Spotlight On… American Sardine Bar
We’ve had a lot of fun over the past few months as we reach more of our fans in Philadelphia. And, with the entire city at a fever pitch this week, anticipating the Iggles’ first Super Bowl win, we figured it was as good a time as any to feature one of Point Breeze’s quirkiest spots: the American Sardine Bar at 1800 Federal Street in Philadelphia.
We caught up with Adam Garbinski, the Beer Director at American Sardine Bar, to get the lowdown on this neighborhood hangout.
Originally known as The Wander Inn — long a fixture of Philadelphia at the corner of 18th and Federal — it had been closed down for the better part of a decade, with revelers missing its punny name. By 2005, this favorite venue of blues legend Bessie Smith had decayed to the status of “nuisance bar,” with the state refusing to renew its liquor license due to multiple infractions.
Yet, its prime location and rich history made it a logical choice for a new gastropub…
“The name was conceived of first,” Adam tells us, “and then the idea was, ‘Well if that’s the name of the bar, we’ve gotta have sardines.’”
So, the original chef, Scott Schroeder, devised a menu with a strong focus on sardines — you can get them grilled, sauteed, plancha (a flat-top grill), or fried.
“It’s a fun way to get a salty bar snack,” Adam tells us.
And, believe it or not, they sell rather well. Adam’s a big fan of the sardine sandwich.
“I usually like to get two of them,” he says. “They’re pretty tiny — one- or two-bite little guys. It’s a little piece of sardine, there’s a sliced pickled egg on there, a little onion, some lettuce, and some Dijonaise.” And for $2, you’re not breaking the bank on a sample of the bar’s namesake.
For those of you who just aren’t into sardines, there’s a lot more to the menu. “I think our sandwiches are our big star,” Adam tells us. “Craft beer and sandwiches go well together. The menu’s always rotating, there are new sandwiches coming out all the time.”
According to Adam, the food is “pretty sick.” Their new chef, Doreen DeMarco, has been at the bar since 2015, “and she really kills it,” he says. “Her menus are always great. They’re cool and smart, yet playful, takes on classic sandwiches, and sometimes crazy new ones that she comes up with.”
The Spaghetti Grilled Cheese is a standout star. It’s definitely a weird combination, but it makes perfect sense. Everyone’s favorite snow day lunch was grilled cheese and tomato soup, and this just puts it all in one — quirky — sandwich.
“The Bologna sliders are really good. The Italian Chicken Meatball Sandwich is really killer,” Adam says. “What most people do is get a sandwich or two and get a couple of sides.”
Their Onion Rings are a must-have. Last year, CBS Philly named them as one of the top five onion rings in the city. “People go crazy over them,” Adam admits.
They have Happy Hour specials from 4-6pm Monday through Friday, with the kitchen open daily until 1am. The bar has sixteen drafts with a rotating selection.
“We stick to American craft and micro-brewed beers; we don’t pour many European beers,” Adam says. “It’s approachable and sessionable, but we have a number of styles: IPAs, Farmhouse Ales, sour ales, stouts, Saisons, seasonal stuff. The vision is to have an approachable list that covers every style.”
They tend to have a lot of cans available as well, because “there are a lot of great beers coming out in cans, now.”
“Ever since Cape May came to Philly,” Adam says, “we’ve been running them at South Philly Tap Room and American Sardine Bar.”
The same owners have both establishments, and we had a fantastic Tap Takeover and Firkin tapping event at South Philly Taproom — the Last Day of Summer.
“Recently, we’ve really fallen in love with the Nitro IPA,” he says, “because sometimes you see the same old beers on nitro in town, and it’s nice to find a new one that’s really good. It’s a great drinking IPA. I love a lot of the Cape May beers.”
The crowd at American Sardine Bar certainly grows as the night wears on. For the most part, it’s a laid-back crowd, neither too formal nor too seedy, with the coterie loosening up as the libations flow.
“Seasonally, it kind of changes because we have a big backyard, outdoor garden area,” Adam tells us. “There’s a lot of seating out there, so in the nice weather, the backyard is a hangout spot. We do fire pits in the winter, too, so the hearty souls can hang out in the back if they want to.”
He characterizes the venue as being “very bar-centric,” with a long, 30-seat bar as the main focal point of the room. The site’s long, inviting windows and mirror-lined bar give it an open, welcoming feel. The upstairs has a small bar and dining room with larger tables for bigger groups.
“It’s definitely a neighborhood hangout,” Adam says, “but also a bit of a destination, as well. People come in for the food, and they want to be able to say, ‘Hey, what’s this crazy bar in the middle of Point Breeze?’”
They do a number of events upstairs, including cocktail popups. They have Dungeons and Dragons nights each month — “Drinks and Dragons”. They also have improv sketch comedy once a month and a number of one-time-only events.
“We just did a fun event called ‘California Dreamin’’,” he says. “It was sort of a west coast-inspired menu from Chef Doreen. She did her version of In-N-Out Burgers and San Diego Burritos and a California Cobb Salad, and we had a bunch of beers from California.”
Ultimately, though, Adam loves the bar’s concept.
“I think between the food and the beer, it makes it a good, fun hangout spot.”
So, swing down and check this spot out. And, when you stop in, eat a freakin’ sardine. When in Rome….