Journey to the center of SIPS: An influencer-backed guide to the summerlong happy hour

The Wednesday drink specials now come with afterparties — and a healthy dose of personal regret.

Billy Penn deputy editor Beatrice Forman takes on Center City SIPS with the help of BP intern Emily White and TikToker Bran Edelman

Billy Penn deputy editor Beatrice Forman takes on Center City SIPS with the help of BP intern Emily White and TikToker Bran Edelman

Beatrice Forman / Billy Penn
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Nature is healing: a Philly sports team has an uncertain future, cheesesteak discourse is erupting on the internet, and Center City SIPS is back in full swing.

After a pandemic-induced intermission, the summerlong city-wide happy hour sponsored by the Center City District relaunched in June with a new suite of drink deals, happy hour specials, and more participating establishments. The promotion’s unstated goal is to remind young professionals that going back into the office can be a good thing, especially if it’s a gateway to clubbing on a Wednesday.

Business owners likely hope the revived SIPS feel more like a summer soiree than an oversized frat party. But even if there’s a few less brawls and body shots, some SIPS devotees feel not much has changed.

“The feral energy is still there,” TikToker Bran Edelman told Billy Penn. Now 26, he’s been going to SIPS since summer 2016, His candid guides have made his account @bran_flakezz the authority on the Wednesday party scene.

“It’s like a friend you haven’t seen in years,” echoed Penny Gsell, a 25-year-old business analyst by day and content creator by night, who’s been documenting her SIPS shenanigans weekly on her TikTok @pennyinphilly.

There are a couple of big additions to SIPS this year. On top of the regular happy hour specials, the Center City District has partnered with a range of salons and boutiques, like DFTI and Joan Shepp, to offer 25% discounts on select goods and services each Wednesday. There are also afterparties, where clubs like Midtown Village’s U-Bahn and Fishtown’s ROAR open doors early for evening-long DJ sets.

“These afterparties are definitely the future of SIPS,” Edelman said. “The city has caught on to the fact that during weekends in the summer most people go down the shore. So the bars are really trying to capitalize on getting that market during the week.”

Whether you’re a first-time SIPSer or a seasoned pro looking to revamp your post-work itinerary, Billy Penn presents an influencer-approved guide to the summerlong party — personally tested by this reporter.

Here’s what I found from the center of influencer heaven (or, depending on who you ask, hell).

Click through to watch the Insta reel

Beatrice Forman / Billy Penn

The basics: How do I get off work in time to get drunk on a Wednesday?

Planning for SIPS already reminds me of life a whopping three months ago, when I would schedule my week around being able to get dollar drinks at my college bar each Wednesday and still be able to wake up for my internship here the next morning.

If you want to hit the bars during golden hour on Wednesday, Edelman and Gsell recommend frontloading your work earlier in the week. Gsell clocks in at 7 a.m. on Wednesdays so she can log out early enough to pregame.

Edelman just plans for a slow start the following day. “If you plan on getting rowdy, make sure your Thursday morning is light on calls and on work,” he said.

As for when to show up, that depends on exactly how ~ feral ~ you want to get. If you’re looking to take advantage of drink specials and unwind from a day of deliverables with a cocktail, get there as soon SIPS starts at 4:30 p.m. But if you’re anticipating a wild night, Edelman suggested pregaming at home with friends and then heading to your first destination around 6:30 p.m., where the atmosphere is clubbier but you can still catch the end of happy hour.

I left work — with intern Emily White in tow — a little after 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon with a clear mission: beat the lines, dance on a table, and try as many drink deals as possible.

Finally, let’s chat outfits. While it’s totally normal to show up in the business causal ‘fit you wore to the office, Gsell told Billy Penn that SIPS is all about “giving main character energy.”

Gsell recommends matching sets, pastels, and statement-making pattern shirts. But for Cass Foley, 30, former Flyers dance captain and the voice behind lifestyle TikTok @cass_andthecity, practicality is key.

“As soon as the sun sets, it gets cold, so you should wear pants,” Foley said.

Our advice? Don’t wear leather pants when it’s the hottest Philly summer on record (lesson learned), but do pack a bag for just the essentials if you’re heading to SIPS straight from work. It’s a lot harder to dance on a table if you have your office-issued laptop in tow, after all.

Okay, I canceled my Thursday meetings. Where am I going out?

SIPS is all about choosing your own hedonistic adventure.

For a traditional happy hour experience (you know, a table, some appetizers, and minimal ass-shaking), TikToker and Temple PhD student Amanda St. Paul told Billy Penn first-time SIPSers should use the event to try restaurants that would normally be out of their price range.

