Philly basement bars: 12 places to drink underground

If summer’s all about al fresco sipping, winter’s best for boozing in the cellar.

A cocktail the The Franklin

A cocktail the The Franklin

Danya Henninger
danya

Philly’s got a surprising variety of options for subterranean drinking, from smoky dives to hip dance clubs and faux speakeasies to sushi counters. Beneath the city sidewalks, you can catch a game, watch a live show, bowl a few rounds or play darts. You can’t yet slide down two stories to dance in a adult ball pit, but even that’s coming soon.

Until then, here’s 12 places in and around Center City to grab a drink underground.

Six Feet Under

No coffins are hiding in this Washington Square newcomer from Morris House Hotel’s Gene LeFevre, but the sconces are made of digging spades and the sprawling layout is reminiscent of catacombs — albeit in the coziest way possible. Expect friendly service, a soundtrack that mixes oldies with modern hits, and an ever-changing selection of draft beer and interesting wine. (Tip: Visit during brunch for an assortment of Bloodies named after the seven deadly sins.)
727 Walnut St.

12 Steps Down

Once you get past the fact that there’s gonna be smokers around, this Italian Market standby is one of Philly’s gems. Bartenders behind the big four-sided bar are well-schooled on the huge list of craft beers, but are more than happy to swing over a High Life or PBR instead. Pair your brew with a dish from the scratch-made food menu, which offers some of the city’s most undersung values.
831 Christian St.

U-Bahn

With bright neon on exposed stone walls, this sunken spot that’s a sibling to Teddy Sourias’ Bru Craft & Wurst probably looks pretty much like its namesake — the subways of Berlin. Unlike those trains, there’s plenty to keep you amused, including old-school arcade games, a selection of local beer on tap, snacky food and a rotating cast of DJs and live musicians on the small built-in stage.
1320 Chestnut St.

Black Sheep Pub

For 17 years, this tavern run by Irish expats has been pleasing patrons with a no-nonsense vibe and plenty of Smithwick’s on draft. When managers feel like it (usually on weekends) they open the basement bar, which has its own set of taps. With the close quarters and lack of windows, it’s easy pretend you’ve actually made the trip to Ireland.
247 S. 17th St.

Double Knot

If you don’t have a reservation, you probably won’t score a primetime table in the sultry lower level of this Michael Schulson coffee shop-slash-sushi house, but you might be able to score one of the half-dozen or so bar stools. When you do, be ready for a worthy splurge, from well-crafted cocktails to chef Kevin Yanaga’s excellent raw fish and meats charred on a robatayaki grill.
120 S. 13th St.

Underground Arts

Everything about this basement venue in the Eraserhood is revealed in its name. Underground, check. Arts, big-time. Shows in the standing-only room range from comedy to theater, and indie music to dance jams. The fully stocked bar and kitchen serving snacks help keep the party going all night.
1200 Callowhill St.

The Franklin

Vest-wearing bartenders with carefully coiffed facial hair, hand-chipped ice, drinks with a gazillion fancy ingredients — yep, eight years after introducing the speakeasy concept to Philly, this Rittenhouse cocktail destination is still rocking its Prohibition-era game. Although you should expect your order to take a while to prepare, once you start sipping, it’s often worth the wait.
112 S. 18th St.

Tavern on Camac

The ground floor piano bar and nightclub upstairs are great for LGBTQ mixing and mingling, but the restaurant on the subterranean level is more about laid-back dining and drinking with friends. The building is historic — parts of the basement were used in the Underground Railroad — but the food and drink offerings are fully on trend, from Bluecoat gin cocktails to Sriracha deviled eggs.
243 S. Camac St.

Rooster Soup Co.

Aside from the occasional midnight brunch event, this snug CookNSolo spot is one of the early closers on Sansom Street’s crowded bar strip. But until 8 p.m., servers behind the diner-esque counter will happily pour you a glass of booze to go with your soup or sandwich. It all tastes better knowing profits benefit hungry Philadelphians via Broad Street Hospitality Collective.
1526 Sansom St.

Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse

Think typical Philly sports bar and you don’t usually think Rittenhouse, but this mainstay has been going strong for more than a decade. Part of the appeal is the below-ground level, where you can get all the same deals on wings, pierogis and Yuengling Lagers available topside. The lower bar has its own bank of flatscreens, too, so you won’t miss a minute of the game.
1823 Sansom St.

Harp & Crown

The hidden enclave in the cellar has the opposite vibe of the cavernous main floor at this Michael Schulson tavern on Sansom. Decor at the small cocktail bar and surrounding lounge is dark and seductive, illuminated mostly by lights along the private two-lane bowling alley behind them. A menu of nibbles and snacks is available to go with the drinks.
1525 Sansom St.

Tavern on Broad

This sports pub in the basement of the Bellevue has zero of the rest of the building’s Beaux Arts style, but it does share the convenient central location. Expect cheap drinks and snack food, sports on the TV, themed parties around the holidays and plenty of excessive boozing all year round. (Also: Snow beer bongs.)
200 S. Broad St.

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Booze