Bars /

Three Pubs We Love in Philadelphia

Black Sheep

Black Sheep is a neighborhood staple, through and through. The walls feature old beer advertisements and Manchester United merchandise, small stained glass windows allow for a bit of light from the outside (but not too much), and the wooden stools and benches have seen their fair share of reverie. Bar manager John Dambach has been behind the bar for 14 of Black Sheep’s 20 years—but there are some people who have been here from the beginning.

“The owner moved here from Ireland, and bought this place 20 years ago,” John tells us, pouring a beer. “He called it ‘Black Sheep’ because he’s the only one from the family to leave Ireland.”

Not only have some of the staff remained constant, but also the clientele. For some regulars, Black Sheep is an extension of home.

“A guy will have people waiting in here as he proposes to his girl. Then they’ll have their actual engagement party here. And the wedding afterparty, then eventually a christening. It just keeps going. You get to know these people, you pass them in the street, you know their kids.”

John tells us that in the 14 years he’s been here, not much has changed, except that they offer cocktails now. The cocktail scene has become so big in Philadelphia, he says, that customers expect most bars to have a cocktail menu.

Bar Manager John Dambach makes us the “French 99” at Black Sheep

“Of course, there are some dives that will never do it,” he says, laughing. “You go to one of those places, and you ask even for a gin and tonic, and they’ll look at you funny and pour you a beer.”  

Not at Black Sheep, however—any bartender here will happily make you a cocktail from their list, which features twists on classics. Go in there and have a French 99. And tell them we sent you.

Triangle Tavern

Triangle Tavern is another Philly veteran—although this bar dates back to 1933.

“Coincidentally, the same year prohibition ended!” General Manager Amy Chalmers tells us. The place was a hit for three generations of the same family, until they sold the business to someone who, sadly, let the place go. After that, it garnered a bad reputation for being a seedy dive for unsavory folks. Then, it closed. But in 2015, Amy joined a team to reopen it. They wanted to restore it to its former glory.

“We wanted it to be like it was before, but with our own spin on it.” By this she means, a broad beer selection, a heavily vegan menu, and, of course, a cocktail program.

“We get a good beer crowd—people really love their beer here. But Philly drinkers also really love classic cocktails. Nothing fancy, nothing that takes too long to make. You’re not going to make your customers wait 20 minutes while you juice a bunch of cranberries in the back.” She laughs.

One of the bartenders, Maria, makes us the Brockmans cocktail on the menu, a negroni riff called “Two Wrongs Make a Night.” Instead of sweet vermouth, Amy’s swapped in Cynar, an artichoke-based amaro that, in our humble opinion, works beautifully.

The “Two Wrongs Make a Night” at Triangle Tavern features Cynar instead of sweet vermouth in a negroni variation.

“With Brockmans, sweet vermouth is a little too sweet. But the Cynar brings an orange/chinotto finish that I think makes a nicely balanced negroni.”

We completely agree, but you’ll have to try it for yourself.

The Cambridge

Last, but most certainly not least, is the Cambridge, another bustling pub that, upon first glance, you might not expect to make a good cocktail. But look past their extensive beer list and you quickly learn that the bartenders here take shaking and stirring seriously.

“I have never worked anywhere where every cocktail on a menu has been so evenly ordered,” General Manager Drew Chalmers tells us. “Every one of our cocktails has been ordered at least 100 times, I’m so impressed.”

As we’re chatting with Drew, he’s pouring beers, making bloody marys, calling out orders to other bartenders—it’s brunch here, and the seats are starting to fill. This is a typical pub, with all the familiar fixings, and yet, there’s a particular charm about this place. Maybe it’s the reclaimed wood, or the fanciful wallpaper, or the fact that they too love Brockmans Gin.

An unfinished Valentine’s Day Brocktail idea–with dark chocolate and raspberry. Stop by the Cambridge on Valentine’s Day to taste the final product.

“When I came in, the guy who had my job before me had way too many gins on the backbar,” Drew says. “I love gin too, but you don’t need eight types of gin at a beer bar. So I simplified it, and kept Brockmans, mostly because you can drink it with nothing else. I had to keep Brockmans.”

As we sit there, Drew starts playing around with a Brockmans cocktail he wants to feature for Valentine’s Day: with dark chocolate liqueur and raspberry puree. Yes, it is as indulgent as it sounds. But as that drink is not yet finalised, one of the bartenders, Brenna, makes us their drink on the menu. Being a British pub, it has a bit of royal flair: Do yourself a favor, pop in, and have their “Duchess Meghan.” We promise you’ll understand why The Cambridge is a proper Brockmans pub.

The Duchess Meghan at The Cambridge is a riff on a Last Word, with a bit of royal flair.

The Black Sheep Pub 247 S. 17th St., Philadelphia, PA 19013

Triangle Tavern 1338 S. 10th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

The Cambridge 1508 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19146