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Phillies Bar Review: Roache and O'Brien's

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This week, we return to the Main Line to visit the legendary Roache and O'Brien's. It is most likely the most dive bar in existence. How will it fare when held up to the scrutiny of these reviews?

Not Roache and O'Brien, but it could be.
Not Roache and O'Brien, but it could be.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

This is the first scene of the second act of a project undertaken by the author to find the proper company, both in human interaction and in drink, to endure the rebuilding era of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. Absent friends who even bother to pretend to care about the Phillies, that same author has taken to the streets, as it were, of Philadelphia and its environs to find the ideal spot to watch a Phillies game.  Just as Socrates found himself unsatisfied in his pursuit of the Forms, the present author will likely find himself in a similarly futile, albeit less noble, pursuit. Nonetheless, this series has been promised to the internet, and internet promises must be upheld.

Note: If you require a refresher on the exceptionally rigorous methodology behind these reviews, refer to the first post in this series.

This week, thanks to a suggestion from internet weblog commenter dbssaber, we will return to the Main Line of suburban Philadelphia to visit the legendary (at least in certain circles) Roache and O'Brien in Haverford. Prior to this review, I had only personally been to Roache's once, but it feels like a bigger part of my life than that. Whenever I mention that I attended neighboring Haverford College and lived in Ardmore for two years after that, my interlocutor inevitably asks whether I have gone to Roache's. So, while I have only physically been there once, I feel I exist in a sort of spiritual solidarity with the place.

With those biases in the clear, on to the review.

AESTHETIC: 55

Roache and O'Brien is a pretty simple bar. The front half is a bar with stools and a dartboard off to the side. The back half is just some booths, the kind you find at a take-out pizza joint. It allows smoking and, therefore, attracts a smoking crowd. Smoking isn't my thing and I don't think I could come here with any regularity because of it.

The decor is cheap and old, which suits the general ambiance of the place. In addition to being cheap, it appears to have been in place for at least a couple decades. The bathroom door doesn't lock and the possibility of getting a splinter on the edge of the bar crossed my mind. While I appreciate their devotion to the dive schtick, I do prefer my privacy whilst urinating and being free from fear of picking up a splinter while reaching for my drink.

On the same token, I have great respect for the perfection Misters Roache and O'Brien have achieved in the dive bar style, so they receive an above -average score, but I can't go any higher than a tick above average due to my personal sense of smoke and potential-splinter induced discomfort in the space.

PHILLIES GAME SPECIALS: 65

As I noted last week, this tool has been slightly reconceived due to the urgings of some in the comment section. Instead of exclusively valuing the presence of clearly delineated specials for Phillies games, I will now award venues that offer affordability in whatever form it may come. Having Phillies-specific specials will be necessary to receive a 70 or 80 in this category--this is an attempt to measure the quality of the place to watch Phillies games, specifically, after all--but bars will be able to score highly now by providing everyday cheap prices.

While Roache's offers no specials on account of the Phillies, they do offer amazing deals overall. For pints, Yuenglings are $2.50, Rolling Rocks (yuck) are $1.50. Based on that, I must assume everything else is cheap. They have burgers that are surprisingly good relative to expectations--and, quite frankly, above-average overall--and they come in under $10. That means you can have dinner and drink casually throughout the game and escape with about a $20 bill. Hard to beat that.

NOTICEABILITY OF GAME: 40

The geography of Roache's substantially lowered the bar's ceiling in this category. There were only three TVs visible from the bar: one tucked above the right corner of the bar; a second on the back wall of the front room; and a third in a corner in the back "restaurant" room. Only one of these had the Phillies on and only one of them had volume turned on. Unfortunately, those two descriptions don't apply to the same television or Roache and O'Brien would probably be looking at a 55 or 60 here. Instead only the set in the right corner of the bar had the Phillies, while the wall TV had the volume turned on for a Bulls-Cavaliers NBA playoff game (the back room had some manner of hockey game). As I set forth in the inaugural bar review, points are not awarded simply for having the Phillies game on. This was below-average, especially on a #HarangDay.

