Johnny Brenda's

very good

41 Ratings
Johnny Brenda'sJohnny Brenda's

Type: Bar, Eatery

1201 Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19125-3905
United States

(215) 739-9684 | map

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Added by NeroFiddled

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Ratings: 41 |  Reviews: 25
Photo of slander
4.08/5  rDev +3.3%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

It's true.
I drank beers.
In the hot June sun.
In Camden, New Jersey.
For the better part of the day.
In the shadow of a large battleship.
Right across the river from Philadelphia.
Now we were going to need to get some food.
And I had heard about this place Johnny Brenda's.
So I figured maybe grab a bite here and perhaps a beer.
I figured right because we were able to grab a bite, and a beer.
And then we, uh, and then we got on the road and went the hell home.

The loving warmth of the Northern Liberties section is not to be found here. It's considerably more divey, and I'm talking about the 'hood. Um, okay, yeah, inside too. It's a 2 room deal, with a pool table front row center when you come in. Off to your left is a good juke and a neon Budweiser sign modified to read "Dive" (which is just beautiful).
REM's "Finest Worksong" was playing.
Beyond that lies the bar. It's like 2 "L" shaped bars that run together collectively seating 2 dozen. Framed Schmidts ads and posters and an old framed Harley poster, a giant glowing "Ham" light dangles behind the bar, mostly panelled walls, red & white alternate striped floor, pressed tin ceiling, an open grill area behind the bar, 6 bar tables up front and one real table and a pair of bar tables to the rear. We scored the one real table because it was meant to be.
There are 2 blackboards over the bar.
One listing tap selections...
12 taps with a nice focus on the local & regionals (Sly Fox Dopple & Dry Irish Stout, Landmark IRA, Stoudts Hefe & APA, Victory Prima Pils, Flying Fish ESB, Yards Saison & Philly Pale Ale, Weyerbacher Hefe), a retro (PBR), a cider (Woodchuck), a cask offering (Victory Hop Devil), and a few wines.
...and the other listing the food menu...
The shoestring fries were from Crazytown (that's a good thing), and the chicken sandwich was solid except that it came with a clump of spinach on it, which I promptly flicked away.
Psychedelic Furs "The Ghost In You" was playing. "Hey, hello, White Dog", I said, to the large white dog that walked up to me, obviously looking to bogue on my chicken sandwich. "I have some spinach if you're interested..." Cheese said, "It could use more light", and then added, "but they get points for the bathroom which was unexpectedly nice". A nice beer selection and the food was good and all, but I find their sister bar, The Standard Tap, to be considerably more comfortable.

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Photo of DoubleSimcoe
3.68/5  rDev -6.8%
vibe: 3.75 | quality: 3.75 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.75

I knew about Johnny Brenda’s as beer-focused bar but didn’t know it has an active program of live music. There we went to enjoy singer-songwriter Greg Laswell play his mellow songs on a Saturday night.

Brenda’s is a rather massive endeavor, an entire building with three floors and several bar areas. The ground-floor bar was busy and super loud, not a pleasant place to hang out (call me old, I don’t care). Lucky for us, the second floor (where the stage is) was much quieter and cozier. They have a photo-booth! Sadly, the sound system was atrocious, and Laswell’s smooth, whispery tunes were almost lost.

The beer is good, though. The bar we were at near the stage had 10 taps of all-local/regional stuff, including SlyFox, Neshaminy, Flying Fish Exit 16 and Exit 1, Golden Monkey, PBC Kitty Pleasure, Troegs, Weyerbacher, Brew Works. Service was alright but not great (slow bartender, slammed bar before the concert) and prices are acceptable.

Would I return? Probably not... Kraftwork is only a five-minute walk away and it suits me better.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.33/5  rDev +9.6%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

Johnny Brenda's is named for John Imbrenda, the Philadelphia native and professional boxer who used the name Johnny Brenda in the ring. He opened Johnny Brenda's in 1967, and sold it to Will Reed and Paul Kimport when he retired in 2003.

