The theme of the night was hidden bars! We arranged a rendez-vous spot at a garage and waited for our friends Mary and Bill. Just a few steps away there was a rugged wooden door with a name painted above, “The Back Bar”, so we ducked inside to discover a tiny hidden bar. We texted Bill and Mary to find us. The small room had a short bar ten seats long in front of an ornately carved wooden wall. A colorful, illuminated stained glass mural shined along the back wall. The panels featured comical cartoon chickens having drinks in a pub! After a text from Mary “where are you?” I quickly realized there was a mix-up and we had parked in the wrong garage. We had not meant to be hiding from them–luckily they found us!
The attractive bartender named Diane explained that The Back Bar was actually part of “The Happy Rooster”. Both bars, decorated with roosters everywhere, were noisy and busy. The rustic unisex bathrooms had short, wooden doors with wobbly latches and tin wall tiles, much like an outhouse on a farm, and Bill had to duck his head to walk into one!
Now for the destination – Randstead Room. Will we get in tonight? We thanked Diane and bundled up to walk in the frigid cold. Gloved-fingers crossed! Down 3 blocks and up two, we turned into the dark alley. Visible at the end of the street blocked with a chain link fence and dumpsters was red light on the left. I warned them that the last time we approached there was a shadowy guy smoking a cigarette but this time the street was empty. A black door with the markings “RR” above a concrete stoop was the only indication of an entrance.
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We entered the narrow, entrance hall dimly lit by a red light. When our eyes adjusted to the darkness we viewed clusters of young people lingering in their winter coats–the dreaded wait-listers ahead of us. I walked up to the host to determine how lucky we were going to be. There were two groups before us and we were welcome to leave our phone number on the wait-list and return if we got a call. Determined to stay put, the host, whose name was Will, was professional and accommodated our perseverence pleasantly. Peering through the small diamond-shaped window in the door between us and the coveted “Randstead Room” we could make out the red decor. And Bill could also see two pairs of open seats at the bar. Soon Will gave us the green light to enter and somehow the guests were asked to shuffle down and make room for us to sit together. We were in!
The decor was very mid-century, as promised. It was a 1960s lounge with zebra-print carpeting and a large chandelier with red dangling crystals. Hung on the wallpapered walls around the cozy room were semi-nude paintings of reclining women staring back at us with bedroom eyes and tossled hair. The red bar top was edged with plump, padded black vinyl. The bar itself faced opposite red leather booths, filled with patrons. Rock-n-roll was on the speakers playing guitar, brass and drums. Derek, our bartender, provided cocktail menus and recommended the “Bartenders Choice”– just tell him what kind of spirits you like and he creates. Blackberry vodka smile fizz, a house-made ginger ale, a Bourbonella and a simple Skotch Sour were served, topped with fresh fruit from the bowls lined up in front of us on the bar top. The month-long wait was worth it. Next time we will order appetizers created in El Ray’s kitchen.
Randstead Room is physically hidden but is well known for its ties to El Ray, on Market Street. Another Steven Starr establishment, I read that you can ask the bartender at El Ray to lead you to RR by way of their kitchen.
January 16, 2015
2013 Ranstead St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
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Philly Magazine – FooBooz
The Drink Nation