Panther Hollow Inn (a.k.a. PhiBar, a.k.a. PHI)
4611 Forbes Ave
M-Sat: 11am-2:30am; Sun: only during Steelers season
Well due to recent happenings in my life, not only am I a graduate student, but I am a *poor* graduate student. So while dining at finer establishments has been fun, I have to refocus my efforts on finding good deals when eating out. I’m not quite down to the level of a free-gan, scoping the basement hallways of Pitt and CMU for the abandoned pizza of concluded meetings, but I do need to keep a bit of an eye on my budget to make sure I still have enough money left over for beer. Here enters PhiBar. PHI offers some really cheap food. It is not fine dining, nor is it even stellar bar food, but it is dirt cheap and it qualifies as definitively good enough, maybe even better than most for what it is. And of course, it is a classic Oakland locale to go get diza-runk, so consider going here if you want to eat cheap (but decent) pizza surrounded by wasted (but eye-pleasing) Pitt and CMU kids.
So my first thing to say is a disclaimer: I hardly qualify as someone who should writeup PHI. Even though I did my undergrad at Carnegie Mellon, I never once went to PhiBar during that entire time. Oh yes, I was aware of it, but I made a point of not going. See, I can be a kind of jaded hater like that sometimes. But one day a couple years ago, after getting totally margarita’d at Mad Mex (always a good time), my friends Sarah, Sam, and Scott insisted we go there. These guys are people who frequented PHI during undergrad and who do qualify as people who should writeup this place, and I trust their judgment. Thus, me being inebriated and therefore more amorous to the world, I let go of my childish stance against PHI and went with them.
I know I am making this seem really dramatic, but it was kind of a big deal! I used to have almost a rule about not going, and here I was stepping through the threshold? It felt strange, like somehow I had this secret no one knew, or I was a spy infiltrating the enemy camp. But then sometimes it would feel like the burning of all eyes upon me (which, of course, was ludicrous). Total paranoia!
Total paranoia… that is, until I was brought shots of Red Death. Red Death is this crazy mixture of liquors that magically turns into Kool-Aid, made red by Sloe Gin. It usually comes as shots but the staff are so amenable that you can convince them to make you a whole glass. Or a pitcher. A PITCHER, people! A pitcher of shots! And see, this is the beginning of a different impression that I formed about Panther Hollow Inn. They are super friendly and down to earth! Well maybe that sounds dumb, but at a lot of places you can’t get a bartender to just be easy-going like that. The staff here will pretty much do anything you want as long as you are nice about it and you aren’t completely obliterated already. And it isn’t just the Red Death that is good, or classic, or whatever you want to call it. They’ve regularly got good deals on beers and other drinks, all of which are great. For drinking, you really can’t go wrong at the Panther Hollow Inn — unless you don’t like the atmosphere (makey-outy) or crowd (truly brimming with young bodies).
Months after this initial experience, I needed a lunch spot, and noticed while walking by that their pizza specials were incredibly cheap, like everything is less than $10 cheap. And I went in for lunch and found that their subs were ridiculously cheap too. A half a sub is typically $4 or less, and is actually quite large. It’s not like the 6-incher at Subway, which leaves your stomach whining for more. A PhiBar sub and a couple of beers will fill you up, and cost you only $6-$8. That is a freakin’ deal in my book. Quality-wise, the subs are fine. Nothing super amazing, plus they always seem to be out of eggplant (I think that maybe they just put that on the menu for appearances), but they are fine. I have repeatedly spent money on them, so that means they are at least a little bit good. The pizza is usually solidly good, though. The dough is good, the sauce is good, the cheese is good, the toppings are good, and the price is really right, so it is a good deal all around. Especially four or five drinks in.
Essentially all you need to know is that its cheap and pretty good here. I wouldn’t take your parents here. I wouldn’t take a date here (unless it is one of those things where you aren’t officially on a date but you think you might hookup, and you are only interested in hooking up anyway and have no future intentions of a real relationship). Also, I wouldn’t take anyone who is bothered by smoke here. I would, however, have lunch here, as it is generally quiet during the middle of the day. I would meet friends after work, get drunk and eat pizza here. I would chat with the bartender about my woes here. I would play darts here. Basically, any casual, fun time I’d totally go here for, and weirdly, I feel welcome even on those nights when everyone around me is 8-10 years my junior. It is just a good, relaxing place to be, straddling the line of dive and sports bar, and I’m sorry I only just recently got off my high horse to give it a chance.
Pizza and Beer!
Red Death, if you are curious
Cheap subs at lunch
Bathrooms are not so great. That isn’t really a sneaky tip, but I thought I should mention it somehow. This is very much a college bar, and has restrooms commensurate with that.