Shortly after the Liberty Bell cracked and long before ground was broken for City Hall, McGillin’s Olde Ale House threw open its doors. Its beer taps have been flowing since 1860 -- making it the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia. McGillin’s has outlasted Strawbridge’s, the Civil War and even Prohibition. McGillin's celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010.
Originally called The Bell in Hand, the tavern opened 154 years ago 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. The list r ead like a social registry, including some of the most prominent citizens of the day. 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 and Chris’ son, Christopher, Jr. (Henry’s grandson), recently joined the business. Mary Ellen grew up in East Falls. Mary Ellen and Chris currently reside in Narberth. Kate currently lives in Brigantine, NJ. And Christopher, Jr., resides in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood of Center City Philadelphia.
Over the years, McGillin's has become a great place for celeb-spotting. Many celebs 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, Alice Faye, Francis Strawbridge, John Wanamaker, "Grand Dad Pepperidge Farm" Charlie Welsh, John and Ethel Barrymore. Steve Carlton, Ron Castille, Billy Daniels, Michael Flatley and the "Lord of the Dance" Company, Bill Green, Thatcher Longstreth, David Merrick, Chris Berman and Joe Jackson of ESPN, the road cast of "Mama Mia," Eugene O'Donnell, Frank Rizzo, have all visited McGillin's. That tradition has continued in recent years with visits by Robin Williams, Ed Bradley, Will Ferrell, Former Philadelphia Mayor & Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Former US Senator Arlen Specter, Carol and Ed Stoudt, the cast of "Hack," Tug McGraw, Def Leppard, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Lynne Abraham, Tex Cobb and Ty Pennington, Law & Order's Christopher Meloni, Broadway Star Howard McGillin (a long-lost relative!), Bam Margera & Ryan Dunn from the Jackass movies, Comedian David Koechner, Actress Kim Delaney, Tony Danza, Clifton Davis, Holly Marie Combs & Brian Krause of Charmed, Kate Flannery from "The Office," Derek Waters and the crew from "Drunk History," Keith Harkin, guitarist, Celtic Thunder, the Scorpions, Kerry King, lead guitarist, Slayer, Marc Volman from the Turtles, Chris Mann from "The Voice," Alan White & Geoff Downes from Yes, and Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys, as well as Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs Michael Peca, Andrew Raycroft, Hal Gill and Jeff O'Neill, Philadelphia Flyers Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell and Jay Rosehill, 76er Matt Geiger, as well as Phillies Star Ryan Howard and former Phillies Mike Lieberthal & Kevin Stocker and NFL Quarterbacks A.J. Feeley & Sage Rosenfels, Eagles Riley Cooper & Jason Kelce.
In October 2008, Gourmet magazine named McGillin's to its list of 14 coolest bars in the U.S. McGillin's was named one of the Top 100 nightclubs and bars in the U.S. by editors of Nightclub and Bar magazine in 2007 and 2008. McGillin's is routinely named Philadelphia's best Irish pub. In addition, McGillin's became part of Midtown Village. That's the new name for the 13th and Sansom Street neighborhood. It's full of galleries, restaurants, boutiques, lofts and more.
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