Walk through the front door of Abyssinia—a longstanding Ethiopian restaurant in West Philadelphia—and you’ll get Abyssinia. Walk through the side door of Abyssinia and take the narrow staircase up, however, and you’ll get Fiume, the neighborhood’s coziest little secret, hiding in plain sight.
This unmarked watering hole is about the size of a college dorm room, with the patchily painted walls, Christmas lights, and stacks of beer boxes to match. Come on a quiet night, and you can sip from a wide selection of Fiume’s rare beer and whiskey in the “breakfast nook,” a corner of the bar flanked by bay windows looking out onto the quaint, tree-lined streets of West Philly. You can even have a hot plate of Abyssinia’s famed doro wat delivered to your table. Come when there’s music, however, and you may forget you’re in a major city at all.
Every Thursday, the “breakfast nook” becomes a tiny stage to an array of local bluegrass bands who somehow squeeze themselves into the corner of the bar. The evening is headlined by owner Kevin James Holland’s house band, the City Wide Specials (a reference to Philadelphia bars’ widely observed $5 shot-and-a-beer special). In such a small space, no mics are needed: From the far end of the bar you can hear every twang and pluck. If you’re truly hard of hearing, be patient: Holland will end up mounting the bar-top at some point in the evening. Sunday nights are a sleeker affair, with rotating old-time jazz bands.
To call it a “speakeasy” is reductive: Fiume comes without all the pomp and empty allure surrounding bars chasing that categorization. The hand-drawn drink lists and approachable staff evoke “my best friend’s attic” more than “illicit drinking den.” To call it a “dive bar” is unfair as well: Sans television, the candle-lit space often filled with academics, artists, and eccentrics is wont to provoke casual conversation among strangers.
It’s tough to label. Perhaps there aren’t enough unmarked-bluegrass-Ethiopian-craft-whiskey-bars around to warrant a label in the first place.
Know Before You Go
The spot's cash-only, with no TV or wi-fi. Music starts at 10.