Guide

8 Throwback Restaurants You Have to Visit in Philly

By Caroline Russock  |  August 10, 2015
Credit: Danya Henninger

As a city deeply steeped in history, Philadelphia is predictably packed with restaurants that evoke bygone eras and seem almost capable of transporting diners through history, much like that time-traveling phone booth in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Whether noteworthy for old-school decor or crave-worthy classic dishes that draw repeat visits, here's our way-back guide to some of the city's most storied dining destinations. 

Vesper

Throwback to: 1960s

This former members-only dining club has been rehabbed into a swanky new lounge and restaurant (pictured above) but the glitzy Old Philadelphia vibes still shine through. From the inlaid club crest in the bar area to the secret phone number needed to get into the basement speakeasy, order a well-mixed Manhattan and a dozen oysters and sit back and watch the band.

223 S. Sydenham St.; 267-930-3813

City Tavern

Throwback to: 1770s

The Founding Fathers frequented this Old City watering hole during the early days of the nation’s birth, and this surreal slice of history is still up and running today. Head to the bar for pints of Colonial-inspired ale served by a staff outfitted in knickers and high socks or sample Ben Franklin’s favorite tofu recipe (really!) in the dining room (pictured above).  

138 S. Second St.; 215-413-1443

Franklin Fountain

Throwback to: 1900s

Step into this Old City ice cream parlor and it feels like being transported back to the turn of the century. Thanks to the Berley brothers' eye for detail, the shop and its staff is fully appointed for the 1900s, right down to paper straws for phosphate sodas and ice cream made the old-fashioned way.

116 Market St.; 215-627-1899

Bridget Foy’s

Throwback to: 1970s

This family-run South Street staple (pictured above) has been serving it up since 1978. The menu has evolved over the years but the bar is as shiny and welcoming as ever, and the menu is filled with timeless American classics like deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese and plenty of burger options.

200 South St.; 215-922-1813

South Street Souvlaki

Throwback to: 1970s

Tom Vasiliades has called South Street home for nearly 40 years, and the convivial atmosphere at his taverna shows a lot of love. The portions are generous, the staff is welcoming and the souvlaki speaks for itself.

509 South St.; 215-925-3026

The Olde Bar

Throwback to: 1900s

Expectations were high when chef Jose Garces took over the storied Bookbinder’s restaurant space at Second and Walnut (pictured above). Instead of reopening with a full sit-down seafood concept, Garces opted to transform the lounge into a seafood-centric cocktail bar. Since opening, the place has been perpetually packed with folks in search of vintage vibes, freshly shucked oysters and some very serious cocktails.

125 Walnut St.; 215-253-3777

McGillin’s Old Ale House

Throwback to: 1860

Tucked away on a Midtown Village side street, Philly’s oldest bar has been around, well, pretty much forever, making it a must-visit in Philly. Head to the bar for a few pints of their signature beers brewed by Stout’s and take in hundreds of years of Philadelphia drinking history.

1310 Drury St.; 215-735-5562

Ralph’s Italian Restaurant

Throwback to: 1900s

There are plenty of red-sauce joints in Philly where it feels like time stands still, but this Italian Market gem (pictured above) is the don of all things meatball related. Portions are shareable, the Chianti flows freely and even though other (unnamed) chains might try, when you’re here you really do feel like family. Don’t snooze on the chicken livers.

760 S. Ninth St.; 215-627-6011