I'm not sure what can be said about Johnny Brenda's that hasn't already been said here. It's a great place. Excellent beer selection. Great food. Cool crowd. It's my local, so I'm kind of partial to it though. However, they have just added live music upstairs! THAT'S RIGHT, LIVE MUSIC UPSTAIRS!!!

I finally made it out and went to see a band called Below The Hudson. They were great, and the band that opened for them, Up The Empire, were really good too (I couldn't stay for the headliner, Cordaline).

Anyway, I was really impressed with the set-up of the place, the sound, and the quality of the bands. If they can keep booking bands of such high caliber I have no doubt that they'll become one of the premier places to see live music in Philly.

As you enter the bar is in front of you, there are bathrooms in a hallway to the left, and there's a lounge to the right and behind the bar (for when you want to get away from the music for a little bit). To the left of the bar is the stage, so you can see the band from the bar too. As you enter the big room the band is to your right and there's plenty of room to your left. It's all standing room, but there is a bar rail along the back wall. Stairs lead up to the balcony which is really impressive with a curling cut-out of the floor and "antique" railing made of black steel with a mahogany rail. There are a few tables with stools. The decor is minimal, with unfinished walls and a few antiques scattered here and there, but it's somehow really comfortable. Unpretentious, for sure.

For the $8 cover I thought it was really worth it; and I was able to get some good local beers (Troeg's Wheat and Yards Pynk). I didn't have any food, but the whole menu was available, and they had table service in the balcony.

It's really almost like two different bars now! I can hang with my friends, go upstairs to check out the show if they're not interested, and then come back down when I feel like it.

Way to go Will Reed!!!!

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Photo of InspectorBob
4/5  rDev +1.3%

Photo of Rifugium
4/5  rDev +1.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

Located at Frankford & Girard. For a small concert/show venue, this place has a mighty good beer selection of mostly local Philly / PA brews, and three quality bars--one on each floor including the balcony. Not a HUGE selection; about 12 rotating draughts, and all good beer, with typically one or two cask-conditioned brews. The food is fairly decent overall, and the menu seems to be improving. If you have some coin to spare, the brisket is probably the best thing on the menu, and the steak sandwich is damn tasty. Definitely worth going to early if you're seeing a show there. Friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Because of the atmosphere and the beer selection, I think it's safe to say this is my favorite venue.

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Photo of seanchai
4/5  rDev +1.3%

Photo of orangesol
4.03/5  rDev +2%
vibe: 4.25 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

Our final stop in the area was Johnny Brenda's. Heard a lot of good things about this place so I was looking forward to checking it out.

We got seated in the corner downstairs at a large table. Draft and Food menu right above our table. Place was pretty dead but it was a sunday. Pretty good draft list but nothing over the top. Service was decent, he came around enough I guess. I decided to go with the grilled caesar salad and two cheddar biscuits on the side. Salad was ok, could have skipped the whole deconstructed thing and just given me a real salad, but the biscuits were even better.

Overall a place I will definitely return to at some point. I am really looking forward to checking out the other areas this place has to offer.

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Photo of mltobin
3.94/5  rDev -0.3%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.75 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.75 | food: 4

Photo of corby112
3.66/5  rDev -7.3%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.5

This is a nice bar/ concert venue in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. I never tried the food here but go to lots of concerts here. Local promoters R% bring a lot of good band here for less than $20 so I am here a lot. The selection is focused mainly on local beers all served on-tap. Every once in a while they get special one-off and have cask-conditioned ales. Also, they have pool tables which are always nice to find in the city. The service is decent but again I never ate here just had drinks at the bar. A little out of the way but a cool place to xcatch a good show and drink good beers.

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Photo of blitheringidiot
3.35/5  rDev -15.2%
vibe: 3 | quality: 3 | service: 3 | selection: 4 | food: 4

Poked in here after the infamous Firkenteenth at the Grey Lodge. Johnny Brendas seems like a kick ass beer bar that caters to LOCAL BREWS especially on tap (like the Standard Tap) predecessor, but aside from that, kudos ends.

