McGillin’s Olde Ale House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

McGillin's Olde Ale House
Photo by Chris in Philly

Opened in 1860, McGillin’s Olde Ale House is the oldest continuously operated tavern in Philadelphia and one of the Ten Oldest Restaurants in the United States. Located on Drury Street, an alley connecting 13th Street and South Juniper Street, between Chestnut Street and Sansom Street, in Center City, McGillin’s has been serving guests since the Liberty Bell was still ringing just one mile down the street..

The famous pub, originally called The Bell in Hand, opened its doors in 1860 in the home of Irish immigrant William “Pa” McGillin, the owner and operator of the establishment. It was nicknamed McGillin’s by those who frequented the establishment, and the bar later took on the title as its official name. Pa McGillin operated the establishment until his death in 1901. Then his wife Catherine, known as “Ma” McGillin continued running the business, which had grown to encompass the oyster house next door as well as the remainder of the McGillin’s house, displacing her 13 children. Ma ran the restaurant until her own death in 1937, at age 90.

After Ma’s death, the tavern was run by her daughter, Mercedes McGillin Hooper, until 1958, when she sold it to Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak, brothers and experienced bartenders (who used different spellings of their last names). Since 1993, the bar has been owned by Henry’s daughter, Mary Ellen Spaniak Mullins, and her husband Chris Mullins. Their son, Christopher Mullins, Jr., also helps run the day-to-day operations.

The ceramic tile floor (main floor), though not original to the bar, was installed by Pa McGillin because he was “tired of replacing the wooden floors because of wear and tear from workers’ boots. He got the idea from a local butcher shop and claimed that it was easy to clean and stood up to the wear and tear.

In 2013, Gourmet magazine called McGillin’s one of the 3 coolest bars in the United States. In 2007, the national trade magazine Nightclub and Bar included McGillin’s in its Editors’ Choice Top 100 bars and clubs in the United States. The list is based on annual revenue, effective marketing and advertising, uniqueness to market and other factors. And many media outlets have called McGillin’s one of America’s most authentic Irish pubs including USA Today, Huffington Post, Fodor’s, The Daily Meal, MSN, and Orbitz.

McGillin’s collection of historical Philadelphia paraphernalia includes

  • A catalogue of every Liquor License held by the pub since 1871, saved by William McGillin and each successive owner.
  • The original “Bell in Hand” sign Pa McGillin had designed for the pub when it opened.
  • The original Wanamaker’s Department Store sign.
  • The Strawbridge & Clothier “Seal of Quality” logo sign from the Market Street Store.
  • Gimbel’s Department Store tiled subway sign.
  • Lit Brothers Department Store tiled subway sign.
  • F.W. Woolworth’s tiled subway sign indicating the defunct Market Street store.
  • A Crusader’s Bank sign.

McGillin’s Olde Ale House Facts

  • When Prohibition ended in 1933 Ma McGillin took the key from her breast pocket and reopened the pub’s front door.
  • The political website PoliticsPA added it to their list of restaurants frequented by politicians.
  • McGillin’s celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1910 with a new façade and officially changed to McGillin’s Olde Ale House.
  • The Liberty Bell still rang when the bar opened its doors.
  • The Budweiser Clydesdales took part in McGillin’s 150th anniversary party in 2010.
  • Gourmet magazine listed McGillin’s as “one of the 14 coolest bars in the U.S.”
  • Irish Pubs Global named McGillin’s to list of America’s Best Irish Bars.
  • Then Vice President Joe Biden visited the famous bar when Philadelphia hosted the DNC in 2016.