December trend: Philly is high on boozy hot chocolate

The highest rooftop bar in the city is attracting crowds like it was summer again.

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Love hot chocolate? Think it’s even better with a shot of booze? You’re not alone.

In November, the SkyGarten pop-up at the Top of the Tower launched a hot chocolate bar, and it’s been a humongous hit. So many people have braved the cold to spend their happy hours sipping liquor-enhanced cocoa with a City Hall view that even the operators of the rooftop bar are surprised.

“You’d think we invented spiked hot chocolate,” joked proprietor Doug Hagar, who also owns Brauhaus Schmitz and Whetstone Tavern. “It’s been absolutely crazy.”

According to GM Michelle Curtis, sales at the 51st-floor beer garden have rivaled those on its busiest August nights.

Guests at the bar, which is located just inside the observation deck’s balcony, can choose from three varieties of hooch — peppermint schnapps, Fireball cinnamon whiskey or Buffalo Trace bourbon — and then gild their whipped-cream-topped cup with treats like marshmallows, chocolates, candy canes, sprinkles and syrups.

The view from SkyGarten

The view from SkyGarten

Vanessa Beahn

On one recent chilly night, bartenders handed over more than 700 cups of hot cocoa, per Curtis. (In case you’re wondering how much the “spiked” part counts for the popularity, only 29 of them were ordered without added spirits).

To think, the whole hot chocolate bar was kind of a last-minute idea.

Brauhaus has seen good success selling glühwein (mulled wine), but it didn’t seem to be as appropriate for the sky-high bar as it is for the South Street German beer hall. That’s where company beverage director — and one of the most self-proclaimed Christmas-loving Jewish people in the city — Jesse Cornell came in.

“As the season started to change, I kept harping  on Jesse for a hot cocktail,” Curtis said. After a bit of back-and-forth, he suggested spiked hot chocolate, and a phenomenon was born.

If you want to try it for yourself, SkyGarten is open 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 6 to 11 p.m. on Saturday. Hot chocolates run $10 with booze or $5 without.

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