Why Philly Icon McGlinchey’s Bar May Never Be The Same

McGlinchey’s is a bar I frequent with my friend Johnny R. Thought I’d share this piece with you.

Recently, a radical upgrade was unveiled at McGlinchey’s Bar: The infinite towel, that baby-blue loop of fabric and bacteria used to dry the hands of the thousands who were brave enough — or drunk enough — not to care, has been replaced with single-use paper towels. The bathroom, which wouldn’t be an incongruous setting for the climactic scene in a horror film, was left otherwise undisturbed.

That is to say, change comes incrementally to McGlinchey’s, a cash-only, dirt-cheap dive that has been owned by the same family since 1952 and that processed the arrival of a citywide smoking ban in 2008 with a shrug and a fresh ashtray. (The bar was granted an exemption because such a small portion of its revenue is from food.) McGlinchey’s, and its upstairs companion, Tops Bar, remain among the last great bastions for Center City smokers who find puffing outside on a street corner beneath their dignity.

“There’s less smokers every year,” said Sheldon Sokol, 68, the co-owner. “Eventually, we’ll have to go no smoking, because the smokers will all die off.”

He doesn’t smoke or drink himself. (“It’s bad for your innards,” he said.)

For now, McGlinchey’s remains as smoggy as ever.
“It’s going to be a two-shower night,” a friend grumbled as we made our way through the haze one recent evening. But it was a loving gripe: For him and others, McGlinchey’s is steeped in Philly nostalgia.

“It’s sort of been a place of quiet contemplation for depressives and alchies, which I was part of for a while,” he said. Maybe it’s the churchlike afternoon light filtering softly through the geometric stained-glass windows, or the smoke-darkened duck-hunter mural (an old billboard that was recently, clumsily repainted) looming like some devotional artwork, or the sense of communion provided by the wraparound bar. It’s the ideal place for drinking alone together.

We chose a vinyl-upholstered booth, and a waitress with pink hair and a fanny pack for a cash register brought us glass mugs of beer. The idiosyncratic price points, like $2.55 for a Yuengling, always seem to result in a pile of change on the table. (According to Sokol, prices were initially geared so you could easily tip a quarter a drink. They’ve limited the increases to a small percentage each year, so as not to anger his price-conscious customers.)
The waitress also put in our food order — which meant she had to go into the kitchen and microwave the chili dogs herself. “It tastes like SpaghettiOs on a hot dog,” a friend said. This was taken as an endorsement.

McGlinchey’s is the kind of place that accumulates tobacco stains. And lore. It provided the backdrop for the haunting series of portraits by photographer Sarah Stolfa that were collected in the 2009 book The Regulars. The jukebox, once heavy on the Cure, Bowie, the Smiths, had its own Facebook page, until it was usurped by TouchTunes.

 

McGlinchey’s Bar and Tops Bar 
259 S. 15th St., 215-735-1259, mcglincheys.com.
When to go: When you’re too broke to afford drinks anywhere else. When you want to be with other people. When you want to be alone. McGlinchey’s is open 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 2 a.m. Sunday. Tops Bar is open 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Bring: Beer snobs, smokers, Ms. Pac-Man aficionados, and anyone you don’t need to try too hard to impress.
What to order: There’s a surprisingly strong selection of craft beers here, including local favorites like Flying Fish IPA and Philadelphia Brewing’s Kenzinger. The $3.95 citywide special is a Yuengling and a shot of Heaven Hill. Or go high-end: You can get the Glenlivet 15-year-old for $6.95.
Bathroom situation: Richly graffiitied and dimly lighted. The men’s room, I’m told, requires a spotter (or a zeal for exhibitionism) as there is neither a lock nor a stall door. If you can, use the bathroom at Tops.
Sounds like: What have you wrought, TouchTunes? A world in which, on a single evening, the soundtrack ricocheted between No Doubt, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, and, yes, Enya, at a noisy 98 decibels. Upstairs, at Tops, it was a much calmer 82 decibels, dominated by a rattling air conditioner.

 

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Phicklephilly – Night of the Huntress

The lady is sitting at her table sipping her drink, and giving me and Church the eye. Church pegs her for an “entrepreneur.” That’s what he calls escorts and hookers.

I was having a good evening at the salon. All of the sunbeds were working, we even got the washer and dryer up and running. Some of my favorite ladies came in to tan and I could feel that things were starting to fall into place at the new address. Achilles even stopped in with Sharon, so he could do a few things and she could go tanning.

I had gotten a text from my friend Alice, (See: Alice – 2011 to Present – The Cute Recruiter) saying she wanted to meet up for a drink. I was already meeting with my buddy Church (See: Church – 2012 to Present – Brand Ambassador) so I told her to meet me at Sofitel after 8pm.

I close up the salon and head to Sofitel. When I get there she’s already at the bar having drinks with her friend Bob. I’ve met him before he’s a really nice guy. Works in IT, makes good money, but no game when it comes to the ladies. I find out Alice’s company, which will find you a job and a date completely hooked him up with some dates, and number three girl was the charm. It sounds like Bob sort of has a girlfriend now.