QUALITY OF OTHER FANS/CLIENTELE: 40

I was definitely out of place here as a non-smoker under the age of 40, so I didn't have a great opportunity to bond or engage in idle chatter with fellow patrons. Aside from the bartender--chill dude, by the way--expressing surprise that the Phillies were winning, I found no conclusive evidence that any one of the approximately fifteen other people in the bar so much as knew the Phillies were playing a baseball game at that moment. There is however some future value here. As a bar frequented primarily by baseball's main demographic--old white men--I feel safe projecting that the level of engagement with the Phillies at Roache's will increase dramatically.

BEER/FOOD: 40 (BEER: 40; FOOD: 40)

As you may have gathered from the above discussion of prices, Roache's is not in the business of offering the finest quality beers. They had Victory Hop Devil on tap, but I was too concerned with how long that keg had been tapped to order one. Instead, I settled on Yuengling and rode that through the game. After that, you may be wondering why beer was rated a 40 and not a 20 or 30. Well, that 40 is entirely the product of their canned beer selection. An older gentleman sitting to the left of me kept ordering one of my guilty beer pleasures--Schaefer. Back in the 1970's Schaefer was one of the 5 best-selling beers in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. Since, it has been purchased by Pabst and faded into obscurity. I didn't order any so as not to cramp my neighbor's style (there appeared to only be a lone 6-pack of Schaefer in the fridge), but I will certainly be having a can when I return.

As for the food, it is difficult for me to offer an informed review here as the menu did not exist. The procedure was, basically, "try ordering what you want and we'll make it if we have the ingredients." The burger I ordered was very good, especially so relative to expectations. The bartender did not ask how I wanted it cooked, but it came out a true medium-rare and on a surprisingly high quality roll, i.e., not an America's Choice bun. It's unclear what other food offerings they have, but I encourage you all to take Roache's kitchen for a spin and let me know what comes out.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I find myself struggling putting an overall score on Roache and O'Brien's. On the one hand, its tools suggest a below-average Phillies bar; something on the order of a 40-45 overall. On the other hand, there's a certain charm to its crappiness and a feeling that this is the type of place at which one should watch a baseball game. If it were to outperform its tools in this way, I could see myself talking Roache's up to a 55 or 60. What will it be?

I feel compelled to stick with the tools so as not to be accused of cooking the books on these rankings. As a result, I'm going to call it as the tools see it: a slightly below-average Phillies bar. Despite the overall grade, I really do encourage readers to check it out. It is by far the diviest bar I've personally been in, ripping that honor away from 12 Steps Down in the Italian Market. So, if dive is your scene, it is in your interest to go headfirst into Roache and O'Brien's. This is the first bar with dissonance between how much I like it and how it performed. This score doesn't sit well with me, but on this day of the NBA Draft Lottery, it seems prudent to TRUST THE PROCESS.

OVERALL GRADE: 45

Updated Rankings: I'll be updating the rankings of the bars I've visited based on how I graded them at the time of my visit. Recently, thanks to the tutelage of Brandon Lee Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation, or, BLG from BGN if you're into the whole brevity thing, the table has become sortable. In the future, grades might be updated and bars might move up and down the list. Instances like those, if they ever occur, will be duly noted. Ties have been broken arbitrarily.

Bar Name Neighborhood Overall Score Aesthetic Specials Noticeability Other Fans Beer/Food Beer Subscore Food Subscore
Wishing Well Bella Vista 70 70 60 70 70 60 55 65
Great American Pub Main Line 65 75 40 55 60 50 35 65
Citizens Bank Park South Philly 60 65 25 75 65 45 55 45
Devil's Den South Philly 55 60 35 60 25 65 70 55
Roache and O'Brien Main Line 45 55 65 40 40 40 40 40
Madira Bar & Grill Point Breeze 40 30 55 40 35 60 55 60
Cavanaugh's Rittenhouse Rittenhouse 40 70 20 45 25 55 35 70
Fox and Hound Center City 35 35 40 50 35 45 50 45