How Has Philadelphia’s Oldest Bar Survived Two Pandemics & Prohibition?
Looking for an excuse to drink like an old-timer in one of America's oldest cities?
Of course, we all are! It turns out that the oldest bar in the City of Philadelphia is actually one of the oldest bars in the entire country.
McGillin's Olde Al House has been open since 1860. So, yeah, it predates the Civil war and Prohibition. It's now over 160 years old. In fact, it even predates the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
So what's the story behind Mcgillin's Ale House?
It was opened by Catherine and William McGillin, originally as the Bell in Hand Tavern. However, laborers often called in McGillin's. The bar is actually older than the City Hall. Construction on City Hall began in 1871 (and it was completed in 1901).
The bar's name wasn't officially changed until its 50th anniversary in 1910. That's when it officially became known as McGillin's Olde Ale House.
So how did the bar survive prohibition in the 1920s?
Well, as prohibition was enacted, the bar's owner, Ma McGillin, hired a chef. They served food and ice cream. They say that "a few teacups were tipped on the second floor" until prohibition ended in 1933, they say.
The bar was sold in 1958 to brothers Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak. The bar has remained in that family for more than 60 years
They actually had a fire in 1971. It started on the second floor and burned the 3rd and fourth floors. There was minimal damage to the first floor.
In recent years, the bar has appeared on several prestigious lists. It's been named to the Best 50 Irish Pubs in America by both Complex Magazine and Fox News. Plus, Fodor has named it one of the ten best historic bars in the U.S.
The bar, of course, was not spared from the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all public eateries in the City of Philadelphia, they were required to shut down in 2020. Their shutdown, which happened on March 16, was just hours before St. Patrick's Day.
Luckily, St. Patrick's Day has been even bigger than ever in 2021 and 2022 at the bar.
McGillin's Old Ale House is located at 1310 Drury St, Philadelphia, PA 19107. It is nestled in the alley (in the general area of 13th and Samson in Center City Philadelphia).