Editor’s Note: We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s premiere by looking back at the history of Paddy’s Pub. This article was originally published in January 2014.
It’s 1:39 a.m., on a Friday, in the city of Brotherly Love. It’s your first visit to Philadelphia and it’s time to get a cheesesteak.
Philadelphia is a historical city, a former east coast utopia that was the feather in the cap of a newly birthed nation. People claim they come to Philly for the history, but they stay for the cheesesteaks. Let’s call it what it is, you’ve spent the night out on the town pillaging the tapped kegs at various watering holes, you need to sober up and you’re more than willing to sacrifice the cliché of seeking out the famous Philly cheesesteak in return for drunk food satisfaction.
You navigate the streets while your head is buried in your iPhone as you type away in the hopes of finding the city’s quintessential steak eatery. These days, South Philadelphia’s worn streets, narrow sidewalks and dark alleys are enough to shake the confidence of a newcomer, but you barely notice any of that because you’re attention is focused on comprehending the blurred lines that represent Google Maps.
Your trying little heart and Apple device finally takes you to the crossroads of cheesesteak heaven, S. 9th St and E. Passyunk. Geno’s Cheesesteaks’ colorful bright lights suck you into a food-induced sense of false sobriety. It has the allure of a Broadway show, if the players were faux cheddar, onions, seasoned steak and that order of fries you knew you weren’t hungry enough to eat but ordered them anyway. That is until your nose catches the aroma of Pat’s Cheesesteaks. You turn your head 180 degrees toward agonizingly long lines that make you believe if you’re patient enough, Pat’s cheesesteak will make your knees buckle at first bite.
After a bout of drunken indecisiveness, one of the famous cheesesteak hotspots is victorious and you eat your first true Philly cheesesteak in an unholy rush of gluttony. Now that you’ve achieved your stated goal for the evening, it’s time to walk back to your hotel. You wander aimlessly around the poorly lit streets of South Philly until you find yourself in the scariest of alleys. You haven’t been in many dark alleys before, but you have a hunch that this is as scary as any. The stench of piled up garbage is overwhelming as you do your best to walk over intoxicated homeless men. You find a green door slightly cracked open and you hurry to it because there’s no turning back.
You’re already in too deep.
You’ve arrived. You didn’t mean to, but you’ve entered Paddy’s Pub – a watering hold once described by token newsman Lyle Korman as “the Worst Bar in Philly.”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the dream (or nightmare) scenario ends here. There are nearly 253,000 bars within the city limits yet there is no real life Paddy’s Pub – a sad truth for those wishing to visit Philadelphia.
As legend has it, one possible inspiration for the bar is the Shamrock Pub, which is located in South Philly, just a stone’s throw away from the childhood home of Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney. Though the Gang shoots on location in Philadelphia at least once or twice per season, the majority of Always Sunny in Philadelphia is filmed in Los Angeles. Paddy’s might not be as tangible as those looking for a Jack and Coke would like, but the fictional bar is still etched in Hollywood history.
The original shooting locations for seasons one and two were almost “exclusively” shot at the Herald-Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles, a historic production studio that opened as a home for the now defunct Los Angles Examiner newspaper in 1915 and after the paper’s final edition printed in 1989, it became one of LA’s most used filming venues.
The building was commissioned by American publishing icon William Randolph Hearst as a space for his sixth newspaper to thrive. The Examiner broke the highly publicized story of the murder of Elizabeth Short, or the Black Dahlia. In 1962, the morning and afternoon papers merged to form the Herald-Examiner and held the crown of the largest afternoon circulation in country. The paper occupied the space until November 2, 1989, and the building would become a prime studio in Los Angeles home to TV shows, music video shoots, numerous big-budget films and a pub run by the sleaziest gang in town.
“It’s a crazy, dirty building,” Glen Howerton said in a behind-the-scenes look at the original shooting location.
The original bar Paddy’s Bar was a standing set in the Herald-Examiner building. As for the actual exterior of the bar, the outdoor scenes are shot at 551 Mateo Street in Los Angeles. Though the Gang left the Herald-Examiner building after season two, they’ve returned in recent years.
