Sipping Philly history

Quench­ing a thirst for know­ledge: His­tor­ic Phil­adelphia, one of the city’s non­profit tour­ism agen­cies, of­fers Tip­pler’s Tours series on Thursday even­ings. The event in­cludes a Re­volu­tion­ary-era per­son­al­ity lead­ing guests on a bar-hop­ping ex­tra­vag­anza in Old City. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BRI­AN LATH­ROP FOR PHIL­ADELPHIA CON­VEN­TION AND VIS­IT­ORS BUR­EAU

If you think Phil­adelphia has too many bars these days, con­sider your­self lucky you didn’t live here dur­ing the Amer­ic­an Re­volu­tion.

The city’s 40,000 or so in­hab­it­ants in the late 1770s pop­u­lated what amoun­ted to Party Cent­ral — an 18th-cen­tury ver­sion of Spring Break and An­im­al House all rolled in­to one, only without the bikinis or the to­gas. In an era with little or no pub­lic reg­u­la­tion of drink­ing es­tab­lish­ments, you lit­er­ally couldn’t stumble a block without run­ning in­to a pub­lic house. Not sur­pris­ingly, there were plenty of heavy drink­ers in those days, too. Today, we might call them sots or lushes. Back then, the pop­u­lar term was “tip­pler.”

One of the city’s non­profit tour­ism agen­cies, His­tor­ic Phil­adelphia, is bring­ing the tip­pler life­style back in­to vogue, if only for a couple of hours each week, with its Tip­pler’s Tours series. The party starts at 5:30 each Thursday even­ing with a Re­volu­tion­ary-era per­son­al­ity lead­ing guests on a bar-hop­ping ex­tra­vag­anza in Old City, fea­tur­ing snacks, liba­tions and lively con­ver­sa­tion at every turn.

“A tip­pler goes from one loc­a­tion to the next, and not ne­ces­sar­ily to li­censed es­tab­lish­ments or li­censed houses. He will go to houses that simply roll out a cask or a tun in­to the street and [he] is will­ing to pay for a drink. That pretty much de­scribes a tip­pler — go­ing for the least ex­pens­ive and the most avail­able,” ex­plained Wil­li­am McIl­henny, who por­trays Troop­er Robert Hare on one series of tours and Samuel Nich­olas, the first com­mand­ant of the U.S. Mar­ine Corps, on an­oth­er.

Tours cost $40 per per­son in 21st-cen­tury cur­rency. Seni­ors, mil­it­ary and stu­dents get a $5 dis­count. Start­ing Sept. 26 and con­tinu­ing through Nov. 7, the tours will fea­ture a Hal­loween theme, Ghosts & Toasts. And in Novem­ber and Decem­ber, the theme will be the Brit­ish oc­cu­pa­tion of the city from 1777 to ’78, McIl­henny said.

The tours all take place with­in the city’s his­tor­ic dis­trict. Guests walk from one sta­tion to the next.

“The tour moves quick. There are four stops, so we spend a good 20 minutes per stop. There are 43 his­tor­ic­al sites in the city with­in a mile, five or six blocks,” McIl­henny said.

Sadly, there are few, if any, vin­tage pubs in the dis­trict.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the city does not have the ex­tens­ive amount of tav­erns it did in the 18th cen­tury,” McIl­henny said.

The his­tor­ic City Tav­ern at 138 S. Second St. is a re­con­struc­ted ver­sion of the ori­gin­al. It was erec­ted by the Na­tion­al Park Ser­vice in 1975 us­ing the 1773 blue­prints. Oth­er ven­ues, like Na­tion­al Mech­an­ics at 22 S. Third St., are very old build­ings with a vari­ety of pre­vi­ous uses. That’s where McIl­henny, a pro­fes­sion­al act­or, brings the hid­den his­tory alive.

“Some of the oth­er places we go are much more mod­ern. At those points in the tour, I like to talk to guests about oth­er types of build­ings. There were a lot of ho­tels in Phil­adelphia [in the 1770s] and there were 17 dif­fer­ent lan­guages spoken. It sort of brings out the dif­fer­ences that Phil­adelphia has,” McIl­henny said.

Hare’s char­ac­ter has plenty of sub­stance. Born in Eng­land in 1752, the son of well-to-do Eng­lish and Scot­tish par­ents, Hare ar­rived in Phil­adelphia in 1774 and resided here un­til his 1811 death. He soon joined the Phil­adelphia Light Horse, one of the first mi­li­tias formed dur­ing the Re­volu­tion, earn­ing his “troop­er” des­ig­na­tion. Also known as the First City Troop, it’s still a unit in the Pennsylvania Army Na­tion­al Guard and is the na­tion’s old­est act­ive mil­it­ary unit.

Hare ul­ti­mately mar­ried in­to an af­flu­ent fam­ily, be­came a mem­ber of the Pennsylvania Con­sti­tu­tion­al Con­ven­tion and was elec­ted to both houses of the state le­gis­lature. He served as pres­id­ent of the Pennsylvania Sen­ate and a trust­ee of the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania.

He was largely ad­mired for his brew­ing, too. Like his fath­er did in Lon­don, Hare spe­cial­ized in the re­l­at­ively new “port­er” style of beer.

“He owned what was con­sidered to be a malt house and used all goods and ser­vices from loc­al farm­ers,” McIl­henny said. “He in­tro­duced the Amer­ic­an port­er to the city of Phil­adelphia.”

In later years, even George Wash­ing­ton noted Hare’s port­er as the “un­ac­claimed drink of the White House.”

It’s those kinds of de­tails that make the two-hour Tip­pler’s Tour spe­cial to his­tory buffs and to curi­ous beer lov­ers, alike.

“It’s a sol­id two hours of his­tory and what we like to call liba­tions along the way,” McIl­henny said. “The tour is scrip­ted to a cer­tain point, but the per­sona of my char­ac­ter comes out when the [guest] ques­tions arise. The older [people] are, they seem to be more in­ter­ested in learn­ing his­tory and the young­er ones seem to be more in­ter­ested in mak­ing his­tory.”

For in­form­a­tion about Tip­pler’s Tours and oth­er His­tor­ic Phil­adelphia Inc. events, vis­it his­tor­ic­phil­ ••

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