Historic Event at McGillin’s Olde Ale House
PHILADELPHIA (March 26, 2010) – The “beginning of the end” of Prohibition finally came on April 7, 1933, when bars were once again permitted to sell low alcohol beer. Now 77 years later, McGillin’s Olde Ale House will celebrate that monumental day in its long & colorful history and its own 150th anniversary with a historic event. On April 7, 2010, McGillin’s will offer rollback pricing on drinks and food, hand out free “fireplace-roasted” potatoes and dedicate a plaque commemorating the anniversary.
On April 7, 1933, Ma McGillin, who opened the bar with her husband, William McGillin in 1860, celebrated the beginning of the end of Prohibition by throwing open the tavern’s massive wooden doors. Eighty-six year old Ma McGillin, who had raised her 13 children upstairs and out-lived her husband, had survived the anti-alcohol laws by luring patrons with free baked potatoes and serving “extra-strong tea.”
The celebration at McGillin’s on April 7, 2010, will mirror that historic event. At 6 p.m., a “Ma McGillin” look-a-like will dedicate a plaque commemorating the bar’s 150th anniversary with an oversized bottle of McGillin’s 1860 IPA. Then, she will swing open the doors, much as her counterpart did 77 years earlier, to pricing from an earlier era, including:
* Free “fireplace roasted” potatoes – to all patrons, all day.
* $18.60 Dinner for Two — Three course dinner including 2 mugs of McGillin’s 1860 IPA, 2 house salads & 2 entrees.
*$1.50 mugs of Victory Throwback Lager & McGillin’s 1860 IPA (by Stoudt’s for the anniversary)
* Blue Coat Prohibition Martinis — served in a teacup
As well as McGillin’s traditional Wednesday night specials (offered April 7 and every Wednesday):
* 2 tacos for $1 — a weekly tradition at McGillin’s, offered every Wednesday
* $6.50 pitchers of Bud Light & Pabst Blue Ribbon – another Wednesday tradition
At 9 p.m., “Ma McGillin” will kick off karaoke with a rousing rendition of “Happy Days are Here Again,” before returning to her usual past-time of haunting the tavern (and we have the photos to prove it).
McGillin’s is the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia and one of the oldest in the country. Its long, storied history is filled with celebrities, ghosts and a tale of survival through not only the current economic recession but also the Great Depression, and even Prohibition. And, through it all, McGillin’s has only been owned by only two families: the McGillin’s, who raised their 13 children upstairs, and the current owners, Spaniak/Mullins family, who have passed it down through three generations.
Originally called The Bell in Hand, the tavern opened in 1860 inside a small row house. The laborers who frequented the place just called it McGillin’s after William McGillin, the Irish immigrant who owned the bar and raised his 13 children upstairs. The nickname stuck and the tavern grew to encompass the oyster house next door, the back alley/washroom, and the McGillin’s house. On August 31, 1901, “Pa” McGillin died and “Ma” McGillin took over running the restaurant. No push-over, “Ma” had a list of troublemakers who weren’t allowed into McGillin’s. McGillin’s survived Prohibition and Ma ran it until her death in 1937 at the age of 90. The McGillin’s daughter, Mercedes McGillin Hooper, who grew up above the tavern, sold it to brothers and experienced barkeeps, Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak in 1958. (That’s not a mistake, the brothers actually spelled their name differently.) Keeping it in the family, Henry’s daughter, Mary Ellen Spaniak Mullins and her husband, Chris Mullins have run the restaurant since 1993. Mary Ellen’s sister, Kate Newcomer, (another of Henry’s daughters) is the general manager. And, the legacy of hospitality continues with Mary Ellen and Chris’ son, Chris Mullins, Jr., representing the family’s third generation to manage the historic tavern.
A timeline showcasing McGillin’s history alongside local, national and international events has been created for the anniversary celebration. The timeline includes historic firsts, ranging from Civil War ending (when McGillin’s was 5 years old) to the invention of the cheesesteak (McGillin’s was 70) to the ending of the Phillies curse (McGillin’s was 149).
Over the years, many big names have frequented the friendly tavern tucked into one of Philadelphia’s littlest streets, including Will Rogers, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Eakins, Ethel Merman, Vincent Price, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and John and Ethel Barrymore. That tradition has continued in recent years with visits by Robin Williams, Ed Bradley, Will Ferrell, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Tug McGraw, Lynne Abraham, Ty Pennington, Def Leppard, Law & Order’s Christopher Meloni, Broadway Star Howard McGillin (a long-lost relative!), Keith Harkin, guitarist, Celtic Thunder, as well as Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs Michael Peca, Andrew Raycroft, Hal Gill and Jeff O’Neill, Philadelphia Flyers Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartnell, as well as Phillies Star Ryan Howard.
Like the locals, the celebs have been attracted by the quaint atmosphere and a special emphasis on brews from Eastern Pennsylvania and nearby (Yard’s, Stoudt’s, Victory, Sly Fox, Dogfish, Flying Fish, Yuengling). McGillin’s honors Pa McGillin’s commitment to serving fine beer, with 29 taps pouring the region’s best brews. McGillin’s also serves an eclectic mix of stouts, ales, lagers and pilsners from Europe (New Castle Brown, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Paulaner: Hefe-Weizen).
Though it sounds simple, the bar doesn’t rest on its laurels. After a century and a half, McGillin’s continues to receive accolades, including being named “one of the 14 coolest bars in the U.S.” by Gourmet magazine and one of the “top 100 bars in the U.S.” by Nightclub and Bar magazine, for two consecutive years.