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Center City Sips is back! Yay or nay? | Pro/Con

Two scenesters in Philly culture debate whether the return of the city’s debaucherous summer tradition is a good thing.

Patrons mingle during a Center City Sips event at Balcony Bar at the Kimmel Center.
Patrons mingle during a Center City Sips event at Balcony Bar at the Kimmel Center.Read moreCENTER CITY DISTRICT

Philly summers are known for many things — one of which is Center City Sips, in which local bars and restaurants offer discounted drinks and appetizers during happy hour on Wednesdays. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, last week the city announced that this annual summer ritual would be returning in 2022.

But this tradition isn’t universally beloved, in part because Sippers are not universally well-behaved.

So we asked two fixtures of the Philly culture scene to weigh in: Is the return of Center City Sips a good thing?

No: I don’t want Center City turning into a giant frat basement on Wednesdays.

By Johnny Goodtimes

Last week, the Center City District announced the return of Center City Sips, the annual summer bacchanalia that is the bane of every bartender’s existence. One of the only positives of COVID-19 was that we were given a two-summer reprieve from this obnoxious inanity, but apparently it’s coming back, with its cheap cocktails and spoiled 21-year-olds from the suburbs who have the rare ability to get into fights where everybody swings but nobody lands a punch.

The reason for bringing it back is obvious: The past two years have been absolutely devastating for the bar business, and they could use the influx of business. The fact that so many bars have made it through is a testament to the perseverance, dedication, and heart so typically found in Philly bar owners and employees. (They are collectively the anti-Ben Simmons.) The city should pull out all of the stops to make their upcoming year a success.

But is Center City Sips really pulling out all of the stops? Or is it a retread of a tired pre-pandemic nuisance? With hordes of young suburban kids coming into the city because the drinks are just cheap enough to get them here, and not needing to behave because it’s not their home, I’d argue the latter.

When you look at the belligerent way they behaved before COVID, just imagine what they’ll be like after two years of being cooped up.

» READ MORE: Sips fight breaks out near Comcast Center

I’m not the only one who is less than enthused at the return of Sips. Longtime Cavanaugh’s bartender Paul Kuhn told me he thinks that the original Sips concept was terrific, but it devolved into something else entirely.

“Sips originally started as a way to help Center City bars and restaurants supplement their respective sales numbers during the summer months when business would significantly drop-off due to ‘Shore weekends.’” But Sips changed over the years, he said, becoming an attraction for people who live outside the city and have little stake in the community. “Sips moved away from the original target crowd of young professionals and [became] a spectacle of debauchery.”

In addition to the debauchery, are we ready for this massive influx of customers? I dined at a restaurant last week where the entire service staff had walked off the day before, and they were left with the manager and some of his friends waiting tables. A few weeks ago, I was at a packed place that had exactly one person behind the bar and one person waiting tables, getting backed up because she was also checking vaccines at the door. Restaurants are understaffed and everyone left is burned out.

“In addition to the debauchery, are we ready for this massive influx of customers?”

Johnny Goodtimes

What will happen when hundreds of belligerent, early 20-somethings who expect their drinks “Right! Now!” go into packed, understaffed bars? It’s a recipe for disaster. I think it’s fair to expect more walkouts, more frustration, and bars being required to put even greener people out front as the face of their establishment.

As a Quizzo host, I’ve seen the bars filling back up this past month with young people, and it’s been joyous and revitalizing. But it’s also been controlled. We all want young professionals to unwind at our bars on weekdays, and we all want our bars to succeed. But we don’t want Center City turning into a giant frat basement on Wednesdays.

I get the city’s and the industry’s need for money after two brutal years. But at what cost?

Johnny Goodtimes is a longtime Quizzo host in Philadelphia, as well as part-owner of Shibe Sports and the Philadelphia Phoenix Ultimate Frisbee team. @johnnygoodtimes

Yes: Sips is a great unifier and will help save bars and restaurants.

By Raheem Manning

I was born in Philadelphia, but have lived, worked, and traveled to over 200 cities worldwide. Each city has things that I’ve experienced that make me say, “Wow, this is cool.” When I moved back to Philly in 2013, my first Center City Sips got me to say, “Wow, this is cool” about my own city.

I was sad when the city decided to skip Sips for the last two years, and elated when I learned it was bringing it back in 2022.

In the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, nothing says summer better than sipping on a cold drink downtown on a Wednesday evening with thousands of other professionals. At 5 p.m. on any given summer Wednesday, office buildings go empty as workers pour onto the streets ready to enjoy a downtown-wide happy hour, in which dozens of restaurants offer discounted drinks and food like nowhere else in the country. Center City Sips has become one of those unique Philly events that has earned a place in many people’s hearts. Sips is as amazingly Philly as being able to walk into almost any pub or dive bar, ask for a “Citywide,” and seamlessly get a shot and a beer.

» READ MORE: Center City District Sips is canceled again because of the coronavirus

Given all we have endured over the last two years, including lockdowns and social distancing measures during the pandemic, the return of Sips is a much-needed sign that things are slowly going back to normal. (I will miss the outdoor party that Marathon Grill used to host at its now-closed location at 1818 Market. Who will replace it this year?)

However, it is not just the return to normalcy that the city is longing for; it is the collective camaraderie that Sips brings. It is the one time in this city where CEOs socialize with entry-level professionals, educators mingle with bankers, and everyone is just looking to have a good time. During the hours Sips takes place, everyone is equal, enjoying being a Philadelphian. The time is spent letting go of the stress of the office and getting that much-needed midweek boost that gets you to the weekend.

“Sips is one of those Philly things that is simply amazing.”

Raheem Manning

In addition to being a great unifier, the return of Sips is crucial to the Center City economy. Restaurants were hit hard during the pandemic, and those who have managed to limp on and survive need the business that comes with Sips. Restaurants and bars are the heart of this foodie city, and bringing back this coordinated economic driver will be a big reprieve for them.

Not everyone loves Sips, of course — some people complain of the crowds, which have become increasingly younger at certain popular locations. And some bad behavior from drunken participants has resulted in a price hike, which I’m still a little upset about today. But the true potential of the collective happy hour outweighs its past mishaps.

Nothing brings me more joy than bragging about how great a city Philly is, sometimes at the cost of annoying my friends. But my friends agree: Sips is one of those Philly things that is simply amazing. When trying to sell Philly to out-of-towners, Sips is one of the things we always bring up (and sometimes the struggle to get through the Thursdays that follow).

So let’s say welcome back to a true Philadelphia staple, Center City Sips. You were missed.

Raheem Manning is the founder and CEO of the Weekender Experiences and cochair of the Philadelphia Arts and Culture Task Force.