I don’t have any grandparents left. The last survivor, Grandpa Justin, died four years ago at age 92. I still miss his stories of paratrooping into occupied France, his late-in-life affinity for extracting hugs from pretty young women, and all the assorted email forwards with marginally comedic (yet, upon review, entirely unprintable) jokes written in large, colorful fonts.
Maybe that’s why I find the bar at Little Pete’s — itself a survivor, hanging on in the ground floor of the Philadelphian on Fairmount Avenue since 1993 — so very comforting.
With offerings like meatloaf with two vegetables — maybe you’d like a nice baked potato and applesauce on the side? — an irresistible glass pie case, and a graying crowd, it’s like rewinding time to visit my grandparents (while also fast-forwarding to a retirement that, let’s face it, I’ll probably never be able to afford).
I settle onto a stool at the granite-topped bar and inquire about a drink menu. There is none, though there’s everything from Fireball to 12-year-old Glenlivet on the shelf.
So I ask what’s popular. “Me!” responds the bartender, whose name, I later learn, is Kosta.
I look to the man in a business suit seated next to me, but he’s no help: He’s sipping Belvedere vodka on ice.
My friend Erica arrives and makes the same mistake: “What’s the specialty?” she asks. “What is this, amateur hour? I make everything,” Kosta shoots back. But he’s making lots of Manhattans, each amber cup lit with a radioactive cherry, so, in the end, I opt for one of those.
A great Manhattan can be almost magical. This one, however, is $6.50.
That also happens to be the price point for the most popular wines on offer here, Woodbridge cabernet and Bolla Pinot grigio. The best-selling beer, Stella, is $5, and comes garnished with a napkin shoved into the neck.
Though the Center City location was iconic, and its closing inspired a perhaps excessive degree of mourning, this location also feels reassuringly retro, with its logo frosted onto glass panels and cigarette machine in the foyer. There’s a photo on the wall of Stallone, another of Frank Rizzo.
The bar crowd — exclusively male, exclusively Eagles fans — is watching basketball, dining on beef burgundy and procrastinating going home to their apartments upstairs. (The restaurant crowd, passing through, tends more toward women and couples. Altogether, in just over an hour, I count eight walkers, four canes, and an untold number of Alfred Dunner pantsuits.)
Before I leave, I run into Little Pete himself — that’s Pete Koutroubas, who still comes in at 3 a.m. each day to make the soups and sauces, doing it all on just two cups of coffee (and, before he darts back into the kitchen, a furtive shot of something that looks like whiskey).
I like to think that, in a changing city, that’s one thing I can count on to stay the same.
2401 Pennsylvania Ave., 215-232-5001
When to go: That’s your business. The bar opens at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. daily.
Bring: Anyone who yearns for the good old days, when a martini cost $6.50 and a London broil came with soup, salad, a beverage, and dessert.
What to order: An old-school cocktail and, if you’re hungry, the Greek trio of pita bread with hummus, eggplant salad, and creamy tzatziki, for $8.95.
Bathroom situation: Grab the key from the coatrack and head out of the restaurant, down the hall to a door conveniently located near a NovaCare rehab facility. Inside, it’s a single-stall deal with streamers of toilet paper draped across the floor.
Sounds like: A calm 86 decibels of basketball on the TV, the murmur of conversation from the dining room, and the clatter of plates coming out of the kitchen.