Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Christmas-themed bars deck the halls | Let’s Eat

Plus: First visits to Cicala, the swank new Italian restaurant on North Broad, and Merkaz, Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook's new Israeli sandwich shop.

Tinsel, a Christmas pop-up bar at 116 S. 12th St., is back for another year
Tinsel, a Christmas pop-up bar at 116 S. 12th St., is back for another yearRead moreKORY AVERSA

“Let’s Eat” is coming to you a day early because of Thanksgiving, and this week’s topic could not be more timely: the Christmas-themed bars that will make the spirits bright. Also this week, I offer peeks at two newcomers: Cicala, the swank Italian newcomer at the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street, and Merkaz, the Israeli sandwich shop from Zahav’s Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook in Washington Square West.

If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here to get it free every week.

“Let’s Eat” resumes its regular Wednesday schedule next week.

Michael Klein

Where yule be partying this season

Bar owners are getting smart. Ring those Christmas bells — and wring out some extra revenue. This season’s crop of yuletide-themed bars include:


UPDATE (11/29/19): Tinsel’s opening has been delayed by what management calls zoning issues.

This is Year 3 for the Christmas-themed cocktail and craft-beer bar, at 116 S. 12th St. in Washington Square West. Teddy Sourias and Craft Concepts Group, who operate Tradesman’s, BRU Craft & Wurst, Blume, U-Bahn, Uptown Beer Garden, and Kontrol, as well as Finn McCool’s, have expanded the space considerably, to about 2,000 square feet.

Artist Scott Johnson pays homage to the icons and villains of Christmas with artwork featuring Christmas Gremlin (Spike), Krampus, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, Winter Warlock, Jack Skellington, and a White Walker (from Game of Thrones). Above the bar, look for the Grinch, Bumble, Oogie Boogie Man, and Robot Santa. He also created new Christmas collage murals in the back of Tinsel using actual Christmas cards and magazines from Jinxed on East Passyunk, plus his own vintage designs.

DJ Robert Drake is contributing a playlist that also will be available on Spotify.

Preview night is Wednesday, Nov. 27, but it gets rolling Friday, Nov. 29. Hours are 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Thursday, noon to 2 a.m. Friday to Sunday. Last day will be Dec. 30. Menu is here.


Chef Tod Wentz and crew have gone upstairs from the Pearl Tavern (1123 Walnut St.) for their Christmas bar, just as they did for a recent Halloween pop-up with Arts in the Industry. It opens Friday, Nov. 29.

Alison Hangen, the manager, said guests can expect to celebrate the darker side of the holiday season with nightmare-themed cocktails, beers, and decor with murderous Santas, Krampus, and other holiday ghosts and ghouls.

Opening night will feature a celebration of the release of Sly Fox’s Nightmare Before Christmas Ale. Hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Yule Lodge at Butcher Bar

Butcher Bar, the meat-focused restaurant at 2034 Chestnut St., has converted its enclosed patio into a gathering spot with a fireplace, rustic furnishings, and a bar with six winter-themed cocktails, including a smoked black cherry Manhattan and a Ron Swanson special, which is a 16-year Lagavulin old fashioned and housemade jerky.

The full bar and food menu are available, with the addition of the Hunter’s Trough — an eight-person, $395 platter of venison, duck sausage, elk, bison, and turkey legs, plus fries and cornbread; it must be ordered in advance.

12 Days of Christmas Holiday Bar at Farmer’s Keep

The health-forward restaurant just off 20th and Market Streets (10 S. 20th St.) has Christmased up its dining room and space-heatered rooftop to do a literal 12-day promotion that starts Friday, Nov. 29 and runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until Christmas Day. Lots of Christmas trees and blow-ups, as well as a themed drink menu (you can see it here).

Shops at Liberty Place

The indoor mall (between 16th and 17th, Market and Chestnut Streets) is hosting a pop-up bourbon lounge by Bluebird Distilling from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays in December.

It will be set up adjacent to the Rotunda with $10 drinks (peppermint mojito, spiced cranberry mule, winter sweater old fashioned, hot mulled cider), and $5 pints of Philadelphia Brewing Company Winter Wünder and Kenzinger, plus hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and coffee.

It’s part of a promo called Sips & Selfies with Santa, which features free photos with Santa and a selfie contest benefiting the nonprofit Cradles to Crayons.