“SIPS is a chance to be bougie,” said St. Paul, 26. Her short-list of recommendations: Upscale Rittenhouse Mexican restaurant Tequilas for 15% off dinner; Sansom Street Italian spot Giuseppe & Sons for $6 cocktails or half-priced pastas; and Dilworth Park for $5 wine and a rotating list of DJs.

We were looking for the opposite of a traditional happy hour experience (packed dance floor, shitty bar glizzies, and lots of ass-shaking, so we opted for a suite of @bran_flakezz approved options — Uptown Beer Garden, SIPS institution Pagano’s Market & Bar, and then an afterparty at U-Bahn.

Hit the bars early, but only after payday

At Uptown, we stumbled upon a Pride party hosted by Edelman, where proceeds went to The Trevor Project and the drink of the evening was a shot that tasted like a Dirty Shirley on steroids. I had three within 10 minutes and half a canned vodka soda. My credit card statement says I allegedly spent $50 there on drinks alone, which does not feel particularly like a deal of any sort.

It turns out this is normal, so I drunkenly asked myself: Why is the media not talking about this? SIPS deals are surprisingly hard to come by. Gsell, the business analyst in pursuit of that elusive ‘main character energy,’ apparently spends upwards of $200 every time she goes to SIPS.

Now broke, Emily and I hit the dancefloor only to find that not a single person is dancing, even though the DJ plays nothing but techno remixes of Gen-Z hits, which I am led to believe is what the people wanted. There were, however, lots of people standing around and sipping, so at least the name of the event rings true even if the deals are hidden.

At Paganos, the scene wasn’t much different. We spent 20 minutes in line behind a group of summer associates whose fake IDs got laughed at by the bouncer before passing through the threshold into SIPS heaven: a concrete courtyard in the shadow of Philly’s financial district. Everyone was in some form of haphazard business casual, but no one mingled.

We met another friend here, who remarked the atmosphere was “really cute” while sipping on a watermelon Red Bull and Vodka. Another highlight: I bumped into a man I went on one date with last summer who will soon become basically my neighbor.

Philly is small, but SIPS is smaller. All the crowds have the energy of a prepubescent middle school dance, leaving me to wonder, “If this is what ‘feral’ looks like, then what is tame?”

Maybe skip the after party?

After Paganos, it is time for a SIPS afterparty at U-Bahn. And though it cannot be later than 8 p.m. and the sun is still out, it feels like the wasteland hours between 11 p.m. and midnight when you can’t decide to go home or head to another club.

Spoiler alert: We should’ve gone home.

U-Bahn was absolutely deserted and smelled like the “grill scrapings” mentioned in our Herr’s chip review, though we have on good authority (read: a TikTok) that it was packed and pumping later.

As it turns out, the unsung hero of the night was Drury Beer Garden, a Gayborhood-adjacent bar with ample outdoor space and a decor that’s part dive bar and part Urban Outfitters sale section.

Drinks here are also pretty expensive (We spent $70 on two vodka tonics and two Jack and Cokes), but for the first time, the prices feel worth it. The playlist cycled between a healthy mix of early 2000s JLo, pre-Kardashian Kanye West, and present day Drake. By no means was the crowd feral, but people were dancing and flirting with each other and even making out with each other in the corner.

I danced on an elevated surface and didn’t feel bad about it, which is always a good metric for how fun a club is.

Okay, we made it through SIPS. Will I be hungover tomorrow?

Probably. I was — so much so, I had to call out of work the next morning with the glaringly obvious excuse of “feeling ill.”

The experts, however, have some standard advice: hydrate, know your limits, and tip your servers. That bit won’t help with a hangover, but it will make you feel better about how much you drank.

Servers at participating establishments have a complicated relationship with SIPS, between the rush of customers asking for free water and a lack of tips.

“You gotta give them a break,” Foley, the ex-Flyers dancer said. “Most people don’t tip, so it’s probably their least favorite night.”

The verdict?

SIPS is not so much a fun experience as it is a vector for you and your friends to get drunk — which, admittedly, can create fun.

“It can also, however, create misery,” said Emily, the intern I forced to go with me. It reminded us of partying in a fraternity’s backyard during the first week of classes, which often elicited both emotions simultaneously.

At SIPS, you can drink a cocktail while being forced to make small talk with a man who ghosted you. You can also pee in a port-a-potty after spending $70 on a quartet of cocktails. It can literally offer the best of times and the worst of times, and you may be too incoherent to decipher between them.

SIPS is ultimately about the duality of humanity, and I think that’s beautiful.

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