“It still feels to me like the real Paddy’s Pub,” Charlie Day said. “When I’m there it transports me to the world that these characters are really supposed to live in.”
In the Always Sunny universe, no one really seeks out Paddy’s Pub. You just end up there lost and confused, or in search of reliving the final night of your homeless grandpa, a man who curled up in a booth and prayed to God his legs would carry him into the blazing white light. In ten years, the backdrop of Always Sunny has gone through changes in ownership, minor cosmetic upgrades and gimmicks to bolster a stagnant business. Through it all, the Gang has never lost sight of what it truly means to own a bar where everyone knows your name – mostly because there are never more than five people in Paddy’s Pub at any given time.
Paddy’s has become more of a meeting point then a plot point. Episodes where the Gang actively tries to bring business into the bar have waned in recent years. There was a time when the Gang dreamed of soaring profits and flocks of beautiful Pennsylvanian women lining the exterior of the bar just for a chance of entry. You don’t need an erotic memoir to tell you that Dennis fought tooth and nail to turn his pipe dream into a shimmering reality.
Way before Paddy’s was declared the scum of the Philly bar scene, the Gang was successful at bringing people to the bar in short bursts. From the first episode, when the Gang unintentionally hires a gay promoter, they show a knack for capitalizing off a good idea. After Paddy’s surrendered its title of the hottest gay bar in the city, it became a safe-haven for underage drinking. But everyone knows where there is underage drinking there are petty arguments, bad blood between ex-young lovers and the feeling of being out of place when 30-something-year old bar owners are mingling amongst the high school elite. Paddy’s, as a high school hangout, couldn’t last more than one episode.
Gimmicks such as watering down alcohol for minors were short lived because Paddy’s couldn’t sustain that kind of foolery. It’s not a viable business model. If the bar was going to be successful with its dreadful location, lack of appealing signage and ghastly reputation, it was going to need to be reinvented. Paddy’s Pub needed to be about freedom: whatever, whenever.
In the history of Paddy’s Pub, it needs to be noted that Dennis, Mac and Frank bravely pushed for freedom. They wanted to make the bar a place not where wild girls would come, but where good girls would become wild. Over the course of an episode, the bar became a haven where the tequila flowed like wine, boobies could be set free and any limbs could be wagered.
Still, at Paddy’s, all good things come crashing down to earth. Too much freedom can be exploited quickly. That episode, where Charlie goes America all over everyone’s asses, is one of a few episodes that question whether or not the bar could survive without the Gang in solidarity. If you take away the “surly white trash waitress” or one of the “three classless bores” as Korman reviewed, could Paddy’s keep its doors open?
If one of Frank, Charlie, Dee, Dennis or Mac left for good, Paddy’s simply wouldn’t be the same. Would the bar be cleaner if they hired someone with a half a brain to do “Charlie Work?” Yes.
Would customer service and retention be higher if Dee wasn’t standing behind the bar crushing shots and cursing off paying customers? Of course.
Would the bar be safer without Mac? Absolutely.
Would less schemes by Frank and Dennis help the bottom line? I have to think so.
With the way the Gang behaves on a regular basis, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Paddy’s Pub rarely has more than a straggler in the bar. They represent the worst of Philadelphia. They perpetuate the stereotype that kind isn’t in the vocabulary of those who inhabit Philadelphia. Just look at the reputation of Philadelphia sports fans, people who are known to “hammer” opposing players and heckle visiting fans until a fight breaks out. If you’re not with them, you’ll be pelted with batteries or cups of stale beer. If you’re dressed up like Santa, forget it. Expect to be pelted with snowballs. These people, no matter how distasteful their behavior was the previous year, take the lump of coal in their stocking as a personal declaration of war.
To a newcomer, Paddy’s Pub might seem cold and rough around the edges at first. But Paddy’s, like the city it calls home, has a distinct divey charm to it. At its core, Paddy’s is a place where good friends can shoot the shit, drunkenly scheme for a better tomorrow and play a friendly board game every now and then. Isn’t that all we look for in a bar?
We’ll keep waiting for someone to erect a Paddy’s Pub replica in Philadelphia. Until then, knock back a tall glass of Day Man, the Always Sunny inspired beer, and go to a bar where the owners actually care to know your name, bozo.