This Week’s Openings

Cogito Coffee | Washington Square West

Croatia-based coffee shop is due Dec. 2 at 105 S. 12th St.

Merkaz | Washington Square West

See below.

Royal Tavern | South Philadelphia

The landmark at 937 E. Passyunk Ave. in Bella Vista has returned after a four-month renovation that originally had been projected to take two months.

This Week’s Closings

Nauti Mermaid Crab House | Old City

This yearling on Chestnut Street clearly made Santa’s Nauti list.

Where we’re enjoying happy hour

Rouge, 205 S. 18th St., 4-6 p.m. Monday to Thursday

Rouge expanded its bar earlier this year as part of an extensive renovation, and just this week, the daddy of Rittenhouse Square dining brought back happy hour.

The $8 bar menu includes sliders topped with Gruyere and caramelized onions; they’re a slightly stripped-down version of the signature Rouge burger. Also on offer are fried shrimp with Old Bay tartar sauce, wings with shishito and lime, baked artichoke hearts, and pomme frites.

Drinks are simple: $5 Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, $6 Riff pinot grigio and Ataliva malbec, and a sweet $7 cocktail mixing Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine and honey.

Where we’re eating

Cicala at the Divine Lorraine, 699 N. Broad St.

Philly’s pasta game is getting a one-two-three punch this season with Michael Schulson and Jeff Michaud opening the swank Via Locusta next month next to Parc and Marc Vetri opening Fiorella, a casual spot in a former butcher shop near the Italian Market, in six weeks or so.

The first heavy hitter is Joe Cicala, who with his wife, Angela Ranalli-Cicala, opened the atmospheric Cicala two weeks ago at the Divine Lorraine, part of the revival of North Broad Street that includes the Met just down the street and a spate of new construction where the Francisville, Spring Garden, and Poplar neighborhoods converge.

Cicala (“chee-KAH-la”) is the ownership debut for the couple, who made their mark at Le Virtu on East Passyunk. They’ve gone white-tablecloth with whitewashed brick walls, hardwood and old-fashioned tile floors, family photos and antiques, and crystal chandeliers whose romantic glow will make Instagrammers wish they’d upgraded to the iPhone 11.

Cicala’s Southern Italian menu channels his native Fiumedinisi. While at Le Virtu, he developed a specialty of cured meats, and that’s a good place to start. The affettato misto ($24) is a generous board of prosciutto, capocollo, pancetta, and a crock of 'nduja that’s kept warm over a candle and served with house-made bread. Then come antipasti, perhaps the baccala-topped bruschetta ($15) or the coal-grilled mackerel ($12). Don’t skip the pastas — maccheroni alla mugnaia ($17), a single, 5-foot strand of hand-pulled pasta topped with olive oil, garlic, and chilies.

Entrees include grilled swordfish and pan-fried mullet ($26), plus two juicy, coal-grilled lamb chops ($31) with honey-orange glaze. Angela’s desserts include candied citrus and pistachio spumoni molded to resemble a clementine; it’s served atop orange almond cake.

Wines on the 200-bottle list are mostly Italian and mainly from Southern Italy.

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday; 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Monday dinner service is on the way.

Merkaz, 1218 Sansom St.

Zahav-ians Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook keep the Israeli vibes going in Center City with a pita sandwich shop and cafe next to Fergie’s Pub. I’m thinking of it as a cousin of their Dizengoff, whose hummus overlaps, and K’Far.

Here’s Philly’s entree to Israeli breakfast. The bright Merkaz, which means “center" in Hebrew, opens at 8 a.m. daily with coffee and such street food as hummus foul, shakshuka, egg in a pita, and za’atar pita toast; at 11 a.m. it segues into lunch-y foods like warm, made-to-order pita sandwiches, hummus, and salatim (cooked vegetable salads) as well as prepared meals to go.

It’s counter service with an open kitchen. Closing time is 7 p.m.

Dining Notes

Nearly two dozen new restaurants are on the way over the next two months or so. We run them down.

Thanksgiving is in two days: We’ve got guidance on which wines to buy, what salads to make (and to avoid, in the wake of a E .coli outbreak), and the key to showing up with a stuffing that’s even easier than Pepperidge Farm’s.

In some parts of Pennsylvania, mashed potatoes and stuffing come together in one casserole dish to make the state’s most-Googled Thanksgiving side dish: potato filling.

Craig LaBan’s Q&A does not appear this week; instead, enjoy his review of Jean-Georges Philadelphia.