Signs In The Night, A Dive Bar, And Two Great Songs

Last week’s Wednesday evening found me in central Philadelphia, wandering its streets on assignment for the publication you’re now gazing at with loving eyes. I walked for several miles, zigzagging within the area bounded by Cherry, Spruce, 9th and 19th Streets, all the while giving my fingers plenty of exercise as I snapped picture after picture of illuminated signs. For that was my mission: To capture images of glowing signs, in much of their variety and in all of their glory, under darkened skies.

Chinatown (10th Street between Arch and Cherry Streets)
Chinatown (Arch Street between 10th and 11th)

The train that I boarded in my suburban town delivered me to Jefferson Station, at 11th and Market Streets, at about 7:30 PM. Not much more than a handful of minutes later, night began to emerge. Only a block north of the station I strode into the city’s compact and enticing Chinatown section. There I took my first photo of the evening. And then another and then another . . . Hey, one of these days I might devote an entire essay to Chinatown. It’s worthy, very much so. But I had miles to go before I slept, or something or other like that, so I gave Chinatown a nice looking-over and then made my way to other parts of town.

9th and Market Streets
13th and Sansom Streets

The temperature had peaked at around 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35°C) during the day, but was six or seven degrees lower during my mighty walk. Not too bad temperature-wise. Still, conditions weren’t all that great, what with Amazon jungle-like humidity hanging around. Yo, I was sweating like a f*cking pig. But manly man that I am, I motored on uncomplainingly, though if my wife Sandy had been with me I’d probably have been whining to her like a major wuss.

Corner of Broad and Spruce Streets
15th Street near Latimer Street

Anyway, the walk pleased me a lot. Not long into it I realized that I was having grand fun. After all, I love to wander. And I love looking at the sights, including cute girls, quite a few of whom passed before my eyes. In fact, loads of people, cute or not, were on the streets with me, engaging in the sorts of activities that humans are prone to engage in: strolling around; checking each other out; heading to or from work; schmoozing with their pals on street corners or at sidewalk restaurant tables; popping in and out of stores and bars. Not surprising, because Philadelphia has got what it takes. It’s big, it’s fascinating, there’s a ton to see and do any time of day. Yup, I could gush some more about the city that I know better than any other in the good ol’ USA, but that previous sentence will do for now.

Walnut Street between 16th and 17th
Bus stop at 18th and Walnut Streets

What I forgot to mention is that I also love to snap photos with my iPhone’s camera. And there were countless opportunities to snap away, so full of lit-up signs is much of The City Of Brotherly Love at night. I pretty easily could have added 150 more to the 53 shots I took, but I limited myself to scenes that rang my bell in a just-so sort of way. And I’ve scattered some of my output, obviously, throughout this essay.

Corner of 19th and Sansom Streets
Corner of 19th and Chestnut Streets

My adventure ended at 9:50 PM, when I went to Suburban Station to catch a train that would transport me to my little town. Fifty minutes earlier though, the night had taken an unexpected turn, an excellent turn that was outside the realm of my assignment’s mission. For heading north on 15th Street, near the corner of Spruce, I spotted a sign that I’ve seen many times over the years. The sign proudly proclaims the existence of a bar that, during the 1980s, I frequented aplenty. McGlinchey’s is its name, and smoky air is part of its game. Yes, Philadelphia has had a no-smoking law in place since 2006, but certain establishments have applied for and been granted exemptions from the clean-air policy. They qualify because only a tiny percentage of their revenues comes from food. McGlinchey’s gobbled up an exemption. Thus it continues to smell almost as bad as a men’s locker room. But it could be worse. I mean, what if the joint smelled almost as bad as a ladies‘ locker room?

Just kidding! Just kidding!

I hadn’t been inside McGlinchey’s for about 30 years, largely because I gave up smoking in the mid-1980s, after which I became less and less keen about cigarette fumes. But the opportunity to revisit a former haunt seemed too ripe to pass up the other night. And so I entered.

15th Street near Spruce

Had McGlinchey’s changed? Well, the lights were really dim, unlike the much higher wattage that I recall from the 1980s. And the beer selection was much improved, heavy on the quality sorts of ales that have entered the marketplace in enormous numbers since 1995 or so. But basically you’d have to say that McG’s is, as it was in the era when I dropped by consistently, a dive bar. Hazy, smelly air is all a bar needs to nab that honor. McGlinchey’s contains that variety of air in spades.

