We always hear about the shiny, new restaurants. This is one in a series about the Philadelphia area's more established dining establishments and the people behind them.
Most Philadelphians know McGlinchey's — the dimly lit, no-nonsense Center City dive bar that still allows smoking but serves a surprising selection of craft beer — but few know its owners, at least not very well.
Brothers Ron and Sheldon Sokol have owned the place since their father, Henry, died in 1985.
Before McGlinchey's, Henry Sokol had owned several other bars, including one called Bowlers at 11th and Locust and one in Montgomeryville. Ron and Sheldon worked for their dad at many of those establishments, on and off, and they accompanied him in 1968 when he signed the papers marking the purchase of 259 S. 15th St. from one Mrs. McGlinchey.
The place was already popular for lunch, dinner and happy-hour drinks, and Sokol made few changes. He installed the iconic parallelogram colored window panes, and turned the second floor into an overflow dining room (it later became a disco, and then a venue for live music and poetry readings).
In the '80s, as the demographics of the neighborhood began to shift from offices to residences, McGlinchey's became less a restaurant and more of a bar. Students at the nearby art school adopted it as a late-night hang, as did bike messengers and workers and anyone who could appreciate a mug of beer for cheap — Sokol believed in keeping prices low, and his sons adopted his approach.
Ron and Sheldon have made very few changes over the last three decades, in fact. Their stoic demeanor reflects an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude — until you get them excited about something, like remembering they were recognized by City Paper as the best place to drink while playing Ms. Pac-Man, or describing the duck hunter mural slowly fading across the front wall. And if you want to see Ron really animated, ask him about the $3 craft beer deal that goes down every Friday.
What's your first memory of this bar?
Going to the lawyer's office with our dad and watching him sign the papers. The bartenders who worked here when before he took it over wore red vests; that was the style in those days. And the bar itself was different — it had the alcohol all set up along tiers in the middle, which were the dumbest thing ever, because they got in the way. We took them out.
You both tended bar for your father. Did you ever have different jobs?
Not me. Ron was in the Air Force and then worked for Sears for a couple of years before he started bartending here.
Did your father teach you how to run a bar?
Not really. We learned through osmosis.
Did you make any changes when you took over from your father?
Not much. Maybe a little bit here, little bit there. It's a slow evolution. We tried to have the mural restored — it was a billboard for the Atlantic-Richfield Company, which had headquarters right down the street. Employees came here all the time, so they gave us this scene of a duck hunter to put on our wall. For a while it was covered by red curtains, but then we decided to open it up, reveal it. But now by now it's almost disintegrated. It's too far gone to restore.
It's nearly black now, probably from a combination of fading and all the smoke. And you still allow smoking here. Do either of you smoke?
No. But the customers want it.
Has the clientele changed, over the years?
Yes. Because the neighborhood has changed. It used to be all offices around here. ... There was a huge lunch business; all the workers came in for lunch. And also cocktail hour, and also dinner. Now it's not office workers. It's blue-collar people, people with tattoos and piercings and all kinds of folks. You know, regular people.
Is it true that you keep drink prices low because it was in your father's will, or is that just an urban legend?
Like all urban legends, the truth will never be known.
Your most popular drink?
We don't really sell a lot of drinks, we're mostly a shot-and-beer bar. If you had to pick one thing that sells most, it would probably be Jameson. We do have a very good whiskey selection, though. And great beer. We have 12 taps now.
Who's in charge of that — who picks what beers you serve?
Ron picked them. We're different from some other bars; we don't change what's on tap. Those 12 stay on. Ron's favorite is the Maredsous, it's from Belgium. We do have a different beer each Friday night — we call it "Beer From Around the World." We get a half keg and tap it with a jockey box, then sell drafts for $3.
Hardest part about owning a bar?
The long hours. We open at 10:30 in the morning and don't close until 2 at night.
Best part about owning a bar?
That you don't have to work? I mean, it's just second nature by now. It's just natural. We've been doing this for so many years.
How do people hear about your bar?
It's all word of mouth. As our dad used to say, "You open the door, they fall in." And now, on the Internet, too. People post on Yelp.
So you read Yelp?
Sheldon doesn't, but I do; I read everything people post about us, on Yelp or anywhere else online. I also track the view count for our website. I follow it very closely.
259 S. 15th St., 215-735-1259