The joint is dingy (which is not always to a fault) but this joint coulda used a mop and bucket so to speak, especially referring to the clientele.

The lone tender on a Friday night did his best. Pool tables abound. As far as the bathrooms go, this doesn't pass the "Would you bring your Mom here test?" NO!!!

Shoestring fries rocked. Great local selection. If you are in the hood then go. Otherwise, speck out elsewhere. Just my humble honest opinion. Fits in well with the neighborhood, but that's is the inherent downturn. Philly is a city of 100 great beer bars. Being one of them is a haul, but not that steep of a hill to climb.

Last call: Been here again a few times since my first review. Good locals and

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Photo of rfgetz
3.58/5  rDev -9.4%
vibe: 3 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 3.5

The outside and inside appearence screams hipster dive bar, but the beer menu needs a look over before you can judge the place. Decent, al be it limited selection of local craft beers but they are always on point with the limited or seasonal releases. Food is slightly above average with the free home made beer jerkey and oyster crackers at the bar satisfying enough to skip the main menu. Service is usually on point. Decent spot when in the hood for a pint or two, but unless there is a band on that id like to see, no need to rush back.

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Photo of Seanibus
4/5  rDev +1.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

A pleasantly divey little treasure in a defiantly scruffy neighborhood. The atmosphere is rough, with an old-timey corner bar out front, a bland dining room in the back and a strange, dark little nook in between featuring tables embedded with shifting colored lights. The food is good, if relatively basic (I really liked the Cuban sandwich, the smoked salmon was less successful). The beer list is terrific, with a dozen or so well thought out selections, including when we visited Weyerbacher's Echo and Troeg's Nugget Nectar. There is even a decent, if limited, wine list. Service is perky and friendly.

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Photo of DarkerTheBetter
3.95/5  rDev 0%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3.5

I was up in the neighborhood helping a friend landscape his backyard for the morning. After we got all sorts of tired and dirty, we were in need of fine drink and a good sandwich, so Johnny Brenda’s it was.

Upon walking through the front door, there’s a pool table right in the middle of things that seems to obstruct the flow into the building. It was also hard to miss that it was covered with a red felt. Interesting. We meandered to the back to grab some bar and to get away from the thundering jukebox. Once seated I was impressed to see that behind the bar faded right into the kitchen. It seems that more often than not, the kitchen is hidden away from things, but the view of the cooks doing their thing behind a row of bottles was nice. Looking around I noticed a lot of artificial wood paneling lending a 70’s feel to the place. I then started to notice that everything else was generally red, to include clusters of over-sized glass grapes up in the corners. The lowered ceiling looked red too, but I’m not sure it if was their actual color or lighting. The pool table started to make more sense now too. Getting ahead of myself here, on our way out, I noticed that the curvy window on the front door was tinted red too. Over all, the red was subtle but lent a groovy vibe to the joint. Also, the door behind the pool table made a lot more sense once inside. It was almost as if it made leaving inconvenient, kind of like how casinos make their exits impossible to locate so you stay longer. I’m glad this place was so nice, because I didn’t really want to leave.

The food we got was pretty good. I got the steak sandwich with onions and peppers, and my buddy got the pork. Both were really tasty and just what we needed after a hard morning of work. My sandwich was delicious, but the large strips of steak were a little bit stringy. I must add that the fries that came with were just thin little strips, as if a normal french-fry was sliced down the middle into thirds. The fries were really tasty with some sort of seasoning, but they seemed over-salted. Another neat addition to our meal was that we were given a bottle of catsup and a bottle of buffalo wing sauce! For a pepper lover, that was really appreciated. Tasty food for sure. Also, on the menu were some rather classy options like a hummus platter, a few different servings of octopus and falafels. I’ll be back for a more adventuresome dinner for sure.