I ordered a draft beer, Fuller’s London Pride, a delicious brown ale that came to Philadelphia all the way from, duh, London. It went down my gullet very nicely, thank you. In the middle of my third or fourth sip I snapped out of a second-hand-smoke-induced stupor when I noticed that music was projecting clearly and loudly from speakers above my head. The song was a great one, an obscure number about love and disillusionment. It shot straight to my emotional core. In a million years I’d not have expected Ruby And Carlos, by James McMurtry, to be in McGlinchey’s jukebox.

But I was totally floored by what happened after the final strains of Ruby And Carlos dissolved into the dank air. That’s because the rousing and inspiring Fisherman’s Blues, by The Waterboys, came on. I had to restrain myself from singing aloud. So I mumbled the lyrics quietly to myself as I pulled on my beer. Smoke or not, I was in the right place at the right time. Music heaven, so to speak.

Well, the jukebox went silent after Fisherman’s Blues. I finished my Fuller’s and went back on the streets to do my photographing thing for a while longer. The last shot I took, of the intense red, white and blue of Republic Bank’s signs, is one of my favorites of the night. Soon afterwards, the Warminster line’s 10:05 PM train pulled into Suburban Station. I climbed aboard, my assignment over. I’d had yet another sterling outing in Philadelphia, one that detoured in a direction that I’d never have anticipated.

Corner of 19th and Market Streets

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments. And if the urge to share the story hits you, let ‘er rip! Gracias.)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.)

(It’s possible that the McMurtry and Waterboys songs that I’ve included won’t play for you. That’s because YouTube has licensing rules that sometimes block music or videos from opening, depending upon where on our planet you reside. If that’s the case in your nation, then you might want to search YouTube (or other sources) to find versions that will work. You won’t be sorry.)

86 thoughts on “Signs In The Night, A Dive Bar, And Two Great Songs

  1. vprofy September 13, 2018 / 8:39 am

    Fun explore. Years ago did a neon tour.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Laurie Graves September 13, 2018 / 9:15 am

    Hate to tell you, but ladies’ locker rooms don’t smell that bad. 😉 Wonderful pictures.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 2:04 pm

      Hi. My ladies locker room comment was all in jest. Thanks for the visit, Laurie. As always, much appreciated.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Almost Iowa September 13, 2018 / 10:19 am

    I gave up smoking years ago too – but the smoking bans always bothered me. There is something inspiring about the scent of stale tobacco and spilled beer. 🙂

    And as for The Waterboys, oh yeah. Just the mention of them had me scrambling for Youtube to play The Stolen Child.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Robert Parker September 13, 2018 / 10:28 am

    Sounds like a grand night out, I love colored lights and signs. Hope you’ve coughed out all that Philly fumes and atmosphere by now! 🙂
    But I think there’s a code brown ale violation here – – if James McMurtry’s on the jukebox, you’re supposed to knock back a couple dozen Lone Star longnecks. Without taking out your chaw of tobacco. I like McMurtry, not so much his voice, but his deadpan storytelling. and sometimes I’ve played some of his stuff for foreign students (Choctaw Bingo and We Can’t Make It Here), as part of their intro to U.S. culture. Good post!

    Liked by 3 people

      • daveclapp September 15, 2018 / 5:35 am

        Still good to hear that Fuller’s London Pride has made it across the pond and being enjoyed! One of my favourite all time beers.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Sam Gridley September 13, 2018 / 10:50 am

    It’s amazing how good commonplace signs can look in good photos, even simple ENTER and EXIT labels on a garage. Thanks for the pix!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 2:08 pm

      Right, there’s beauty in the ordinary much of the time. Thanks for the visit, Sam. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Joyce Hamilton September 13, 2018 / 1:05 pm

    I posted but it didn’t show up. I love walking in town …..liked the songs!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 2:11 pm

      I was totally surprised to hear those songs in McGlinchey’s. McG’s has become a lot more hip than I’d ever have expected.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. JT Twissel September 13, 2018 / 1:29 pm

    I haven’t been to Philadelphia in a long time – I remember Temple University and that area. Very nice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 2:12 pm

      Hi JT. Temple Univ is north of the area I write about in this story. Temple is a large campus, stuck in the middle of rowhouse neighborhoods.

