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Monk's Café

Not Rated.
Monk's CaféMonk's Café

419 Ratings
Ratings: 419
Reviews: 326
rAvg: 4.43
pDev: 9.26%
Taps: 20
Bottles: 218
Cask: N
Beer-to-Go: N
[ Bar, Eatery ]

264 S 16th St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19102-3357
United States
phone: (215) 545-7005

visit their websiteWebsite view map and get directionsMap 

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Ratings: 419 | Reviews: 326 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of slander
4.28/5  rDev -3.4%

Our lunch destination pre-Firkinteenth, we found the place fairly dead on this Friday early afternoon. We moved past the small open area of the front bar and a handful of tables and were seated in the rear of the room. There's about a dozen tables and booths in the front room collectively, some forward near the front windows and some well beyond the bar, near the hallway that leads you to the back room, but I'll get to that. We were seated in a booth that looked to be of old church pews and ordered off the "Front Bar Draft List", all of 6 taps. I went with the Monk's Flemish Sour Ale, their own private label beer made for them by the Van Steenberge Brewery, Belgium. Sick!! Great Flemish sour, deep red color, medium body, just wonderful. Ordered a basket of frites and a Brussels burger and ventured into the corridor to see this "back room" people were talkin' about. It's a much better room, wish I'd been seated there. It's got a bar with about 8 stools and as many tables, and a different draft list, a larger draft list, a draft list twice the size of the front bar draft list. That's annoying. If you're seated up front, your choices are the Flemish Sour, and wah wah wah Leffe Brown, Chimay, Hoegaarden, La Chouffe and Piraat. You'd think these were your only draft choices. They have some of these in the back bar also, as well as Cantillion Lou Pepe Framboise, Celis' cave aged Grottenbiere, Triple Karmeliet, Lucifer, and locals Brooklyn Saison and Heavyweight Biere D'art. Back at the table, our lackluster, no fun, waiter arrives with lunch. Phil's eating something that very very recently lived in a shell. Hmmmmn.
Combing around the extensive bottle beer list, crazy Belgians sorted by style (Lambics, Trappist Ales, Biere De Garde & Saison, Flemish Sour Ales, Amber & Brown Ales, Cave Aged & Miscellaneous) and then English, German, U.S. and others. The list is nicely diverse but it doesn't look to have been updated as of late.
It's a solid joint with a great selection, an absolute must if you're in this town.

slander, Feb 27, 2004
Photo of Billolick
4.45/5  rDev +0.5%

What can be added about this world class beer destination? Beer list is outstanding, they even have a special Belgian sour ale named after and brewed especially for them! And it's a great beer, they have on tap, it goes great with mussels. Food that I've tried is limited to the several varities of mussels they serve in the expected metel pots, outstanding, tasty and of course terrific with fine Belgian ales. Go to Monks. Drink great beer, enjoy Belgian cuisine de la Biere. If you want to eat get there early in the evening. This is a very popular place that fills up quickly and stays crowded all night.

Billolick, Jan 19, 2006
Photo of DoubleSimcoe
3.73/5  rDev -15.8%

My second visit to Monks confirms what I had thought before: I don't get this place, and I don't really like it.

Ambience is cozy in the early morning/afternoon right after it opens, empty, nice jazz music playing. Too dark, though. Feels almost claustrophobic, and I'm alone in the room! Can't imagine how bad it'd be on a Saturday night.

Service is not this place's forte. When it's crowded, forget about getting a beer. If it's not crowded like during my visit, servers are still a little behind, like they can't keep up or don't want to keep up. And do they have an attitude, like the Monks' Beer Bible itself? Yeah, I think so. I asked the bartender about the beer offerings in the front room and he replied, "like it's not enough with the 15 taps here". Yeah? Fuck You.

They got 15 taps on the back bar and 6 on the front. Why is a bar with "only" 21 taps considered among the best in the world? I'm not too impressed. Chimay, Chouffe, Delirium, Lindemans, St Bernardus... I think I've seen this before.

