HIGH DIVE: McKenna’s In Fairmount


cinzano.thumbnail.jpgBY JEN ANTONIC I suppose I can’t tell you anything worthwhile about booze without first explaining why I’m here. I moved to Philadelphia from a city out west after a mid-mid-life crisis and the realization that I always wanted to live in a big, cramped, East Coast city with tall buildings, subways, and neighborhoods. As recently as three years ago, I was somewhat clueless that big east cost cities came in different packages; all I knew was that Philadelphia was close to New York, and it had tall buildings, some subways, and some neighborhoods. If someone would have mentioned the humid summer soup and that some of the buildings were falling down, there are only two subways, and some neighborhoods get hairy, I might’ve changed my mind. But boy howdy, let me be clear that I’m glad I didn’t.

There are dive bars where I’m from out west but they tend to be novel, and they’re a dying breed. Most people in this city step outside their front door and can walk no more than 15 minutes to a smoky establishment that welcomes their paycheck (assuming they have one these days), and that hasn’t seen spruced up since it was built. If there were a dive bar association, there might be stipulations for sticky carpet, red lighting, questionable bathrooms, and most importantly, cheap drinks, and as such, McKenna’s in Fairmount doesn’t totally fit the bill, but nonetheless that’s where we begin.

I used to ride passed McKenna’s frequently on the 48 bus when my fiancé was still my partner living in Fairmount, and I’m confident I wasn’t the only one to gawk at the Ladies Entrance sign above the side door. As we ventured into McKenna’s for the first time yesterday we noticed that the Art-Deco font sign had been spruced up with paint and a frame, though I still half-expected to get dirty looks when I entered the main door wearing no hat, gloves, or seamed stockings. ??Instead we were greeted by two mature lady bartenders changing shifts, smoking, with one yelling over her cell phone to Comcast threatening to take her business elsewhere if they didn’t get someone over to fix the line to one of the three flat screen televisions above the bar. My kind of ladies.

The neighborhood of Fairmount is built on a hill, presumably occupied by the English during the revolutionary war, and was preferred real estate of mckennas-2.JPGWilliam Penn and a tourist destination of Charles Dickens. The Old World British roots are a constant through the neighborhood today, and McKenna’s itself is checkered with four leaf clovers and faux stalks of heather hanging from the eaves. Perched on the top of the slope at 24th and Brown, McKenna’s well-maintained exterior looks impervious to decay.

Like all the best dives, McKenna’s is a neighborhood joint. The handful of locals sitting next to us is obviously friendly on a personal level with the mouthy barkeep on the phone with Comcast, and the place is bright, modern, and well-kept. Perhaps my favorite feature disqualifying McKenna’s from dive bar status is the sterile, brightly renovated ladies’ room – a refreshing feature in a neighborhood bar, though lacking in stall doors for the perpendicular toilets. In theory, you could share the restroom and your life story with someone and stare at each others’ naked knees after a few. ??And why not?

The lager drafts here are $2.50 and only two quarters more for a gin and tonic, the authenticity of which is confirmed by the lack of garnish and a thick lack of pretense, topped only by the dollar hot dogs (with whiz! $0.20 extra!), making for an affordable, comfortable evening of drinks and sustenance. Fairmount is demographically-diverse and home to drinking establishments ranging from fancy to sticky, and the neighborhood continues to stave off decay with new development, and a hint of gentrification. But the ladies are still welcome at McKenna’s. They do run the place, after all.

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