      Liked by 1 person

      • JT Twissel September 13, 2018 / 2:49 pm

        I knew someone who went to Temple and I remember romping around the campus.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. cincinnatibabyhead September 13, 2018 / 2:24 pm

    “On assignment”. I like that. Absolutely love those night shots. Something about a city at night. I love that “non-smoking” exemption. What a breath of fresh air (does that sound right?). “Just kidding”. I’m still laughing. And then you top it of with a beer in that atmosphere and they play a couple beauties (man I was there with you Neil). Now here’s the kicker. CB might be featuring that album from which that certain Waterboys song came from. 10/10 on the take actually 11/10. The only thing is if CB was there he would have closed the joint down.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 3:19 pm

      CB, you and McGlinchey’s would be a perfect fit. Glad you like this story. Adios till next time.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Helen Devries September 13, 2018 / 4:05 pm

    Two super tracks totally new to me…so thanks for the introduction.
    I pass Fuller’s Griffin Brewery every time I take the coach from the airport to central London when visiting my mother in England…but I regret that they no longer deliver beer by horse drawn dray…that used to be sight of my young days in London.
    I had haunts there I would like to revisit…but by the time night comes round I feel too tired to keep going…so no pushing open the doors of The Gun, no visit to Old Friends off the East India Dock Road…but your post brought them back to my mind…so thank you again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 4:42 pm

      I liked reading your memories about London., Helen. A great city. Obviously. That’s a city a person could wander in for day after day after day. It’s endlessly interesting. Many thanks for adding your thoughts. Appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ann Coleman September 13, 2018 / 4:58 pm

    Sometimes trips down memory lane are so fun, aren’t they?

    Liked by 3 people

      • Ann Coleman September 14, 2018 / 4:19 pm

        I admit that part of the story surprised me…I thought for sure you were going to say smoking had been banned there!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. George September 13, 2018 / 5:27 pm

    Great photos and evocative writing, and I love Fisherman’s Blues. I remember seeing The Waterboys play it live in Newcastle, England around 1986. Mike Scott introduced it as “a new song”.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. andrewcferguson September 13, 2018 / 5:31 pm

    Nice work, Neil. When you visit Edinburgh I’ll take you for a pint of Deuchar’s IPA and you’ll never want to drink anything else. And the Waterboys! It’s funny, I was just asking myself yesterday why I don’t have any of their albums any more (I used to have at least one on cassette, if you remember such things). Your man Mike Scott is a genius.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. tanjabrittonwriter September 13, 2018 / 9:47 pm

    I sometimes think that daytime and nighttime creatures live in parallel universes, and that the twain never shall meet. You entered the twilight zone, Neil! I am glad you enjoyed reconnecting with your old haunt.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 13, 2018 / 10:39 pm

      If McGlinchey’s had a no-smoking policy, like most taverns do, I’d probably start hanging out there again.
      Till next time, Tanja —

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter September 13, 2018 / 10:42 pm

        Growing up in Germany, everybody smoked in restaurants all the time. Often it was so smoky that it was difficult to see and to breathe, but nobody ever thought anything of it. I am glad those days are over. I cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke now!

        Liked by 2 people

  14. Lynette d'Arty-Cross September 14, 2018 / 12:56 am

    A bar that still allows smoking – I didn’t there were any of those left in N America. Like you I used to smoke and especially in bars or pubs but I now I find it really difficult to be in smoke. I don’t know how I did it before! Glad you reconnected with this old friend from your youth.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 14, 2018 / 6:45 am

      One thing that McGlinchey’s has going for it is lower prices. The beer I bought would have been $6 and up at most places in my region. At McG’s it was $4.50.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. The Lockwood Echo September 14, 2018 / 7:42 am

    I love city night lights and neon signs. There’s something really nostalgic about them. And I love a dimly lit bar. Brightly lit rooms are not conducive to alcohol and music 😉 Great photos and songs, not heard Ruby & Carlos before.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 14, 2018 / 8:37 am

      Hello there. Good to hear from you. I know what you mean about city night lights. Cities take on a whole different look and feel once the skies grow dark. It’s an intriguing contrast.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Lori September 14, 2018 / 2:21 pm

    I really liked that you did that all by yourself and enjoyed your own company. Your description sounded much like it does here in Chicago…taking the train from the burbs into the glowing night of downtown. Did you find that those songs brought back memories, especially since you were in your old hangout? Songs often transport me back to my youth.

