It’s a summer Wednesday in the city, and for many young Philadelphians out there, that means one thing: Center City Sips. For those new to the Philly scene, a brief precursor: Sips is a special summer happy hour “event” held every Wednesday (now through August 30) from 5-7pm at bars across the (center) city. Their standard gimmick is $5 cocktails, $4 wine, $3 beer and half-priced appetizers. But the thing about Sips is, it’s become such a “thing” (people really, really love it or absolutely hate it), that young professionals struggle every week to find a work appropriate outfit that could also pass for a going out one, youngins fill the inbound trains at rush hour in droves, and people call out sick Thursday morning because their hangover is so intense.
If you’re reading this so far and thinking, well, Emily, that sounds utterly horrifying, you’re not alone. But as someone who can rarely get home in time from work for any kind of happy hour, I’ve always kind of admired those who have taken Philly’s favorite summer tradition and made it their own. And while Sips is known for their college student clientele, I wanted to share what this citywide happy hour could be like for you, if you’re, perhaps, no longer hunting for a hookup, value air conditioning, and need to sleep 8 hours a night.
To answer that question, I asked five women, all over 25 years of age, who have each been going to Sips for at least three summers, to share their wisdom with us. Meet the ladies!
IT’S WEDNESDAY. IS IT UNDERSTOOD THAT YOU’RE GOING TO SIPS EVERY WEEK, OR DO YOU PICK AND CHOOSE THE WEEKS YOU GO?
Kate: I used to religiously go every week until last year, when I tapered off to a couple times a month due to old age and increasingly terrible hangovers. But if someone asks me to go and I wasn’t planning on it, I will say yes no matter what.
Andrea: My first summer, I tried to go every week and we’d bounce from neighborhood to neighborhood. As I get older, I don’t have the stamina anymore to be a Sips regular.
Nina: I don’t go every week.
Jillian: I personally pick and choose the Wednesday I am able to go since my schedule is inconsistent (I’m an RN who self schedules, so it depends when I’m off). I can attend after my day shift but I would miss the initial happy hour deals (post 7pm), however, places are still packed and it’s still so much fun!
Colleen: I pick and choose. Between summer vacations and work hours, I can’t always find the time.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON LOOK LIKE FOR YOU IN THE SUMMER?
Colleen: My SIPS scene definitely varies. I’ve gone with one or two friends for a quick drink at some “low key” places such as Max Brenner or Pizzeria Vetri, and I’ve also gone with a larger group of coworkers to the more popular venues such as Marathon at 19th, Chops, and Pagano’s. Attire is usually a business casual outfit (skirt/dress since it’s hot out) that I wear to the office that day. I try to stay out only for a few hours since it is a Wednesday and I still have to make it through two more workdays, but there have definitely been times when I wander home real late.
Kate: In years past, I would start off at Comcast and stay there until 7, then migrate to Marathon until about 9 (we call the 7-9 shift at Marathon “Gulps”), then to Cav’s or to get food if I made it that far. I used to wear a cute dress and wedges, but these days I wear whatever will allow me to sweat the least. Last year, I started going to more low-key, less crowded spots because I can’t handle the noise or the youth in my old age. I usually was home by 9, asleep by 9:10. I usually go with old coworkers or friends from college that live in the city. The crew I go with usually determines the course of the night.
Jillian: I usually go to an outdoor beer garden and start early: outside of Comcast, Independence Beer Garden (IBG), the place in the back of Opa (Drury Beer Garden), Bru, and Uptown Beer Garden…you get the idea. If it’s nice outside, we’re drinking outside. I usually go with coworkers, college friends, and/or friends from my hometown. I usually wear something cute and comfortable, like a romper or sundress (my staples). I usually crash by 9pm if we start early at 4pm (I know, how sad) but if I show up after work (in scrubs), then it’s usually 10pm.
FAVORITE SIPS SPOTS?
Nina: Here are my top three and all for different reasons. First, Dilworth Park Cafe – it’s the most spacious spot outside that has a DJ and also a chill spot to sit inside. It’s really the best of both worlds and I’m not saying that because I work for with them! Second, Tequilas Restaurant is one of my favorite spots for dinner and their margaritas are awesome! Plus, they offer 15% off if you stay after Sips! And last, Devil’s Alley – I have always liked that setting and the menu is great!
Andrea: Raw Sushi, hands down. The outdoor space is small but usually doesn’t get packed until later. They have the best saki watermelon cocktail and misters for the extra hot days.
Colleen: Tequilas. Good drinks, not too crowded, and close to my office and home.
Jillian: IBG. I love that they have a huge place, games, and adirondack chairs!
Kate: Devil’s Alley, SUGA, Tequilas, Rogue’s Gallery, Cav’s, Drinkers, Wrap Shack – none of these places are insanely crowded, there’s an opportunity to snag a table if you’re lucky, and most people don’t associate these places with Sips.
