Food & Drink

DRINK: The Dolphin Tavern’s Reopening in South Philly

by Danny Barron

The Dolphin’s iconic sign looms over Broad Street just north of the Tasker-Morris subway stop, and advertises billiards and “dancers revue”. The self-claimed oldest go-go bar in Philly—dating back to the fifties—closed down over the summer to either nostalgic mourning or a grimacing indifference.

In the fall, the operation was handed off to Avram Hornick, who also runs Morgan’s Pier, an open-air riverfront bar, and Union Transfer, the city’s newest large music venue, and enlisted the dudes behind R5 Productions and Making Time for music bookings. On the 20th, the bar finally reopened in its new form.

The crowd is a mix of the usual South Philly hipsters and yuppies, a departure from the norm, but in a positive way, rejuvenating the nostalgic and worn feel of South Broad Street, long marked with aged neons and rusted signs. You’d most likely find the same crowd in haunts like Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, The Dive, and other places around Passyunk Ave, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that people are traveling from farther neighborhoods considering the proximity to the Broad Street Line stop.

The draft list features local brews like Yards and Yuengling, the price of which jumps a dollar after 11 p.m., followed by cans of what you can usually expect to find in any given bar. Liquor drinks seem to be poured in generous amounts. Bar service is quick, and friendly enough by South Philly standards, given the crowd.

The clashing nature of the Dolphin is charming and slightly off-putting. From the first step in, you encounter the bar all divey and halo’d in rainbow Christmas lights, wood-paneled walls still covered in their original murals—the Dolphin’s exterior, a vaguely-Parisian scene, and a luau dancer on a moonlit and otherworldly beach. Go-go dancers—two girls and one dude—rotate platforms, two within the bar and another off to the side.

Squeezing through a narrow passage while dodging barstools and their occupants leads to the dance floor, ostensibly replacing the billiards. The dance floor is flanked by walls of flashing neon squares while the DJ booth overlooks the dance floor like a watchtower. More like an anachronism within the “vintage” style, it creates a contrast that encourages letting loose versus any sort of barstool moping.