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Phillies Bar Review: McGillin's Olde Ale House

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After two weeks of sobriety in the eyes of the internet, the bar reviews return with a visit to McGillin's Olde Ale House in Center City. Even on a Tuesday night, McGillin's draws a crowd.

"McGillin's Olde Ale House" by Bruce Andersen - Own work
"McGillin's Olde Ale House" by Bruce Andersen - Own work
Bruce Andersen

This is 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 season, due to the reviewer's offseason move to the suburbs (henceforth referred to as "the ‘burbs"), the geographical scope of this series will be expanding slightly westward. Seeing as westward expansion is as essential to the American fabric weaved by old white historians as baseball, it seems justifiable that, even in its infancy, this exploration would turn westward. As it was last year, the evaluative glance will primarily focus on bars in the city of Philadelphia, but some weeks it might not be possible to conduct extended baseballing business in the city.

After a two-week hiatus, the Bar Reviews are back. Throughout the summer, the reader can expect this to be a weekly feature on the site and rarely be disappointed by possessing that expectation.

In this edition of the bar reviews, we visit one of the most (allegedly) storied bars in he city of Philadelphia. It is so storied, in fact, that it has its very own Wikipedia page, a fact true of no other bar yet covered in this series. As you may have guessed, this review takes us to McGillin's Olde Ale House in Center City.

AESTHETIC: 50

From the outside, McGillin's looks like it belongs in Old City even though it is located at 13th Street in Center City. As a result, it feels slightly out of place, especially across the alley from Bru--a new-ish "German" beer hall that attracts a cavalcade of bros every Friday and Saturday night. Nevertheless, McGillin's is there. An architectural throwback among new construction and trendy restaurants.

Inside feels like a TGI Fridays with the amount of decorations adorning the walls. If there exists an empty bit of wall in the building, I was unable to find it (Consider that search a challenge for the reader). I found the over-decoration took away from the authenticity they seemed to be trying to create. If you're going to market yourself as the oldest bar in Philadelphia and maintain a lovely colonial exterior, the inside of your bar should not look like Allen Iverson's favorite chain restaurant.

On a positive aesthetic note, our bartender--identified as "Nathan" on the receipt--possessed a beautifully comical Franz-Nicolay-style mustache. To wield such a piece of facial hair in a bar that attracts a very standard crowd of young, suit-wearing, Center City professionals takes a level of confidence and disregard for one's surroundings that deserves much praise.

PHILLIES GAME SPECIALS: 60

As I noted a couple weeks ago, 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.

McGillin's has daily specials that cover both beer and food. I went on a Tuesday night when the notable special is $0.35 wings. As I noted either in the review or comments section for my post on The Wishing Well, I rarely order wings at restaurants not because I don't like them, but because my cost-benefit analysis always ends in the conclusion that wings are too damn expensive. $0.35 is far from expensive, so I ordered five of them and a burger. While the burger was merely fine, the wings were actually very good, especially for thirty-five cents. Most of their beer specials are on pitchers, so you should either come ready to drink a fair bit yourself--not a terrible coping mechanism for the current season--or bring a crew, if you have one.

NOTICEABILITY OF GAME: 45

The NBA Playoffs have been cruel to these reviews. It seems that all spring, bars have been docked points for showing basketball games on too many TVs at the expense of Phillies baseball. McGillin's also falls victim to the long grind of the NBA postseason. The Phillies game was featured prominently enough, but, on a night on which no other Philadelphia teams were playing, they should have been the number one show at the bar.

In the interest of attempting to project into a future in which the Phillies are a competitive baseball team, I should note that McGillin's did feature the NBA Playoff game on an entire wall by means of a video projector. Presumably, this would be devoted to Phillies games when they become interesting to watch. It might be wise to throw a future grade of 60 or so on this tool.

QUALITY OF OTHER FANS/CLIENTELE: 30

I'm not confident that there was another person in the bar paying attention to the Phillies game. That makes sense, as I believe it was a Sean O'Sullivan start and the game was only featured on something in the vicinity of 30% of the bar's televisions. Nevertheless, that is not an encouraging fact when assessing McGillin's potential as a Phillies bar. "So," you might ask, "why has this received a 30 instead of a 20? Certainly a bar with zero Phillies fans is the worst it can possibly get!" That is an astute comment-slash-question from a theoretical reader, and, under normal circumstances, a bar with precisely zero Phillies fans would receive a 20 on the 20-80 scale. However, McGillin's is so big--it has two floors!--that I cannot say for sure that there were zero other fans in the bar. The grade of 30 is an acknowledgement of that uncertainty and an attempt to build in the probability that there were at least a couple other people in a giant Center City bar who give at least a single hoot about the Phillies.

FOOD/DRINK: 45 (FOOD: 55; DRINK: 45)

McGillin's has an extensive tap list that includes a couple beers from Stoudt's Brewing Company made specifically for McGillin's. Although I usually find myself unimpressed by Stoudt's beers, I am forced to admit it is pretty cool that they have multiple beers that are only available in their bar. Unfortunately for McGillin's, I conducted this review alongside a friend who doesn't like beer. This person, for reasons I will probably never understand, ordered a Manhattan. It was, predictably, not very good. In fact, it was very bad. That, for reasons right or wrong, compels me to rate the drink below-average.

I covered the food above in relation to the specials, but I want to emphasize again that the wings were very good (and very cheap). If you like wings, catch a Phillies game here on a Tuesday night.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I haven't yet mentioned one potentially relevant detail about my Tuesday night visit to McGillin's Olde Ale House: It was crowded. As previously noted, this is a large space. That they had a crowd on a slow night is impressive. If you're interested in projecting future value in these rankings and grades, you might want to bump McGillin's up a little bit from where I have it because of this. There really is a lot to like here--it's relatively cheap, has many TVs, draws a crowd on any night--despite the below-average grade I'm about to give it. Of the bars I've visited, McGillin's is the one I'm most excited to reassess when the Phillies have a competitive baseball team at the major league level.

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.

As always, if you have a recommendation for a future bar review, leave it in the comments.

Bar Name Neighborhood Overall Score Aesthetic Specials Noticeability Other Fans Food/Drink Drink 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
The Industry Pennsport 55 45 35 50 45 75 75 70
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
McGillin's Olde Ale House Center City 45 50 60 45 30 45 45 55
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