The beers on for the day consisted of entirely local brews. I didn’t have my little black notebook, so I didn’t get a list, but they were all tasty. My buddy got Yard’s Saison and I got a cask Hop Devil, which was perfect for my mood. The local emphasis was really impressive. Made me feel all good inside.

The young lady behind the bar was pleasant and helpful, but she didn’t seem to know her beer all that well. Turns out she’s new to the place and to the state for that matter. She’ll figure things out soon enough. She did manage to never let my water glass get below a third full. That was very much appreciated.

I liked this place a lot. The vibe I got (and it most definitely was a vibe) was really good. I’ll take my girlfriend back for dinner sometime to check out the more exotic items on their dinner menu.

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Photo of BARFLYB
3.88/5  rDev -1.8%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4

Went here for a music 'event' and some local beer. I've been meaning to stop here forever.

From the outside Johnny's looks like your average run of the mill Philly corner bar and to an extent, it is, but they serve great local beer. Downstairs is a bar area with pool table intact, about 15 bar seats, in the back a more relaxed seating area with i guess table service. Upstairs another bar but a bit smaller, with the stage area towards the left and a small pit holding about 70-100 patrons or so. Going upstairs again a balcony area with you guessed it, another bar thats smaller than the others. The balcony had about 50 or so people up there. I watched the show (95' hip hop) from here. The place was full of douchbags, but there was some nice trim up in there, although alot of the girls I met had coke running at the bottom of their noses.

I had a bunch of Sly Fox Royal Weisse beers and called it a day. The quality was good that my beer tasted good and not dirty. Cant comment on the rest of the bar though, because from the looks of it, JB's is not the most upkept place. My beer was in a plastic cup but because of the 'show' I understand that, there was some proper glassware there as well.

Service was good for a packed house, no real wait for beer.

The selection is all local beer and that fills a niche in the city because everybody has a import or two wheather it be from Belgium or cali. The farthest I've ever seen this tap list travel is Flying Fish Brewing in Jersey. About 12 taps in total, some cans, some bottles, pretty simple. This place gets the cream of the crop of special local beer releases during Philly Beer Week, once they had four Troegs scratch beers on tap at once (i ccould not attend, kicks rocks, damn you roggenbier, I'll get you someday). Keep it local.

I did not try the food.

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Photo of jrancan
4.08/5  rDev +3.3%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5

It's very early on, and I'm sure that they haven't gotten everything together, but I figured I'd be the first to give it a shot.
The second offering from the owners of Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda's (the name kept from the original owner who was a local boxer, I think?), is definitely trying to do more of the same. No bottles, only locals on tap (12 or so, which is more than S.T.) and a funky atmosphere with the molded ceilings and edgey locale. No food yet but they are working on the open air kitchen.
Funny atmopshere, on the edge of the 'hood (some people would say it's smack dab in the middle).
Really nothing else in the vicintiy, so I'm guessing that the owners are hoping that the area is up and coming, like the nearby Northern Liberties (which I think they had something to do with).
Two long blocks down, and two short blocks over from Standard Tap, this is an interesting try, but not yet a must go to.

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Photo of soulcougher
4/5  rDev +1.3%

Photo of Metalmonk
3.66/5  rDev -7.3%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3 | selection: 4

The draw at Johnny Brenda's is a constantly rotating offering of local and local-ish beers, and when you're in the heart of Philadelphia, that means a selection of some of the best brewers in the country. The night we visited they offered selections by Sly Fox, Flying Fish, Yard's, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Troegs, Victory, Dock St., Dogfish Head, and others. Good variety amongst all that too, style-wise.

Staff were not the friendliest, but that's based mostly on one interaction with one fairly uninterested and probably stressed bartender (they were pretty busy, it was Friday night). They had a girl DJ'ing, and despite the fact that the music may not have been to my own liking, even if it was, it was WAY TOO LOUD. I'm hardly an old man who can't take loud music, but it affected not just the conversation, but the overall enjoyment of the beer and everything else. The atmosphere was dark-ish (good!) and the place is a long hall with a couple different rooms to wander through. A good time, if a short visit, with an amazing beer selection, but geez...turn that stuff down so we don't have to shout at each other while talking. Save that for the crappy sports bars of the world...

