It seems incredible that the Standard Tap was founded in the Northern Liberties a decade ago. While the place has become an institution of sorts and has acquired a stable of signature dishes, it still feels fresh, eager and friendly.
Philadelphia can be a tough town, but no matter how hard it tries the city cannot bring itself to match the ability of hipster New York to disdain the unhip. There is something homely about even the edgiest areas of Philadelphia and the Standard Tap fits that mold.
There are lots of rooms there, two with bars; our favorites remain the barroom on the ground floor and its adjacent dining area. The place is atmospheric in that homely way; the library ladder on rails is no prop but rather the means of chalking the board that lists the beer on tap each day.
They now pump beer from twenty lines at the Standard Tap to support 18 craft brewers in the Philadelphia area--and pour nothing else, bold support for the locavore movement, brewers from the home town.
Even in this time of Oktoberfest, the Standard Tap offers a superb choice of British style ales brewed in the Delaware basin. At this writing they include, among others, a pale ale from Sly Fox, Victory Ranch R IPA, Yards Brawler, a lowish strength session ale, and its ESA.
Yards, also located in the Northern Liberties not far from the Standard Tap, ranks high among our favorite brewers. Yards brews traditional as well as innovative beers based on British styles and has taken eighteenth century recipes for beer from the notebooks of colonial kitchens--at Monticello, Mt. Vernon and elsewhere--to give us a taste, however fleeting and symbolic, of the past.
The ESA, or Extra Special Ale, however, is the Yards interpretation of the ESB (‘beer’) style created in recent years by Fuller Smith & Turner, the great survivor among the old London brewers. It rivals the original in heft and flavor, an exemplary beer. Even better, the ESA available from the Standard Tap at the moment is pumped from cask; live ale, no added carbonation, an evolving beer that changes subtly as it ages. Nobody could ask for more.
Standard sources its food as well as beer locally. It prints no menu. Like the available beer, the food is chalked up and erased daily depending on what is seasonal and fresh. Sometimes some of it even takes a nearly British turn.
The kitchen likes savory pies--beef and chicken often appear--and beautifully battered smelts are something of a specialty. A smelt is a freshwater fish the size of a small cigar with the assertive flavor that riverine and lakebound fish frequently display. The taste is pleasantly fishy, a bigger version of whitebait in terms both sensory and physical.
Salads are robust, the kind of thing you will find in a public house with a commitment to food; blood orange and beet, duck with greens, ‘guinea leg.’ There may be sweetbreads too, steamed clams and a melting lamb shank. The chef roasts a fish whole.
One wintry night the Tap served a game stew. Venison, boar sausage, root vegetables and more, hot to the table in a big earthenware bowl, washed away with a fairly priced bottle of Qupe Syrah, one of the best of the CaliRhones around. Portions are ridiculous and our waitress was helpful; a serving of smelts, salad of duck and single serving of stew amounted to more food that the Editor and our Curmudgeonly Raconteur could finish, as she had warned. Prices are reasonable anyway, so when two actually do live as cheaply as one the Standard Tap represents value indeed.
Go to Philadelphia; go to the Standard Tap. You need not even eat there but you should. Time passes fast at this lovely bar and you will want to return.