“Citywide Special” is so much a part of the fabric of Philly bar life that it’s easy to forget it’s a total regionalism. People who aren’t from here have no idea what it means.
Their loss. They can keep calling it a “shot and beer” and having way less fun with it than we do, no skin off our teeth.
Or — and this is a very rare occurrence — they can embrace it wholeheartedly and show us up at our own game. That’s what appears to have happened at Walnut Street Cafe.
The three-month-old restaurant in the ground floor of the FMC Tower in University City is a venture from a group of NYC folks. Sure, head baker Melissa Weller was born in Pa. And yes, the trio who partnered with developers Brandywine Realty Trust on the project — Daniel Eddy, Branden McRill and Patrick Cappiello — did all get apartments here. But still, these are out-of-towners.
And yet. The Citywide Special menu served during happy hour at their riverside spot on the Schuylkill is potentially the best in the city.
One, it’s different every day. Two, it’s $5, no matter what the booze-and-beer pairing is. Three, those booze-and-beer pairings are all really good. Four, the deal is also available on weekends.
Saturday’s combo is all about Ireland, with Guinness and Jameson. Sunday takes you on a trip to Mexico with Tecate and Espolon. Monday it’s Italy with Peroni and Fernet, Tuesday lands you home in ‘Murica with High Life and Jim Beam, Wednesday flies to Japan via Kirin and Eikun sake, and Thursday swings out to Germany with Bitburger and Underberg.
And Friday — Friday is all about Philly, featuring local spirits (New Liberty’s Kinsey whiskey) plus local beer (Yards Philly Pale). Oh yeah.
All of this is no fluke. It’s entirely by design.
Cappiello — who describes the team’s activities in the year leading up to Walnut Street’s launch as, “we’d take the train in, do our meetings, have lunch, drink all afternoon and explore, go to dinner, then take the train back” — first heard the term at Triangle Tavern, the recently resurrected pub at the corner of 10th and Passyunk.
He immediately texted his friend Justin Bogle, a Philly native who’s now chef at Stephen Starr’s Le Coucou. “So uh, what’s a ‘Citywide Special’?” he asked. Bogle’s answer was just three letters: “LOL.”
“Obviously we have a shot and beer in New York,” Cappiello said. But he thought it was especialy cool that a) there was a term everybody seemed to know, and b) that it wasn’t just offered in dive bars — “I’m an aficionado of dive bars and Philly’s scene blew me away” — but also in most high-end spots.
“One drunken night with Branden and Daniel,” Cappiello recalled, “I said, ‘Hey, we should do a rotating citywide!’ And it stuck.”
He purposely avoided using extra-fancy booze and kept things reasonable, while also choosing brands he would personally drink. “There’s no Bud or Coors Light on the menu, you’ll notice,” he said.
Walnut Street Cafe’s Citywide menu — and excellent happy hour snacks — haven’t really been taken advantage of by too many people yet, Cappiello admitted, but he’s willing to wait.
“It felt right, it felt good,” he said. “Whether or not we’re selling a lot right now isn’t the point.”