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Photo of JohneHoodlum
4/5  rDev +1.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

Photo of PopeJonPaul
3.9/5  rDev -1.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3

I like dive bars. On a corner in an "upscale ghetto" neighborhood, this place has all the trappings of a dive bar: a pall of cigarette smoke (the part I could live without, really,) barely functioning AC, red felt pool table, crazy lighting (there's the token glass "grape light," and a "meat light" over the back bar,) wood paneling, haphazard decorative elements left over from the 70s. They have a great old 80s-metal jukebox (when was the last time you heard Metal Church in a bar?) with a neon Budweiser sign over it that's been broken to say "dive."

Good taps, all local micros which was nice for tourists like me (Sly Fox, Victory, Yards, Stoudts, etc.) Food was ok, had a chicken sandwich that was worthwhile but the menu is pretty much a bar menu with a couple added entrees. Service was good, nothing fancy though. All in all I liked the place, if you're not into the dirty ol' dive thing it's probably not for you but it's certainly worth a visit.

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Photo of roan22
4.22/5  rDev +6.8%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4

Johnny Brenda's is so much better now that the young-to-mid-20's hipsters have F'd off to a more hip location. Now the crowd is older on average and less scene-y. Its never jammed packed either, even on weekends. I like that the bartenders who are women aren't tarted up in slut gear or forced to dress the same due to a uniform. The bartenders are really nice, and really different.

Please don't listen to all the suburban folk who continue the culture of fear in America. They are scared by the proximity of the El, an abandoned house, or the one occasional crackhead with no teeth muttering down the block. Hello...Girard Ave. is a major thoroughfare that is strangely empty at night. I just do not see sketchy looking individuals hanging out on corners or around cars, breaking into them, or gangs of thuggy kids on bikes, and I have walked blocks very late at night between Frankford Ave. and Berks St. and have not seen a soul, let alone felt scared. I really like this neighborhood for what it is, and if it turns into another sanitized Manayunk or Old City I will be sickened. Real cities aren't always safe, comforting places people, and difference is good.

Johnny Brenda's provides 10 taps of quality local craft beer, and interesting appetizer-size dishes of food. I like the Lolla salad with chicken on it. I don't really have experience with Standard Tap so I'm not gonna compare the two. Everyone knows the same dudes own both places. I have even been to The Fire on 4th and Girard and although its not a beer bar, the experience of going there was far more interesting than the patrons you'd find in boring Manayunk.

The jukebox or whatever means they use to broadcast music is ingenious (the jukebox is on but people's bad songs never play). But it is not metal music solely. I heard Depeche Mode, Yaz, Echo and the Bunnymen, Erasure, The Cure and other 80's club hits every time I have visited JB's. And no, there is no TV and yes, its smoky in there but who gives an F? You go to a bar to socialize, not to sit in a purified air chamber with a TV to entertain you. Whiners stay home!

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Photo of NYR_Rob
4/5  rDev +1.3%

Photo of GeoffreyM
4/5  rDev +1.3%

Photo of Foxman
4.22/5  rDev +6.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4

At last, I unearthed my notes on JB's...

You can say many things about the neighborhood, but it all comes back to "seedy." But hey, you can't always pick your neighborhood. You can likewise say many things about the atmosphere, but when all's said and done, the bottom line is, DIVE. And that's not at all judgemental, but rather a simple statement, because I'm OK with dives. It's dark, dingy, too smokey, rich with bar history and chipped formica tables, and with a fabulous aura of funk. I can almost imagine seeing the old, bald, pug-nosed ex-boxer who was sitting on a stool behind the bar, stogey tucked in his mush, many years ago when I visited this bar, well before its re-birth. (I do not remember why I was there then. Or leaving. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) I mean, pretty much nothing in the apperance has changed. The pool table could be original, by the looks of it. Though, the juke box is a strong collection of new, not so new, and old. But man is it dark. Since I can't see well enough to really judge, I'll just have to assume it's basically clean.

