1029 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Philadelphia's a beer town. But I'm from New York, where cocktails reign supreme. So when I asked a local friend where we could go for real drinks (other than Franklin Mortgage, which I've already written up), she said "How about Hop Sing?" It seemed perfect. Oodles of top shelf liquor. A hidden entrance. A Chinatown-themed speakeasy inside of Philadelphia's Chinatown. The owner greets you at the signage-free hidden entrance and personally checks your ID. Plus there's a don't-be-a-slob dress code, a rarity in the a-Phillies-jersey-is-just-fine city of brotherly love. 

Upon entering the literally pitch black foyer, we were asked to sit and wait as our eyes adjusted and as our table was prepared. This was pure gimmick straight out of a Times Square theme restaurant. Jekyll and Hyde would be proud. We were the first guests of the evening. There was nothing to prepare. But here in the small dimly lit room, alone but for one man (the owner, who has cultivated and nurtured a reputation of eccentricity) standing over us, we were told the "rules". Upon pain of expulsion, no phones, no cameras, no loud talking. Privacy was paramount (but feel free to tweet). Thus, you'll forgive me for the lack of any photos of the interior or of the drinks. It was verboten. Hell, I even asked permission. I was told no. Until I go back and sneak in a few shots, you'll have to check out this Eater article for a photo. There are no candelabras on the tables.

Unlike the speakeasies of NYC (and despite what the Hop Sing website says, it is most assuredly a speakeasy, it's large inside. Easily twenty tables, plus seats at the bar.  Compared to Dutch Kills and Milk & Honey, it's safely four times the size, which is good news for booze hounds. Deep red walls, high ceilings, lots of paintings, antique copper fire extinguishers, and a floor tiled in thousands of pennies speak to the ostentatious display of kitch here. But it's fun kitch that adds to the mood.

We ordered six drinks in all and the experience as a whole leaves me with a few positive and a few negative things to say. First, the positive. Every single drink tasted great. The atmosphere was spot on. The servers were very attentive and polite. I asked for a Ramos Gin Fizz and they didn't hesitate to know what I was talking about and say "sure we can make that, just give us a few minutes." It was delicious. Finally, as someone used to shelling out $15 for a decent cocktail in the city, paying only $10 here in Philly was practically cheap.

Now, the negative. As I mentioned, the gimmicky game played by the owner was tiring after 30 seconds. Having him come to the table a few times to adjust the place settings and ask if everything was okay was just too OCD for my taste. While every cocktail tasted great, they were oddly weak. Each one was bordering on virgin. We had three each and should have left seeing double. But I could have driven home. And, as someone who drinks cocktails more than he drinks beer, I've never in my life had a weaker Manhattan. Rumor is that the owner is a bit of a weirdo control freak and if the staff's eggshell walking was any indication, it's not a rumor. I can't remember the last time I've seen a group of people so on edge, like they could get fired at any minute.

We arrived around 6:30 on a Thursday and, as I said, were the first in the door. When we left at around 8:30 there were a few tables taken, but by no means was there a line. Maybe the weekend gets more crowded, but on this particular evening, it was light.

Hop Sing will be better served with far less shtick, far more customer service, far less OCD, and far stronger drinks. It's a venue that Philadelphia sorely needs to counter it's beer-obsession, but there's work to be done.

Hop Sing is cash only.

 [ Copyright eateryROW 2012 ]

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