Lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern, Kyle Darrow, initially went to Virginia Tech for engineering but hated every minute of it. Then he randomly took a seminar on hospitality and it changed the course of his life.
“The only thing I remember was the speaker talking about getting to travel the world to open hotels. After that, I was sold,” he says.
But there weren’t many hospitality opportunities in Virginia, so Darrow found himself working in restaurants.
“My first industry job was at a little 24 hour diner in my college town and I worked the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift,” he says. “It was only ever myself and one cook serving a 50 seat restaurant and we would get our teeth kicked in every night.”
However, Darrow loved the adrenaline rush and fell in love with the restaurant industry.
“When I'm in a restaurant, I feel like it’s just part of my life. I get to hang out with friends and host a party every night. It's a lifestyle and it's definitely not for everyone, but I love it.”
For the past eight years, Darrow has called Philly home. He gives us the lowdown on where to eat whether you’re in the mood for the best soft pretzels, tomato bisque or a meal with a side of jazz.
Best late night meal?
Center City Soft Pretzel (816 Washington Ave.). They don't even open until the early hours of the morning, just about the time we all finish up having a post-shift drink and it’s right around the corner from my house. Don't undervalue a simple hot pretzel fresh off the belt with some nacho cheese after a long shift.
Best meal under $10?
Pho at Nam Phoung (1100 Washington Ave.). A hot bowl of noodles is near and dear to my heart, and Nam Phoung is always there when I need it. Pro tip: Pair with some Vietnamese coffee for the perfect hangover cure.
Best hidden foodie gem?
Cafe Lutecia (2301 Lombard St.). It’s a tiny family run cafe on the corner of 23rd and Lombard. The tomato bisque is the best I've ever had, but the real gem is Tuesday nights when Val and her family put on a Basque tapas dinner.
Best place to dine alone?
All plugs aside, I honestly think Red Owl (433 Chestnut St.) is a great place to dine alone. Our bartenders are some of the friendliest in the city, and it’s a hotel bar (adjacent to Hotel Monaco). Plenty of regulars from out of town that are always looking to chat. If you’re looking for somewhere you can keep to yourself and get a good meal, I would check out Good Dog (224 S. 15th St.).
Place you always take or recommend for out-of-towners?
Time (1315 Sansom St.). Working at a bar in a hotel, most of my guests are travelers and I'm always pulling Time out of my back pocket. It's got three rooms, a whiskey bar, a club upstairs and a really cool jazz bar/restaurant and somehow they're able to do all three extremely well. The food in the restaurant is phenomenal and I tend to just go for the chef's menu, but if I have to pick one dish I'd go with the seafood stew. Tons of fresh seafood in a tomato broth with some olives for a nice pop of salty brine.
Go-to date spot hands down?
Bistro La Minette (623 S. 6th St.). Just a block off of South Street, it’s a quiet little spot with amazing French food. They have an excellent wine selection and their service is impeccable while remaining unpretentious. I always end up with the special for an entree but my wife and I have our go-to appetizers. Tartare de buf for me and oeuf du pecheur for her.
Best place to catch up with friends?
Good King Tavern (614 S. 7th St.) is a great place to catch up with friends. Friendly staff, great food and a nice high top communal table perfect for conversation.
Most Instagrammable restaurant?
Wm. Mulherin's Sons (1355 N. Front St.). I mean have you seen their Instagram? I'm not very active on social media, but I do poke around for inspiration and every one of their posts looks like it could be a magazine cover.