One of Philly’s most prestigious underground hotspots remains Rittenhouse Square’s MONK’S CAFE BEER EMPORIUM. Owner Tom Peters keeps the tenacious local and visiting brewhounds enthralled with a wide selection of Belgian beers as well as American and international craft brews. Monk’s Beer Bible lists over 300 world class bottled selections and the daily Front and Back Bar draught menus have a mind-boggling selection worth exploring.
Near the corner of 16th Street just inside the city’s downtown parameters, Monk’s Cafe provides a cozy intimacy perfectly in tune with the broad scope of not only craft beers but also fine wines. Its narrow interconnected rooms have a maze-like setup.
Entering thru a bright red door (covered by a Belgium-flagged yellow and red striped black canope), a few windowed tables offer a quaint lunch setting adjacent to the eight-seat front bar (where a rustic tap station houses five draughts listed on the nearby menu board). Past the three pews and two-seat tables (made of reclaimed oak furnishings from a choir loft) and down the hall, an Abbey St. Sixtus sign welcomes patron’s to the crown jewel, Monk’s sterling back bar.
With an eight-seat bar and left-walled tables, the Old World-styled backspace retains a rare elegance deepened by its artful decorum. A mirrored Monk’s Cafe insignia centers the bar, which houses top shelf booze, a segregated Delirium Tremens tap handle and twelve-draught tap station. Two gorgeous tapestries along the wall prove illustrious. One portrays 15th century wine making processing and the other’s a wool and silk woven ‘five senses’ reproduction.
Peters, a proud entrepreneur, moved into Monk’s current space way back in 1997, just as the American public was truly discovering the variegated international beer landscape the market finally accepted full-on. A respected beer guru guiding a Philly landmark, Peters’ spent a few moments conversing on a sunny Memorial Day, 2013.
Though it’d be difficult to sample every untried beer currently on tap or bottled, two fabulous imperials, one an India Pale Ale, the other a sweet-toothed dark ale, capture my attention.
Gleaming tropical-fruited Omnipollo Nebuchadnezzar Double IPA brought lovely sugar-caned peach, pear, pineapple, passion fruit and mango tropicalia to grapefruit-peeled juniper hop bittering.
Engaging mocha dessert treat, Evil Twin Naked Lunch In A Heavenly Copenhagen Resto, a full-bodied Imperial Stout, worked dark chocolate-spiced vanilla, anise, coconut, cookie dough and raisin bread illusions into its smoky confines. (Full reviews are in Beer Index).
Those hungry souls visiting Monk’s caliginous gastropub should try Red Light Mussels, Monk’s Burger, Rainbow Trout or Duck Salad Sandwich.
Claiming to incorporate the ‘Soul of Belgium in the heart of Philadelphia,’ Monk’s appeal only widens as the craft beer market explodes.