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The Misconduct Tavern is not a dingy haven for buccaneering scalawags sloshing grog into their distended, cutlass-scarred bellies. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a great meal and terrific drinks in a cozy nautical hideaway right in the middle of Center City, this is the place for you.

The Misconduct is a newcomer to the center city dining scene, having opened its doors the week before Christmas -- only four months behind schedule, according to co-owner Mike Caffrey. The extra time definitely paid off, as the Misconduct is a spot-on evocation of life on the high seas. Only it's not the pirate's life for you; it's the yachtsman's.

The tavern is housed in a long, narrow building, dominated by an enormous hardwood bar that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant. Affixed on the back wall is a huge sculpture of a mermaid, lit by spotlights that don't distract from the low lights that make it so comfortable. On the roof is a giant canvas and wood representation of the interior of a huge yacht, inspired by co-owner Paul Harron's own ship Misconduct, after which the Misconduct Tavern is named.

As appetizers, my first mate and I ordered St. Bart's spicy blue corn dusted Crab & Seafood nibbles ($8.25) and The Big Dipper ($7.25), a mushroom and cheese fondue. Accustomed to absurdly small appetizer portions, I was delighted by the size of both our starters. "There's no way we can finish all that," my first mate said, pointing at the huge crock of cheese that had arrived. The fondue turned out to be incredibly satisfying, and the seafood nibbles came with a light and creamy roasted red pepper remoulade that was one of many highlights of the evening. Two other highlights arrived with the appetizers as well. The Mermaid Smash ($8.25) is a creative and sweetly smooth rum mix served with tropical juices in a mason jar. The Misconduct Lemonade ($7) turned out to be a light and refreshing cocktail with triple sec, Citrus Twist, lemon juice and 7-Up.

The ship of culinary delight sailed on into the main course, where, of all things, the spinach that came with the main course turned out to be extraordinarily memorable. My Merman Steak ($17.95), an angus rib-eye cooked to order and topped with onions, was juicy and tender, just like a steak is supposed to be. My first mate's meatloaf ($10.95) -- advertised as "moist and delicious" -- lived up to its billing. Both portions were huge and came with homemade garlic mashed potatoes that rounded out the meal perfectly.

Unable to say no to dessert, we dove into a generous slice of pineapple upside-down cake and an equally massive fudge brownie (both $6 -- the brownie can be served with or without nuts). With dessert arrived two new Misconduct signature drinks: the Shark Bite-tini ($8.25), a just-tart-enough mix of flavored rums, mango juice and key lime juice, and The Tight White Thong ($7.50), which, composed of vodka and Red Bull on ice, was smoothly mixed and a perfect end to the evening.

It's the playfulness of the Misconduct -- its themed drinks (Try a Ginger and Maryanne's Rum Punch for $8.25.), the whimsical illustrations on the menu and the terrific maintenance of the atmosphere throughout -- that really works for it. Open for lunch, dinner and a post-10 p.m. "free-for-all" as Caffrey called it, the Misconduct Tavern's proximity to the Market Street El makes it a perfect place for students to stop by for sandwiches and drinks during or after a stressful day of class.

Nothing beats a little misconduct to escape the drudgery of a normal day.

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