It is a corner tappie, dark-paneled, a Yuengling clock marking time. When the Navy Yard and naval aviation depot were full steam, this was maybe the biggest beer drop in the city, measured by keg count. And three times a day - because the joint was so small - the supplier hauled in boneless rounds, up to 150 of the monsters a week.
The roll bakers got bombed at the bar. Hoods sat two stools down from detectives. Nick’s sandwiches were legal tender; locals paid their barber with them. Now and then, a limo pulled in from Atlantic City, sent to South Philly to scratch an itch.
Those were the days. Business isn’t as big. But it’s handing steady. Show up for Wednesday lunch, you might wait for a table. Come Saturday, or a game day, Nick’s goes through 300 pounds of beef in a single shift.
It would be overstating things to suggest that the hand-carved roast beef sandwich is without honor in this city. (Buffalo pays it proper homage with its juicy beef on weck, which is to say on an estimable German-style roll flecked with pretzel salt and caraway seed.) But let’s face it, this is a cheesesteak town, or so you would think if you had not had the considerably greater pleasure of roast pork with broccoli rabe at John’s Roast Pork, or a Vietnamese hoagie on Eighth Street, or carved roast beef - not a lunchmeat wannabe - at Nick’s, 20th and Jackson.