Golf mini-bars are all the rage in Philadelphia as putting and booze grow in popularity

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Most children remember family trips to play mini golf. The adrenaline rush and sensory overload of navigating between spinning windmills and flashing fountains for a low-stakes win makes the activity almost guaranteed to be a good time.

Especially when beer and cocktails are on the menu. Yes, adults are breaking out the rubber putters and savvy entrepreneurs are cashing in on the idea of ​​wet mini-golf.

The trend arrived in Philadelphia when Free land opened last year, officially at full capacity in March 2021 after a few months of pandemic restrictions. Co-owner Sanil Shah said he aimed to create a “hyper-local” venue when he moved into the 8,500 square foot space. space at 16th and West Girard.

“We really wanted to move to a booming neighborhood,” Shah told Billy Penn, referring to Francisville, which has seen a massive influx of new housing. “And we really wanted to stay local.”

This is the theme of design and decoration. The first six holes spell the word Philly; others have odes to the art museum, Logan Square and Boathouse Row, and there’s a wall with artwork by Natalie Flor Negron, Paul Charpentierand other local artists.

This is also the theme of the menu. All 32 taps pour only local beer and cider, including a special Love City Brewing creation called Libertee Lager, which costs $5 a pint. Food offerings also pay homage to the owners group’s Indo-American roots, such as the lamb kheema cheesesteak: curly masala lamb and ribeye topped with cheese and cilantro-lime aioli on a carangi roll. to seeds.

Shah is counting on the menu to help Libertee stay popular. “We think, with the food and drink part, nobody else is going to compete with us,” he said.

That’s key, because the competition is about to get fierce. Puttshack — a fast-growing chain with locations in Atlanta, Chicago and London — is set to open at 1625 Chestnut St. next summer. The big one, 26,000 square feet. the installation is inside the shops of Liberty Place. A press release touts plans for a “globally inspired” menu, as well as a “tech-infused mini-golf experience” powered by the brand’s patented Trackaball scoring system.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Putter intends to debut later this year in a massive 78,000 square feet. space at 1400 N. Howard St. in Fishtown. The business is to be operated by Drive Shack, a Texas-based Topgolf competitor that is leaning its business model toward minis. Puttery has locations in five cities, including Dallas, Charlotte, Miami, Houston and DC. The Philly site would have three different 9-hole putting courses and several bars.


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The Liberty Grounds local homeowners group remains positive. (Shah grew up in West Chester; co-owners Pri Rambhia and Kanay Patel are originally from South Jersey.). “Yes, they are going to be bigger; and most of them have 18 holes. But we hope to grow,” said Shah, who is a trained chef and previously owned the Mexican Post in Wilmington, Delaware. “Honestly, the competition can be good.”

The plan for the future is to add nine more holes to the 9-hole course and then develop a live music program in the beer garden. Libertee Grounds also has a semi-private event space, primarily for birthdays, baby showers, and company outings.

Shah thinks activity-based drinking is here to stay (see ax throwing, candle making, painting and sipping, etc.), and that of all the options, mini golf shines.

“It’s a great icebreaker for a first date – laid back vibe, natural breaks, time to talk and get to know each other,” Shah said. “And you don’t have to be good at the real business.”

DRZAZGA PHOTO / Courtesy Liberty Grounds

From St. Andrews to Franklin Square

Where and when did America’s love for mini golf begin?

According to legend, the game has its origins in the homeland of regular golf: Scotland. In 1867, women’s putting club took root in St. Andrews, with a special training course for women at a time when it was considered rude for a woman to “bring the club over her shoulder”.

Miniature golf crossed the pond in 1916 when steamship magnate James Barber built Thistle Dhu in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It lacked the prominent chutes and ladders on today’s courses, opting for straight greens and welcoming fairways.

The sport reached its peak in 1930 with approximately 25,000 mini-golf courses in the United States, including innovative 18-hole courses atop New York’s skyscrapers and obstacle-filled greens that you can found everywhere in seaside towns. Parkside Whispering Pines Miniature Golf in New York is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Allison’s Mini Golf in Ohio claims to be the oldest mini-golf course in the country.

These days, Stephen Curry led a charge to make mini golf a legitimate sport, and possibly even create a professional league. The Golden State Warriors star is the executive producer behind the ABC series”Holey Moley,” an extreme mini-golf challenge and reality show that debuted in 2020 and garnered a cult following.

Franklin Square mini-golf course features obstacles inspired by historic Philadelphia landmarks
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

In Philadelphia, mini golf is the prerogative of Franklin Square, which installed the city’s first and only 18-hole mini-golf course in 2006 with replicas of iconic Philadelphia landmarks like Independence Hall, Elfreth’s Alley and the Rocky Steps. While there’s no on-site bar (or alcohol allowed on the course), seasonal beer gardens pop up next door throughout the year.

“Our goal is to educate and entertain people in the historic district,” said Cari Feiler Bender, spokesperson for Historic Philadelphia, which manages the park. “That means area residents as well as out-of-town visitors strolling the cobbled streets. If you’ve been around town all day and your kids have been well behaved, it’s a nice reward for them to play a trick.

The mini-golf course invites young and old to test their skills while learning a bit about the city’s rich history. It’s a popular spot for grandparents to bond with their grandkids, and a favorite ice-breaker activity for nervous teens on a first date.

“It’s literally for all ages,” Feiler Bender said. “It’s particularly unique in the way we showcase all of the city’s historic sites. We tell stories while telling people to have fun. It’s a wonderful oasis in the middle of Philadelphia.

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