The Khyber Pass Pub: Banging My Head on the Punk Rock for the Last Time

Burger Breakdown

The Khyber Pass Pub - Map It!
Bacon, barbecue onions, Creole mustard, smoked cheese and some Crass albums.
Fresh from your grocer's freezer.

I miss The Khyber. It had the distinction of being the only real concert venue (sorry, Ox kids) in the city where beers cost more than shows. And they were good. The beers, that is. The shows, meh. But for $5 it's hard not to be entertained by someone embarrassing themselves in front of tens of people.

In its new life (and original name) as The Khyber Pass Pub, the owners have at kept some of the lo-fi aesthetic. Offering a menu defined by Southern comfort food and Creole-inspired dished, there's a prevalence of po'boys and other foods best classified as “cheap shit.” One of their more talked-about offerings is bacon popcorn, which we sampled at The Brewer's Plate this year. Know what it tastes like? Bacon and popcorn. Never has something living up to its name been so disappointing, with the exception of Drive Angry 3D.

Walking into KPP is a surreal experience for anyone who used to frequent it. While the bar area looks almost the same, the dining room's layout is disconcerting, with tables set up where I've witness no fewer than two moshers vomit, and pews in the exact spot where someone's broken nose sprayed blood across my chest.

So, there's that.

The Burger: The Khyber Pass Pub's burger is an angus beef patty topped with bacon, barbecued onions, smoked cheddar and creole mustard. All of Khyber Pass Pub's angus beef is sourced from here.

Burger at Khyber Pass Pub

Kyle: The first scribbling in my Moleskein is “Khyber Pass Pub gave me AIDS.” Why I wrote that and what it has to do with anything I couldn't tell you now, but I'm stetting it.

Beyond the location, name and barroom décor, there's something else familiar and nostalgic about the Khyber Pass Pub. It's the burger: I've had it before. You can get it for $5.99 for a box of eight down at the ShopRite on Columbus.

Unfortunately, the Khyber's reinvention kept the old bar's budget aesthetic, which is great for a DIY punk rock haven, less so for a restaurant. The burnt, bland burger is chunky and gristly, and is everything you'd expect and hope for when drunk at Midtown 2 at 3 a.m. Here, it's an overly salted brick not worth your money.

The quality continues to the rest of the condiments and toppings. A thin slice of American cheese recently stripped from a cellophane wrapper is plasticized over the top of the  beef, and is topped by thin, bloodless bacon that comes piping hot out of the microwave. The Louisiana touch, Creole mustard, tastes exactly like mustard, because any stone-ground mustard you've ever eaten was already Creole-style. Everything sits on a bun so boring I can't recall a whit about it, and my semi-legible scribbles only say “Bun:” with nothing after the colon. The barbecue onions offered the sole fresh flavor, and even those were overcooked, losing too much juice in the process.

Things get only slightly better with the fries, which are approaching average. Thick, crisp, slightly burnt Yukon fries with a smattering of salt, they're the least you can expect.

And really, that's the best way to sum up The Khyber Pass Pub's burger: it's the bare minimum of effort. A restaurant offers a burger like this when they only want to placate savages. Given the location's history it's a fitting tribute, but why would you want your restaurant to maintain a history commemorating one of the grossest bathrooms in the city? I don't know if the second floor is still open, but if you go into the men's room up there, wear galoshes.

Punk's not dead. It's working part time as a chef at hip restaurant built on its own grave, which is closer to what our parents predicted than is comfortable. It's time we throw in the towel, start acting like the ennui-laden adults we are, admit we never really liked the Buzzcocks and start listening to Coldplay. Oy, indeed. Rating: 4/10.

Burger at Khyber Pass Pub

Laurence: Obviously this restaurant is named, with a wink and nod to the annuls of history, after the strategic route linking Afghanistan and Pakistan. For it was the was the Khyber Pass that allowed for Benjamin Franklin to first travel into the mountains of Pakistan to learn ancient and secret techniques for the grinding of meat. That or someone really likes Vampire Weekend. Either way I couldn't care less. I'm not much of a concert-goer and my only distinct memories of the Khyber are of the worst bathroom in Philadelphia. I found it a refreshing experience to walk into a place that had haunted my dreams only to see that it has become a pleasantly bright, if forgettable, bar and pub.

I'd eaten lunch at the Khyber only a day before Kyle and I set upon it for our weekly festival of meat. I was happy with the experience. It seems that above all else, the Khyber chefs have perfected the art of cooking food in a fryer. So perfectly golden and battered were all the dishes I saw, you'd almost think they have a timer on the vat of boiling oil they use to cook everything on the menu. I'd ordered a shrimp po' boy and found it a tasty, if heavy, meal for mid-day but it left me hankering to see what The Khyber might deliver on the burger front.

Sadly the chef's aren't at their best away from the fryer. With the exception of the bun, the burger at the Khyber Pass is about what you might expect to find if there were a burger shack at the 3,500 foott cusp of the actual Khyber Pass. Let us dissect this thesis...

At the top of the actual Khyber Pass, in a remote and otherwise inhospitable region, any burger would almost certainly have to be frozen to make the trek safely. The burger would then have to be cooked to brown and tough to ensure its edibility.

Likewise any cheese topping this burger would have to be well preserved and optimized for shipping across harsh terrain. To assist in rationing, this cheese would need to be neatly packaged into single servings, ready for distribution without any chance for skimming extra. Certainly the plastic wrapping over each cheese slice would alter the taste over the countless days that the cheese traveled or sat in a storage warehouse in remote Asia.

Onions keep well but even for such tough produce, a truck ride across a continent has adverse effects leading to flavor impairment. My only conclusion is that this burger was indeed cooked at the Khyber Pass and then shipped to Philadelphia where a bun was added.

The bun really might be the best, and freshest, ingredient in the meal. Seeded on top and with a nice golden crust, it remained soft, and flavorful. Sadly, mine was about as crushed as it would have been after being removed from a shipping crate sent from the Afghanistan border. Most of the burger was totally forgettable, but one thing that stuck out in my mind and that was reiterated in my notes was that the burger didn't “work.” The sum of the parts was worse than each individual part, and that's saying something because the parts weren't that good to begin with. At least the fries were good, those timers really get the job done. Rating: 4/10.


If you're the nostalgic type, or are in Old City and have more tattoos on your skin than tanner, swing by and pour one out at The Khyber. There are worse places to hang out, but better places to eat.

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