Bar Code: Why Scotty's is the best-decorated bar in Philadelphia

If you live in Philadelphia, you probably have at least one neighbor who turns holiday decorating into a high art. I’m not just talking twinkle lights for Christmas, but paper hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, tricolor bunting for July 4.

Now, imagine that neighbor ran a bar. It would surely look a great deal like Scotty’s, a locals-only joint at the corner of 15th and Ellsworth Streets, on the northeastern fringe of Point Breeze.

I stopped by late on a Friday night, weaving through a smoky crowd outside and undergoing a thorough search by one of two armed, Kevlar-clad security guards (a fatal shooting in 2011 led to strict security protocols). Inside, I found Scotty’s decked out for Easter, with pink paper butterflies and flowers, loops of glittery, pastel tinsel, untold yards of LED light strips, and a tableau of stuffed rabbits dressed in Easter frocks. This would have seemed the most beautiful place on earth to me when I was 7. I still find it fairly spectacular.

Camera icon steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer
Scotty's Bar is festive anytime (but it really looks its best at night).

This extravaganza is the work of Juanita Floyd, 67, Scotty’s owner and decorator-in-chief. Her family bought the bar in 1969. (They did not bother changing the name, but the identity of the eponymous Scotty has been lost to history.) Historically, the bar was decorated with hats left by Marines from the Marine Club nearby, which has since been converted into upmarket condos. After the hats dry-rotted, Floyd decided to go full-festive instead.

The result: Though gentrification is transforming the rowhouse blocks in all directions, Scotty’s remains adamantly unhipsterfied, patronized mostly by longtime neighborhood residents, but welcoming to all. Beer -- not of the craft variety -- comes in a bottle with a napkin shoved into the neck for hygienic purposes. Wines tend toward the sweet (moscato, or even Manischewitz). Liquor sales are heavy on Bacardi and Hennessey. Opening a tab, even on a busy night, means just giving your first name. You’ll settle up later.

On my visit, under the glow of twinkle lights, a deejay spun a mix that was part Beanie Sigel, part Drake. Periodically, he was interrupted by the intercom, calling out orders for pick up from the soul food kitchen in the back.  

A few people attempted to start the dancing. A man napped, upright on a barstool. I drank a High Life and took in the abundant signage.

Some signs declare house rules: No guns, drugs, fighting, smoking, soliciting, charging phones, and -- this one’s openly ignored -- no hoodies. Others are hand-painted and glitter-adorned: for someone’s “money-shower” birthday party, for the Grown Folk Bar Owners Guild, a Monday-night meet-up that rotates among four bars.

Then there are the two portraits that gaze over Scotty’s like a pair of deities. One is of Gracie L. Whitted, Floyd’s mother and the owner of Scotty’s until her death in 2006. The other is of President Obama, who is not term-limited here.

“I always decorate around him, give him a little tie, make him part of the establishment. If we're trying for a championship, I dress him up in team colors,” Floyd said with a laugh. “I don’t know! We just don’t be having nothing else to do.”

Camera icon Steven M. Falk, Samantha Melamed / Staff
Scenes from Scotty's, including a portrait of Gracie Whitted. 

Scotty’s Bar

1420 Ellsworth St., 215-735-2390

When to go: Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday are DJ nights. Or join the overnight-shift workers from the food-distribution center for an early-morning visit. (It’s a surprisingly solid breakfast option. Go for a cheese omelet, hash browns, and toast for $7, or a fried-fish platter with grits.) It’s open 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, and 9 a.m.-2 a.m. on Sundays.

Bring: Your friends who are sick of the same old Center City dive bars. Jack Skellington types. Anyone having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, whatever the holiday may be.

What to order: The wings come recommended, and the roast beef sandwich usually sells out at lunch. The best-selling beer is Coors Light ($3); the top wine is Gallo white zinfandel ($4.50). (Food is cash only; for drinks, there’s a $20 credit card minimum.)

Bathroom situation: Single stalls that are in good working order.

Sounds like: A fairly deafening 102 decibels of hip-hop when the deejay’s there; early mornings, you can have a quiet conversation over a Sea Breeze. As one regular said, "There's no fussing and fighting, no young kids." 

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