But the beer, my friends, is mighty fine, with lines that sparkle, judging by the flavor, and a standard that is obviously very high. And the service is always a pleasure to experience, with knowledgable staff, each of them quick to refill, but not so quick that you can't make a change if you so desire.

The selection is local-riffic, and I've seen pretty much every brewery in the DelVal represented at one time or another. Sly Fox, Victory, Yards, Flying Fish, Landmark, Stoudt's and others, all make an appearance, just like down the road at Standard. Certainly, there's generally something for every taste.

And the food is a solid asset as well, with some of the best fries I've had in a long time. Sandwiches are strong, and the octopus is a refreshig surprise, so much better here than at Monk's. And I always enjoy the pastry mushroom cigars. The kitchen is in full view, which, depending on your point if view, can be good or bad. I liked it though.

So, yes, it's in a very threadbare neck of the woods. And inside, time seems to have stood still. But not where it counts most, and with the funky air of insouciance it exudes, combined with the fine ber and food, this is one establishment well worth double checking your car alarm to enjoy.

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Photo of GnomeKing
3.63/5  rDev -8.1%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 3.5

JB's is the newly-opened sister bar to nearby Standard Tap, which I adore. So why did the Standard Tap owners open JB's? I'm not fully sure. It's a good place to hang out, but it's less than a mile from the Tap, and it offers the same type of beers (local micros). The food menu is a little different, so that could justify a trip to JB's instead of the Tap, but the Tap has such a great and diverse food menu, I can't imagine choosing to go to JB's (the imitator) over the Tap (the original).

JB's is smaller, and on a busy night it could easily feel cramped and uninviting.

In fairness, JB's is new and may not have found its identity yet. The interior decorating is cool (think bohemian/artsy hip), and there's a pool table. I've spent most of this review talking about what didn't impress me about this place, but I do like it. Hopefully it will soon find its way out from under the shadow of the Tap and develop more of its own personality.

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Photo of PopeDX
4.25/5  rDev +7.6%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 5 | selection: 4 | food: 5

Mmm, Johnny Brenda's, the sister joint to Standard Tap. It shares many of the same characteristics...local beers on tap only, and an eclectic menu. There's typically different beer and different food than the ST though, so it's not exactly the same thing. About 12 taps and 2 casks, all rotated frequently and nice and fresh. They have PBR on tap as well...yeah it's brewed by the Lion, so technically it's local...but it seems out of place, like they're trying to attract a hipster crowd. The service here is very good...friendly and fast, as well as knowledgeable.

The food is just as good as the Standard Tap, if not better. The fries are probably the best in the city, right up there with Grace Tavern at least, and the other offerings are all solid. The hummus and falafel sandwich is a great item that will please everyone. The kitchen is right in the middle of the bar as well, you can watch them cooking...always a plus...not because I don't trust them, but because it's fun.

It's really in a dingy neighborhood, though...maybe they're hoping it'll go through a renaissance like Northern Liberties did. I wouldn't hold my breath. It's pretty much a drive from anywhere, though it is a few blocks from the Girard station on the El (blue subway line). There's no other bars within walking distance, except maybe a long walk to Northern Liberties through some shady neighborhoods. It is close to the Girard Street exit of 95. Oh, and it's closed on Sunday, beware.

If you're local and looking for some place new to go, or happen to be slumming around in your car, bored, JB's is a great place to go. Otherwise I'd probably stick to Northern Liberties. Ooh, and if you go, be sure to check out the altered Budweiser neon over the jukebox. Describes the place pretty well...

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Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia, PA
3.95 out of 5 based on 41 ratings.
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