Things are going well at Alice’s company. if you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know that her friend Keila has left the company after a year or so to pursue other interests. Alice and Bob are hungry and ask if I am too. I’m not that hungry but she says she’s starving and putting it all on her corporate card. So I tell her I’m famished if she insists.

Church arrives and as promised and he makes delivery on another bottle he promised me. A bottle of the Macallan 17-year-old scotch. It’s a fantastic bottle, and 17 is my family’s reoccurring lucky number. They don’t even make this scotch anymore. It’s a $250 bottle of scotch. Did I mention that I love Church?

We’ve been coming to Sofitel more lately and Church is friends with the bartender, Liam and we’re getting the hook up on drinks. To explain what the “hook up” is, it’s when you have a bunch of cocktails and you get the bill and it’s $11. Then you just tip the bartender handsomely with cash. So instead of getting a bill that’s up to $40,  you only spend around $25 and the bartender gets a better tip. You can’t abuse it but you have to get to know them and become a regular, and you get the hook up all over town.

Alice and Bob have to get to another gig, so after devouring cheese steak tacos and fries and cocktails, she says they have to bolt. She pays for everything and off they go. That was awesome. Free round of drinks and dinner and now I can focus on my time with Church.

So this younger guy wearing a wool hat comes into the lounge and takes a seat at a table by himself. He appears to be waiting for someone. We assume a blind or Tinder date.

In a little while this attractive woman in her thirties glides into the room. She walks over to the gentleman sitting at the table. We assume that his date has arrived. But something just doesn’t feel right. Turns out that those two are not together, and after a brief exchange, she moves to a table adjacent to the bar. I’m on the end closest to her, and Church is to my left.

The lady is sitting at her table sipping her drink, and giving me and Church the eye. Church pegs her for an “entrepreneur.” That’s what he calls escorts and hookers. This chill black guy enters the bar and sort of just hangs back behind us. He obviously works there at the hotel. He’s definitely security. So we start joking with him about hooker patrol. We don’t look over at her while we’re doing this because we don’t want to make it obvious that we’re on to her.

Hat guy’s date shows up and joins him at his table. I look over. Not bad. Decent legs, curly black hair. After a drink or two, they pay their bill and leave. The entrepreneur, keeps smiling at me and making eyes. We’re still all talking about her at the bar, Liam and one of theservers have her pegged for a pro.

I’m ready to go out and have a smoke. We leave our coats on our chairs and the bag containing the $250 bottle of scotch. We’re just outside the building. Within a minute the lady comes running out to tell us we forgot our coats. I tell her we’re coming right back after I smoke. I thank her for her concern and she goes back in.

We head back in, and I’m chatting up the hot server Laura. We’re talking about scratch offs and she’s telling me how she’s trying to break up with the doctor she’s currently dating because she feels she should be dating someone her own age. She’s only 25 and this guy is into his 40’s.  She’s keeping her options open and he keeps buying her stuff, because that’s what guys with money do for younger hot women they like sleeping with.

The assumed hooker hasn’t paid her bill yet and Laura is getting nervous because she’s her guest. Laura thinks she’s going to run out on her bill, because now she’s moved to a table by the exit. But then the lady comes up to the bar to pay her tab. I’m sure at this point the only reason she did that is she thought one of us may strike up a conversation.

We’re all holding our breath to see if the card clears. It goes through okay, and as she’s leaving, she leans in to me, touches my arm and whispers, “I think you are very cute!”

We’re a little stunned, as she is walking out she turns and says that she’ll be back in a little bit. After she’s gone we all have a good laugh about the whole show that just unfolded before us.

A little while later, I’m well into my 3rd chardonnay, the entrepreneur returns. She starts giving me the eye again and I’m wondering where she’s been. I decide to go upstairs to the restroom and pray I’m not followed. Church texts me that she has attached herself to some Archie Andrews/Beeker  type from the Muppet Show guy at the bar. He’s eating this enormous club sandwich at the bar so he looks like an easy target to her.

Then this skater boy type comes walking up to me, singing a song about how he can’t find his waitress. He hands me his credit card. “You seem to have an honest face. I have to pay for my brother and my drink.” I’m surprised and sing back to him that I’ll make every effort to find his server.

Laura pops out from the back and I tell her what’s up, and the guy will be right back, he had to give his brother directions to the hotel. She looks surprised, but takes his card and runs it. The skater returns and she gives him his bill and off he goes.

We move down to the other end of the bar, and then this odd-looking older fellow comes in. He’s wearing what appears to be a red racing jacket with matching shoes and driving gloves.

Church says to me: “Welcome… to Fantasy Island.”

The guy orders some weird drink with some sort of Whiskey, B & B and some olives. I’ve never seen or heard of it before. We don’t talk to the guy. He just seems too weird and eccentric. It’s been a bizarre and fun night.

Or as Church and I call it, “Wednesday night.”

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish Monday through Friday at 8am EST.

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