The Best Bars in Philly for a Festive Christmas Holiday Cocktail (or six)

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I am trying to not make this Christmas time listicle all about the tinsel, baubles, beads, and balls, but face it: you’re going to have rum and reindeer, martinis and mistletoe and Sazeracs with Santas from this moment on, until, at least, January 6 and the Feast of the Epiphany. So, deal. And drink up, festively.

Grace and Proper, 941 S. 8th Street

The Italian Market area is gearing up for Christmas by throwing additional logs in its trashcans’ pyres, thumbtacking holly to its outdoor sales’ stands and by warmly welcoming this subtly glittering, vintage tile and marble saloon to its area. A one-time, 8th Street corner apothecary that stayed boarded up for decades has been given new life by the Hawthorne’s Restaurant Group, the just-opened Grace and Proper – named for its vibe – has the look and feel of a Euro-Portuguese-inspired salon, and honestly, at night, it is as if you could see the Christmas season’s favored angels floating, divinely, over the space. You’ll be driving through South Philly to see its famously overhanging holiday lights that have been up since Halloween, anyway, so pit stop at Grace and Proper and witness a Christmas miracle.

Craftsman Row Saloon’s Christmas Pop-Up, 112 S 8th Street

The long, narrow saloon, the charmingly rustic and bohemian Craftsman Row, off Jewelers Row in Old City is always a holiday pop up haven of decorative and boozy goodness. With that, it needs no reason to celebrate, dress up and re-pop. Mardi Gras gets a pop up with gilded beaded trimmings and New Orleans-ese flavorings and themes. So too did the holiday of Halloween and Mischief Night come with orange and black regalia and pumpkin spice included with its ghouls and goblins-laced affair. Christmas though? That’s where the Craftsman throws out the rule book, crowds its ceilings with all manner of mistletoe, presents and candy canes – then tosses all of its decorations into the drunk-iest, liquored-up “Adult” milkshakes in the city, to say nothing of turning traditional cocktails like martinis, margheritas and Moscow Mules Christmas-y with just a name change or two and several seasonal ingredients. They’re even serving vodka, bay leaf and lemon in a giant Christmas ornament. Man, I wish I still did psychedelics.

U-Ville at the Uptown Beer Garden, 1500 John F Kennedy Blvd

Speaking intelligently on the subject of trippy psylocibin, the idea of turning an already gaudily decorated outdoor craft beer space into a wintry, Grinchy wonderland with interactive immersion as its key – mega-watt lighting, a forest packed with 20 plus piney Christmas trees, nearly 500 ornaments, and more life-sized characters than the Dr. Seuss’ films and books itself – is pretty wild to begin with. Add to the fact that this stands across from City Hall, is a neighbor to the outdoor Christmas Village and Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market and the millions of sparkling lights and fire-pits of U-Ville sound doubly bizarre.  Add in “skrewed” spiked hot chocolate cocktails, a whiskey-laden Christmas Bonfire, a Mean One, Mr. Grinch with ginger brandy and red wine and the season’s most depressing drink, the Wallow in Self Pity, and U-Ville sounds like a happy holiday mess in the very best way.

The Royal Boucherie, 52 S. 2nd Street

The saloon salon at Le Royal Boucherie, one of Old City’s two Franco fare-inspired restaurants (Forsythia is its other) is permitting its customers to create their own versions of the ages-old cocktail favorite with the start of its Build Your Own Old-Fashioned Bar. Steered by its bar manager, Eden Beschen, drunk Christmas time consumers can go through the three steps of the spirited favorite – picking a base, choosing one’s bitters, finding its sweeteners – in the manner in which mourners process the seven steps of grieving death: thoughtfully and surely with a few, deep holiday-reminiscing tears.

Olde Bar, 125 Walnut Street

Chef Jose Garces’ re-do of the historic building housing the tower of fish and finesse that was ye Old Original Bookbinder’s, is handsomely leather bound and tastefully comported to begin with. For the Christmas holidays, however, the lighting is minimally, but cozy, a fireplace is lit (or at least I hope that was a fireplace), and an already perfect drinks menu is given just a hint a Christmastime cocktail twists and tweaks.

Tinsel, 116 S 12th Street

MidTown Village’s original pop-up event bar at the space that once housed Simpson’s Jewelry Store keeps up the ghost of Christmas’ past with the spirit of deceased gem salesman dancing in its aisles, the ghosts of Christmas present with its immense light show utilizing touch-tone augmented reality and the ghosts of Christmas future by imagining the hangover I will surely get after imbibing too many Canned Good Cocktails (despite the fact that each sip sees a portion of its proceeds donated to Philly’s MANNA charity). There an advent calendar manned by elves, a throne room just for Santa, a f%J$#g Gritty in a Claus outfit, more snow globes than in a dozen screenings of Citizen Kane, and one cocktail, the Hot Head Elf made of cinnamon whiskey, hot cider and fireball sugar that will put you in a diabetic coma.

Miracle, 1615 East Passyunk Avenue

I love hidden backroom bars, and this one – located snuggly inside of In The Valley – off the Avenue that is PashYunk offers tasteful décor and cocktails with names such as Bad Santa, Koala-La La La, La La La La and Run Run Rudolph. I love a good miracle.

The Bourbon Lounge, 1625 Chestnut Street

Saturdays in December at The Shops at Liberty Place just got tolerable now that the Bourbon Lounge by Bluebird Distilling is offering a Sips and Selfies party with Santa and Buddy the Elf. I hate selfies and I hate face painters, but damn it if I won’t do both after a few deep, woodsy bourbons. That said, the frigging Victorian Carolers will have to go.

Continental Midtown, 1801 Chestnut Street

Leave it to Philadelphia restauranteur Stephen Starr to go big or go home to the South Pole. For his Rittenhouse area’s Continental’s indoor and outdoor rooftop bar area, Starr & Co. have turned the space in to a swanky ski chalet complete with wily wintry cocktails such as the Bunny Slope made of Dewars White Label, Drambuie, and cider. Yum, and a rum-ba-bum-bum.

Craft Hall, 901 N. Delaware Avenue

See, I do not even care what fun holiday cocktails that Craft Hall will have for the season. Ok, yeah, I do. The chance to look out in the open waters of the Delaware River and its high, overcast wintry skies with a tall, ferny Christmas tree in the foreground with all the families nestled around it…. So, where is that cocktail list, by the way?

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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