Blending the Old with the New

By Amelia Schwartz | Jaclyn Warren


Amelia Schwartz
Jaclyn Warren
Interior of McGillin's Old Ale House
Interior of McGillin's Old Ale House

Once upon a time, 159 years ago to be exact, Catherine and William McGillin opened a pub in the heart of Philadelphia. They called it Bell in Hand Tavern and welcomed locals and laborers alike. Catherine and William were “Ma” and “Pa” to their patrons and 13 children who lived upstairs. McGillin meant family.

Even in 1958, when the McGillin family was ready to let go of their beloved bar, brothers Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak (who agreed on business but disagreed on the spelling of their last name) took over, renewing the legacy of family. 

Now, as the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia, McGillin’s Old Ale House is owned and operated by Henry’s grandson, Chris Mullins. “We appreciate our history,” says Mullins. “We appreciate our building, and we tend to it carefully and tenderly.” But maintaining the integrity of the historic destination while pleasing the average Philadelphian has its own set of challenges.

Although many associate McGillin’s with big games and big beer intake, the influx of residential infrastructure near City Hall has thrown McGillins into the contemporary Philly dining scene. Diners come to McGillin’s to satisfy those primal cravings for wings, chicken fingers, and juicy, hefty burgers. Gratifying? Absolutely. Healthful? Not so much.  

“If you can come up with another way to make [your food] healthy, reduce consumption of meat, and increase consumption of veggies, you are doing the environment and yourself some good,” says Mullins, who decided to join the Blended Burger Project, a James Beard Foundation and Mushroom Council initiative that encourages chefs to incorporate mushrooms into their burger blend. Guests love mushrooms on a burger, so it follows, why not in their burger? 

The Blended Burger at McGillin’s is earthy, bursting with umami, and so juicy the runoff may reach your elbows. Top it with cheese and wash it down with one (or three) of their 27 local craft beers on tap, and you’ve got yourself a burden-free burger. 

Mushroom Impact 

  • The effect of replacing 30 percent of beef in every burger with mushrooms would be the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road, and would eliminate 150 billion calories, annually.
  • The largest recycler of agricultural waste: the cultivated mushroom industry 
  • One acre of land may produce 1,000 pounds of beef OR 1 million pounds of mushrooms. 
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