Huge bottle list, with prices all over, some fair and some crazy. Rarities too (Rasputin XII, Russian River, Alesmith, aged stuff).

Didn't try food, as I'm not the biggest fan of Belgian bistro staples. Prices are out of control. Most beers are $8-$9, except for the few American taps they have, which are around $6. My small glass of De Dolle Dulle Teve was $9.90 including tax, $10.90 after tip. No, thanks.

Overall, I don't see the appeal of this place. There are better lists out there, better bars, better bartenders. Is Monks all hype? I hope not, but I won't return anytime soon...

DoubleSimcoe, Feb 04, 2011
Photo of TheLongBeachBum
4.2/5  rDev -5.2%

Monk’s Caf酅you’ve heard of it and you know where it is even if you have not been. ….”oh yeah Monk’s in Philly you simply have to go there”. Well finally I got a chance to spend several hours in here on my way back to Philadelphia International Airport and LAX. Fellow BA Erica offered me a lift to PHL via this establishment, parking was, well a fucking nightmare to say the least, several runs round the nearby streets offered zero street parking options, if I had known we would have circled Monk’s a few times I would have brought some weed & crack to sell to the local kids that waved at us as we passed and cruised by on a few occasions. Inevitably, as my thirst grew drier than Mahatma Gandhi’s Sandals we opted for the paid parking option, I was getting thirsty and picked up the tab, a minor quibble (the lack of street parking not me paying) but something worth thinking about if you are traveling here by Automobile also.

A short walk of a few blocks from the Parking Lot and we soon hit the front of Monk’s Café, shimmering in the early afternoon heat the tricolor canopy barely fluttered. A thin brick frontage has a “great Café in a run-down area” feel to it, similar to that of the Bier Circus in Brussels.

Once inside a small corridor opens up on your right to a door that takes you into the front room. As you open the door its acoustic deafening qualities are obvious and you are assaulted by a chitter-chattering mass sat at a variety of types of tables and chairs, the front windows let in some light but it is dark and cool, the AC is welcome. The front bar is to your left but Erica insisted that we sat in the back room, after a short walk via a wooden clad chicane we eventually got there. “The back room is much cooler” so said Erica…and she wasn’t kidding, it was fecking freezing, the AC and fans were on overload, once I chipped the ice off the stools and moved the family of Penguins we managed a couple of stools at the back bar no problem. Twenty or so taps had a great selection; I went straight for the Monk’s Flemish Sour Red Ale, a badged brew from Van Steenberge and a damn fine sour libation to boot. After that we shared a bottle of Panil Bariquée (awesome), ‘t Smijse Calva Reserva (uh!) and Proef K-O (so-so).

Here’s what I don’t get about Monk’s, the two bars, front & back, well they have two draft beer lists, two bottled beer lists…..they just taking the piss or is it some kind of competition!? Why can't they balance this somehow!?!?

Decor is Belgique, nice wood paneling, lots of Belgian breweriana which all sits nicely with the dark interior and classy looks. It’s nicely decked out for sure.

Service was barely above average and at times enthusiastic but not very attentive overall. We were in the back room and aside from the freezing effects of the A/C it was a pleasant enough experience, but the woman in here was patently overwhelmed at times and clearly “elsewhere” at others. At one point she brought in some food to eat behind the bar…..very strange, doesn’t the staff get food breaks?!?! There is something distinctly very amateurish about seeing someone eating behind a bar whilst trying to serve beer. At one point a nice quiet chap came and sat next to me, after 5 minutes of no service he just got up and moved to the front bar to get served. The woman serving had been chatting and realized this happened but sadly too late, it was not intended but still it happened. Service gets a 3.5, and I think I’m being a tad kind here.

Aside from the Service issues this really is a very cool place to hang out. The Beer list is why you come no doubt, well stocked and laid–out in a clear “by Style” fashion it makes for easy reading. The food that was served looked great, including the steamed Mussels, but I opted for beer only as I had but a few hours before my flight. I’ll eat next time though I think, assuming there is a next time.