LEAST FAVORITE SPOTS?
Jillian: Comcast is hit or miss. It’s always crowded, and you know how that can be…
Andrea: Probably an unpopular opinion but Pagano’s and Marathon (the Market St. location). It’s always incredibly packed and I kind of feel like it’s a hunting ground for singles that reminds me of being in college.
Nina: Vango Lounge & Skybar – I’d rather not say why but I had several bad experiences in the past there and my friends would understand. You’ll never see me in there ever again.
Kate: I have a love/hate relationship with Comcast, Marathon, and Pagano’s. If I’m not in the mood for a crazy night, those places are my worst nightmare. Loud, long lines, filled with youth wearing outfits suited for nightclubs.
Colleen: Pagano’s. Too few bartenders and too many people.
MOST ANNOYING THING ABOUT SIPS?
Kate: The youth, the lines, the amount of vomit on the sidewalk before 7pm.
Andrea: I think some people take it too seriously. I know people who would save their best outfits and come to work fully done up because it was Sips that day. I’m originally from Miami so I know all about getting done up for any reason, but it just feels out of place in Philly.
Jillian: Nothing really, it works to my advantage because I can probably attend to more weeks than the average person. Since my schedule is flexible, I can sometimes plan that I am off the next day, Thursday. Basically, Sips would be my “weekend outing,” which is fabulous coming from someone who works every third weekend!
WHAT PLACE HAS THE BEST DEALS?
Andrea: I love Opa and Smokin’ Betty’s but I also think they have great happy hour deals during the off season. I think their food and booze selections are great and both have cool atmospheres.
Nina: It depends on what you are going for. Best deals for food is hands down Davio’s! They have some of my favorite appetizers for half price. Philly Cheese Steak Spring Rolls and Crispy Calamari are a must if you go there!
Kate: SUGA has great specials on Asian food and it’s not your typical SIPS fare (aka mozz sticks and chicken fingers). They’ve extended the specials past 7 for me a couple of times once they started recognizing me. Not mad about it. Drinkers also has an amazing happy hour everyday (half off everything, can’t really beat it) and they have good food specials too – get the sweet potato fries.
WOULD YOU SAY YOUR SIPS PREFERENCES HAVE CHANGED AS YOU’VE GOTTEN OLDER?
Colleen: Yes. I’ve definitely tried to attend from 5-7 and not stay out all night.
Andrea: 100% – I think SIPS is the only thing that really pulls me outside these days while the sun is blazing hot. I’m not a fan of feeling like a packed sardine so I usually try to get in and out before the masses are out.
Kate: Absolutely. AC and seating are definite pluses. Also, if I hear a DJ, I now run in the other direction 90% of the time.
Jillian: Yes, I now need a place to sit at some point or maybe the whole time! Unless I’m kicking butt in ping pong, of course.
Nina: Kind of, but not really. I used to try to go to different places each time that I haven’t been to before to try them out. Over the years living in Philly I have been to many of the bars and restaurants on the list, so I tend to go back to my favorite spots.
ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LADIES IN THEIR LATE 20S/EARLY 30S WHO MAY BE NERVOUS ABOUT HOW TO BREAK INTO THE SIPS SCENE?
Kate: Depending on how brave you are, you can meet a lot of people at the Comcast/Marathon/Pagano’s scene, but be prepared for a crowd and long lines. I also recommend ordering a double glass of wine – those places will definitely give it to you – that way you can avoid standing in line again. One of the guys I go with orders at least 12 beers at time and we just make a beeramid and drink them til they’re gone. I also recommend getting food at some point so said glass (or usually glasses, in my case) of wine and all the cheap beer don’t kill you later. Also, don’t take shots…I’ve learned the hard way that they’re really not necessary.
Jillian: It can get crowded! Don’t be afraid to just walk around with no agenda, there are so many places to try! Don’t feel pressured to stay out late. It’s totally understandable go home early either because after all, it’s a weekday/work day, and you work hard! However, it does feel good to play a little hard, too.
Nina: It depends what you are looking for. If you are going for the drinks and food offerings, look at the CCD website for the list of menus and the specials. Atmosphere plays a big role into it, too, so if you want to be inside or outside that can help you decide where to go. If you are single looking for guys, I suggest just being yourself and going to a spot you’d feel comfortable in. Even if there is a higher ratio of bros at some of the bars (like City Tap House or Misconduct), it doesn’t mean they are quality potential daters. I’m married so this is not a factor for me, but you should just go out and have fun with friends or co-workers.
Andrea: Use the buddy system! Just kidding. Start with a place in your neighborhood so it’s comfortable. Don’t show up somewhere with a large group and expect to sit. I think the best part of Sips is the ‘go with the flow’ mentality it creates because that’s always how I discover new places I end up loving.
Colleen: Overall, it’s fun and a great way to spend a nice summer night. Although the scene tends to be younger, I think there are still plenty of people in their late 20s/early 30s who attend.