at Bob and Barbara’s — are often argued over, it’s generally accepted that sometime in the ’90s a bartender named Rick D. started selling a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jim Beam for $3 at the dive bar at 15th and South streets.

And now a cheap shot-and-beer combo is everywhere. So we wondered: Which citywide special truly reigns supreme?

There are a few ways we can answer that. The first is to look at the actual alcohol content of the citywide specials offered at bars across the city. We picked 17; surely there are more. And plenty of bars have cheap shots and beers during happy hour but don’t call it a citywide special. So we don’t care about them.

We compared the alcohol content of each beer and liquor offered by each bar and then taking that number and comparing it with the price.

Now, it’s worth noting that many establishments switch up their citywides for different occasions or offer fancy specials — a shot of Fireball and a cider, anyone? And in some cases, bartenders are likely to pour smaller or larger shots depending on the glass.

But nonetheless, here’s a breakdown of 17 Philly bars that are ranked based on the ounces of alcohol per dollar in its citywide special:

So it’s a three-way tie for first: Both Bob and Barbara’s and McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Center City offer Jim Beam and a PBR for $3. Atlantis the Lost Bar in Kensington will sell you a Heaven Hill — which has the same alcohol content as Jim Beam — and a PBR for the same price. They all barely beat out Sarah’s Place in Brewerytown (Heaven Hill and Hamm’s) and ERA in Fairmount (Heaven Hill and Lionshead) to round out the top five.

Sometimes OG is the way to go.

Now there is another way we can look at this: Value. Sure, you will probably get the drunkest on a citywide special at a place like Bob and Barbara’s that sticks to a $3 sticker price.

The picture changes a bit when we compare the price of purchase for each beer and liquor compared to selling price by the bars themselves. If we assign each citywide special a value based on average sale price of the liquors they’re doling out, the value looks like so:

  1. Milkboy
  2. Doobies
  3. Johnny Brenda’s
  4. Catahoula
  5. Atlantis the Lost Bar
  6. Sarah’s Place
  7. Kung Fu Necktie
  8. The El Bar
  9. Fiume
  10. Era
  11. Dos Segundos
  12. McGillin’s
  13. Bob and Barbara’s
  14. Dirty Franks
  15. The Barbary
  16. Lloyd’s Whiskey Bar
  17. Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar

The bars toward the bottom of the list largely serve Jim Beam or Heaven Hill mixed with a PBR, a Miller High Life or a can of Hamm’s. Milkboy took the win on this one because of its Jack Daniels/ Straub Lager combo. Fancy!

And the type of beer served put Doobies (a Heaven Hill and a Sly Fox Pheonix) and Johnny Brenda’s (a Heaven Hill and a Kenzinger) toward the top of this one.

Moral of the story? If you’re a bit of an alcohol snob, you’ll want to hit up the places that often have citywide special prices in the neighborhood of five or six bucks.

If you’re not — which I assume you’re not if you’re the type of person to order a shot and a beer at the same time — stick with the dive bars. They always deliver.

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