Highly Recommended for the beer list and overall experience……but not for the parking woes or spotty service, they just come with the territory I guess.

Thanks to BA Erica for the ride here and the company, always a pleasure.

Last Visit: Sunday 28th August, 2005.

TheLongBeachBum, Sep 04, 2005
Photo of NeroFiddled
5/5  rDev +12.9%

What establishment can possibly score a 5.0 on every point - only Monk's! And that's pretty much all that needs to be said, but let me also interject that it's not just Monk's - it's Tom Peters! Chimay on draft! Their own house beer! Where else? Belgium? This guy does it all - I'd say he breaks his balls but I think he enjoys it WAY TOO MUCH for that. It's what he's about. That should be enough to get your ass over there. Even if you have to drive from Maine... plan to show up during the week and enjoy some of the finest Belgian cuisine and the biggest selection of Belgian beers in the area!

NeroFiddled, Jul 16, 2002
Photo of Sammy
4.05/5  rDev -8.6%

Great beer on tap, but it's not for me. I was not impressed with the dark,smokey, tight crowding in the place. I gues they maximize profit this way, and there are a lot of regulars. It was so dark, I could not see the ber in front of me. Bartenders they look after the many people, and there is a certain oddness about them, reminding me of bartenders in heavy drinking bars that need to decide when the customer has had to much, as several here had. Yuppie crowd. Great Belgium taps, set the standard across the city.

Sammy, May 12, 2005
Photo of Gavage
4.45/5  rDev +0.5%

It was my birthday, so I told my wife we were going to Monk's for dinner. I've visited several times, and there is just something about the place that gets the blood pumping. As usual it was packed, but I thought getting there at 6:00 the wait wouldn't be too long. I was wrong as we didn't get a table until 7:30 ! But as with other trips I did not fret as the beer selection is phenominal. We walked to the back bar (less crowded) and I reviewed the menu for my first selection. They had Prescription Pils on tap, so even though I wanted belgian beer, I couldn't pass this one up.

The tap menu always surprises me with things I never see, like Hommelbier, Tripel Karmeliet, and Freeminer Deep Shaft Stout. The menu states 200 World Class beers, but there were to be no bottles for us that night. I also had a great filet mignon with a LaTrappe Quadrupel steak sauce. It was out of this world. We started with the Rodenbach Mussels and they were also great. The only setback is the huge crowds - but it is nice to see so many people like this place. Can't wait to return.

Gavage, Sep 18, 2003
Photo of John_M
3.9/5  rDev -12%

I'm with Chimayman on this. I haven't been to Monk's in a bit, but the place is so awesome, I'm not likely to forget the experience any time soon. So I feel well qualified to review the place.

When I lived in Baltimore my work required me to trek up to Philly every now and again on business. Every time I went there Monk's was at the top of my list of places to visit. Yeah, my friends and I enjoy bashing Monk's as much as everyone else, but I have to tell you there was never a time we failed to include it in our travel plans. Still, let me get the negative parts out first before I extoll its many qualities.

The service at Monk's flat out sucks much of the time. My buddy and I like to joke that one of the reasons we like going there is because suddenly we have super powers. In the case of the staff there, I've noticed more then once that upon entering the premises I've become invisable. I swear I've sat at the back bar for 10 to 15 minutes at a time waiting for service, and I'll be damned if the bartender(s) doesn't look right through me.

Admittedly, another problem is how small and cramped the place is, and there's no getting around the fact that the place is pretty tiny. Still, the reason this is such a problem is because the place is so popular. Why is it so popular? Take one guess. To this day I've yet to find another place that has anything like the Belgium bottle and draft selection you can find at Monk's.

The beer and food at Monk's are flat out excellent, and the service very friendly (if not particularly attentative). Also, while the prices are not exactly cheap, a recent trip to Brouwer's Cafe in Seattle made me stop and take a another look at Monk's prices. Frankly, as my buddies and I are quick to concede, considering the incrdible selection of Beligums available, the prices seem very, very fair.

So the service be damned I'll continue to come here as often as I can (which is not nearly often enough any more). Truly, this is one of the best beer bars in the country, and well worth a special trip whenever you are in town.