    Have a great weekend, Neil.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 14, 2018 / 9:02 pm

      Hello there, Lori. I go into Philadelphia quite often. Lots to do there. The two songs I wrote about came out when I was far beyond my youth. But certain songs definitely bring me back to those days. Enjoy the weekend —

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Isabelle September 14, 2018 / 4:17 pm

    As I was listening to the charming Just Us Kids, I could almost feel the warm and pleasant atmosphere in McGlinchey’s at that night, that moment. This was a wonderful wander, Neil. Have a great rest of the week! Isabelle

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 14, 2018 / 9:04 pm

      As always, Isabelle, many thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked this story. I had a good time doing the legwork and the beer drinking for it in Philadelphia

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Les September 14, 2018 / 5:33 pm

    Philly is just about a 1hr. drive away for me. I have not been in central Philadelphia for a long, long time. The last time was when I was stationed at the Naval Base. Would not mind walking those streets again around City Hall. There probably have been many changes. Will be heading down to Independence Park for a Photo Shoot tomorrow. Not looking forward to the terrible traffic.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 14, 2018 / 9:06 pm

      Have fun taking the photos tomorrow, Les. I think that the weather prediction for tomorrow is a good one. And thanks for adding your thoughts to this story. Appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Les September 18, 2018 / 9:16 am

        Thanks for your reply. See my latest Post on History.

        Liked by 2 people

  19. As much cake as you want September 14, 2018 / 7:08 pm

    Sounds like a great evening out. Love the Waterboys track – haven’t listened to them in a long time!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 14, 2018 / 9:09 pm

      Hi there. I just looked up The Waterboys in Wikipedia. They’re still around, though Mike Scott is the only original member.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As much cake as you want September 15, 2018 / 8:34 am

        Oh interesting – I’ll have to check that out (I think I may be going down memory lane with my music today!)

        Liked by 2 people

  20. ortensia September 15, 2018 / 3:46 am

    Wander around in my own company is my idea of treat😀😍

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 15, 2018 / 8:15 am

      Hi. Yes, sometimes it’s very good to be alone with your thoughts and observations. That can help the mind to open up. Thanks for reading my article. Have an excellent weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. sniderjerry September 15, 2018 / 2:32 pm

    I must have gotten too close to the computer while reading your recent story. Now I have your Summer cold. Thanks Neil. Your pal, Jerry

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Still the Lucky Few September 16, 2018 / 1:00 am

    Sounds like a great night out. Nice that you had signs, beer and music to keep you company—who needs other folk?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 16, 2018 / 7:10 am

      Right. Short solo excursions can be very good. Have a great Sunday, Diane. Be seeing you —


  23. tylerus September 16, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    Wonderful pics, as always . . . one day, I WILL get to Philly. OMG – I haven’t thought of the Waterboys in years! Thanks for taking me back. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 16, 2018 / 3:07 pm

      Hi Tyler. I mentioned to someone else that The Waterboys are still around, though there’s only one original member (Mike Scott). Mike, I think, has been the main guy in the band right from the start.


  24. selizabryangmailcom September 17, 2018 / 1:24 pm

    Nice travelogue! I love that there’s still a few smoking bars left in the U.S. and the choice to enjoy a place like that hasn’t been completely removed. Also love your special moment: the atmosphere of the bar, the tasty beer, then the surprising music faves playing. My soul gets recharged during magical moments like that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 17, 2018 / 2:33 pm

      Your final sentence is right on the money. That’s the way I felt there.
      As always, many thanks for adding to my stories, Stacey. Bye for now —


  25. Alyson September 17, 2018 / 3:29 pm

    What an adventure you ended up having and like most simple pleasures, cost next to nothing. Philadelphia must be a pretty safe place at night.

    Love that Waterboys track – it was the title track on a great British film called What We Did On Our Holiday starring Billy Connolly – would recommend a viewing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 17, 2018 / 4:22 pm

      You know, your first sentence made a song pop into my head: The Best Things In Life Are Free. There’s a whole lot of truth in that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson September 18, 2018 / 7:38 am

        There is indeed – Here’s to simple pleasures.

