My Evening at the Whole Foods Bar

The grocery chain has bars and taprooms across the country. How are the vibes?

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Image: Chris Hatler

If you’re like me, the bars you patronize most frequently do not tend to be located inside dominant grocery store chains. But recently, with a container of hot bar grub in hand, I headed toward long gray counter at the rear of Whole Foods’ beer and wine section for a laid-back evening of socializing. Why? Because there’s a first time for everything.

I brought my girlfriend and a buddy along, and we were surprised to find the bar semi-full. As it turns out, it might have been unfair of me to assume we’d be the only people drinking at the Whole Foods bar on a Wednesday at 7 p.m. Three middle-aged gentlemen, each garbed in some iteration of jeans and a sweatshirt, slowly sipped their beers from half-full pint glasses, leaving only a pair of chairs between each of them.

The only three consecutive open seats were at the far left end of the bar, where the counter dropped two feet down for some unknown reason. I suggested it was for wheelchair users, but my girlfriend pointed out that there wasn’t any room for a wheelchair to fit. There was no open space below the counter, just a solid wall of wood. To eat and drink comfortably from our stools, we needed to either turn our legs completely to the side, spread them uncomfortably wide, or lean forward far enough to give ourselves back problems.

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A replay of the previous night’s Heat vs. Trailblazers game hummed on TVs above the bar. The single attendant working had to not only serve the bar patrons, but also ring up anyone purchasing beer and wine to go. She apologized, mentioning that her coworker was on his dinner break. No problem, we said. She was clearly swamped, and we weren’t in a rush anyway. This is an important aspect of lingering at the Whole Foods bar: You can’t be on your way anywhere.

When the to-go line finally cooled down and the Trailblazers hit a buzzer-beater three-pointer to win, one of the older gentlemen paid his tab and left. With great relief, we moved our butts to the taller stools with legroom.

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The bar has an impressive 14 beers on tap and a selection of 11 wines. That’s a lot more variety than many of the watering holes in the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhood, where I’m used to picking between a domestic draft, one craft IPA option, a handful of seasonal picks, or Pennsylvania favorite Yuengling. I decided on a wheat beer, the Free Will Scarecrow, which I thought would pair decently with the butter chicken meatballs and rice in my plastic hot bar container. The taps weren’t labeled, so I had to ask for the corresponding number next to the beer on the menu. Number 14, please!

The bartender served me quickly before she had to rush back to the expanding takeout line. I guess weeknights at 7 p.m. are prime shopping time, because once 7:30 rolled around and her coworker returned from his break, the space had quieted down. We sipped our drinks as the new guy flicked the TV channel to a South American soccer match.

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If I had to create a bartender in The Sims, I would have made this dude. He had the prototypical long, graying black hair, a thick beard, vibrant arm tattoos, and a Big Lebowski–esque voice that made our transactional relationship sound a lot more like a budding friendship.

It can get pretty busy at the Whole Foods bar, he told us—crazy when big games are on. He explained that foot traffic has been slow to pick back up since COVID restrictions ended; the taproom used to be a full bar before 2020, with cocktails and everything. Patrons used to walk off with their vodka sodas and do their grocery shopping drunk. It was bad news.

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As we neared the end of our beers and our bartender sipped from a Hydroflask, I took in the surroundings. Mid-2000s indie rock hovered in the air, the perfect pairing for my millennial tastes. A single fake plant livened up the gray-and-brown decor, set against a chevron patterned tile backsplash that Joanna Gaines would approve of. I peered over the two televisions, four shelves of wine, and a line of taps. Just beyond the bar, an abysmally long self-checkout line snaked around toward a cooler full of expensive kombucha. Oh yeah, I forgot. I’m in a grocery store, and I’m one of the only people who have come here to unwind.

Whole Foods The Bar gives off the same vibes Whole Foods The Store: clean, trendy, and above all, inoffensive. The beer was well priced for the area and the selection was bigger than I expected. And of course, while the experience was new to me and my cohort, the ability to drink booze at Whole Foods is nothing new—in-store bars have existed since 2009, and certain locations have even brewed their own beer since 2014. In the years since, the store has gained regulars, who treat the bar like any other neighborhood spot. Because that’s exactly what it is, just with slightly harsher lighting.

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We should come back sometime, I told my girlfriend as we paid our tab and turned to leave. Just maybe not during an Eagles game.