Update from 3/08. Recently visited Monk's and after thinking about the experience, realized I should revise my score... downward. The fact is that while the bar has been raised considerably when it comes to Philly beer bars, Monk's continues to sit on its laurels, which really make its numerous flaws all the more apparent and annoying. Finding parking around Monk's is a nightmare and the service is as terrible as ever. I guess they got tired of customers taking the old "beer bible," so they created a new updated version and now charge $3 for it. I can't think of any other place I've been to that charges customers for a copy of their menu. Prices are very high here, and it's no longer for beers I can't find any place else. On the contrary, the last time I was there everything on the draft menu was something I could find just as readily back at Max's in Baltimore.... and unlike at Max's, the staff at Monk's will not allow you to taste anything before you decide to purchase it.

This is still a worthwhile establishment in my opinion, but I cannot say that it's a destination I will seek out any more whenever I'm in Philly.

John_M, Apr 10, 2006
Photo of TurdFurgison
4.9/5  rDev +10.6%

I was lucky to visit on an empty Monday night, in that I got a personal tour and several beers with Tom Peters (owner of Monk's). He was generous and friendly, with loads of entertaining background about each beer I tried. The beer selection is all top shelf, about 15-20 taps and 1 beer engine (which snorted out the last dregs of Cantillon Monk's Kriek for me). The bottled list is insane, strong with Belgians of course but also including many great USA craft beers. I saw Older Viscosity but couldn't afford it in addition to the other beers on my must-try list, Ne Goeien Saison + Cantillon Monk's Gueuze + Klokke Roeland, topped of with Beatification to go. I'm sure my review won't shed any new light on Monk's, it's just a must-see if you're in Philadelphia.

TurdFurgison, Mar 04, 2009
Photo of sholland119
3.28/5  rDev -26%

Monk's introduced Belgian beers to Philadelphia, and was instrumental in creating a demand for fine craft beer establishments. Sadly, Monk's has rested on its laurels on the beer side, and taken a step backwards in the quality of its food. Other establishments have improved on the formula and, for me, Monk's is no longer the best place to go in Philadelphia.

What's good:
The Belgian bottle and tap list is quite extensive. Without doing an exhaustive count, the lists at Eulogy and Teresa's Next Door seem comparable. No other place I have been around here comes close.

The atmosphere is pretty cool, esp. when you make your way to the back bar.

The fries are good.

What's just ok:
The American craft brew list was a massive disappointment. Due to the owners' close relationships with the brewers at Russian River and Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, you could always expect to see something you could not find elsewhere. This was not the case last week. No RR except Temptation, nothing from the Port Brewing side of the house. Nothing from Bear Republic, Moylan's or Hoppin' Frog, which are all new to eastern PA and popping up all over. One choice each from Bell's, North Coast, Southampton, Avery.

The food other than the fries. Burgers and mussels used to be standouts here but not anymore.

What's not good:
Surly, inattentive service. We used to get good service here, possibly because we came often enough to be known by the day bartenders. But on Friday we got an up close and personal dose of the rudeness mentioned in so many other reviews. Also, i don't really get hung up on proper glassware but I was served Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout in a small pilsner glass and a Monk's Sour Ale in a small Hoegaarden style tumbler, firsts on both accounts.

This is the only beer bar I know of that will not give you a taste of a beer before ordering. Our bartender's rap was "our beer is too expensive to give a taste". Which probably also means it's too expensive to order blindly. Obviously, we all buy beers from recommendations on BA and other places. But if Teresa's Next Door or Eulogy will let me try Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek 2005 before buying and Monk's won't, where do you think I am going to go?

In the future, we will be happy to spend our money at Tria or Eulogy or North Third or Standard Tap or Johnny Brenda's or Teresa's Next Door or TJ's or the Drafting Room or the Grey Lodge or, well, you get the idea.

sholland119, Jan 28, 2008
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Monk's Café in Philadelphia, PA
98 out of 100 based on 419 ratings.