        Liked by 2 people

  26. Kimberly September 17, 2018 / 7:30 pm

    There’s something about the right songs at the right time. Cigarette smoke and imported beer included is perfect timing. Great post, thanks

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 17, 2018 / 8:18 pm

      The right songs at the right time don’t come around all that often, at least for me. But they sure did at McGlinchey’s. They sounded great. Have a great rest of the week, Kimberly. See ya’ —

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Apple Hill Cottagep September 17, 2018 / 9:39 pm

    Oh man, I hadn’t thought of the Waterboys in years. The first notes of Fisherman’s Blues transported me to a former life…I was sitting in that smoky bar right with you… on the other end of PA. 🙂

    Nice photos too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 17, 2018 / 11:12 pm

      Hi there. I’m glad you liked this story. I’m discovering via peoples’ comments that quite a few of us know The Waterboys. Fisherman’s Blues is such a great recording. Take care —


  28. pjlazos September 18, 2018 / 6:51 am

    Love the City at night, but I’m shocked to know you can still smoke in some places. I guess that’s kind of good, freedom of expression and all. I, too, gave up smoking, but unlike you, Neil, I don’t think I would have lasted 10 minutes in McGlinchey’s! Have a great day, pam

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 18, 2018 / 1:05 pm

      Hi Pam. I’d be interested to know how many bars in the city have exemptions that allow smoking. Probably a whole lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pjlazos September 18, 2018 / 2:01 pm

        Me, too, because until your blog post I didn’t even know it was a thing, Neil.

        Liked by 1 person

  29. cmwriter September 18, 2018 / 7:21 pm

    Always love the night and the pulsing neon!

    Liked by 2 people

  30. viewfromoverthehill September 19, 2018 / 12:40 pm

    Fun to read as always. The last time I was in your town was 1956. It looks like it has changed a lot since then. Muriel
    P.S. Do pigs really sweat????

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 19, 2018 / 5:13 pm

      Hi. Philly probably was very lively in 1956, but I can’t say for sure because I didn’t get to know the city till 1974. You’d like it if you visited again. Have a great rest of the week, Muriel.


  31. jeanleesworld September 19, 2018 / 11:10 pm

    Ah, you sound like me and Milwaukee. I need to invest in a better camera–or a new smart phone–so I can take some night pictures. My current phone can’t take night photos worth beans, which means no amazing night photos like yours. Lovely color here!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 20, 2018 / 7:08 am

      Hey there, Jean. Milwaukee I’ve never been to. I’d like to see it. Ditto for Pittsburgh and a bunch of other cities. The USA is huge, with a lot to see.
      Take care —

      Liked by 1 person

  32. alhenry September 20, 2018 / 6:16 pm

    Very happy, Neil, to see that China town got a pic or two in edgewise, but aside from some sort of Kosher platter (which I had to tax my screen to the max to see), where is the diversity? The Luigi’s Spaghetti Houses? The curry palaces? The Tapas bars? Okay, London Pride counts for something (I’ve had quite a few in recent weeks here in the UK), but we need more universal brotherly love here. And I know you’re the man to track it down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 20, 2018 / 7:00 pm

      Amy, I think you’re right. I’m always in the market for story ideas, and you’ve planted a seed.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Silver Screenings September 20, 2018 / 10:01 pm

    Great nighttime photos, and the two songs make for a terrific soundtrack while exploring a city at night. I’ve never been to Philadelphia, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. America On Coffee January 21, 2019 / 11:25 pm

    What a fascinating venture and share. And awesome photos. It is funny how times and temperaments change. These images are reflective of our current times and socialization. I loved it back in time, when liquor stores were fewer and not on every corner. And, where neighborhood bars were fewer and not called pubs or dive bars. Neon lights should go out no later than 10pm. And no pubbing in Sundays. McMurtry and the Watetboys songs move away from a rural South into the flashing neons. Nice speculative post. Cheers!


    • Yeah, Another Blogger January 22, 2019 / 7:01 am

      Yes, nighttime gives a very different kind of feel to places. That’s certainly true for Philadelphia. I had a good time doing this story. Take care, AOC. Be seeing you!


      • America On Coffee January 22, 2019 / 8:34 am

        A good story it is Neil. Bright lights and the big city. Hahaha. I say again that I loved the sleepy towns back when, and the early commercial closings. There was less chaos and more peace and serenity. Stay inspired. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

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