Part of the charm of Center City, though, is one of its best kept secrets, too: Philadelphia’s prettiest, and most interesting, side streets present themselves here. Fitler Square and the streets surrounding this hidden gem of a park make for perfect post-date walks or contemplative bicycle rides, and between 12th and 13th alone, Camac Street has a bathhouse and a gym and a few bars and pretty houses and, well, you get the idea.
Walking off Camac and eastward on Locust Street, you’ll need to grab some free Wi-Fi and incredible (and vegan optional) culinary delights at Cake and the Beanstalk between 12th and 11th streets. Need a screw? A hammer? Paint? Eye candy? Swing by 10th Street Hardware on 10th Street between Locust and Pine; the knowledgeable, friendly, and (this is admittedly irrelevant) very attractive staff at this independently and locally owned and operated gem can help you finish just about anything in your house.
Most Philadephians pride themselves on length of time its been since they’ve actually done “the Liberty Bell thing,” but Center City’s national treasures of Independence Hall Park and the National Constitution Center always deserve, at least every couple of months, an afternoon. And the Central Branch of the Free Library at 19th and Vine has free Wi-Fi, awesome echo-creating chambers and hallways (the librarians ask that you please do not learn this in practice), and one of the best collections of public library resources in the entire nation. When’s the last time you stopped by? I thought so.
Philly can’t always be about warmth, fairness and friendliness; after all, we did throw snowballs at Santa Claus. So you can find the answer to the question, “Where can I get a funny (or profane) T-shirt that appeals to both Philly natives and my fashion sense” at Cheesesteak Tees at Fifth and South streets. With T-shirts available in-store and online making allusions to the 1983 Sixers Championship team, the Flyers as the Broad Street Bullies, and Bill Cosby, owner Ori Cohen has seemingly atoned for his mortal sin of being born in New York City (he’s now a native-by-choice.) Yep, only in Center City can you find a T-shirt that says Philafuckingdelphia. And we are better for it./ JOSH KRUGER
SOUTH PHILLY: EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY
There’s a lot of neighborhood pride in Philly, but it seems pretty clear that South Philly might just have the most. So it’s with a great deal of trepidation that I declare my favorites of South Philadelphia for that reason—and because South Philly’s huge. We could get down to the nitty gritty and cite square mileage and per capita delis, but let’s just say that South Philly, technically, is river to river and South Street to the Navy Yard.
While there are certainly some great opportunities to shop for clothes, get your hair done and pick up some sick furniture or records, South Philly’s all about food and drink. We just do it really well. You’re not gonna find a ton of Whole Foodsy establishments and nary a Trader Joe’s is in sight, but the argument could be made that South Philly’s where you go for Philly’s finest cheesesteaks and pretzels. We love beer and we like to drink lots of it. And then coffee in the morning. It’s with these foci that we’ll do favorites, keepin’ it to food, booze and coffee.
We may not have the finest restaurants and coveted fancy dining experiences in the city, but we’ve got some good ones. Coupla weeks ago, I got my mind blown at Monsu, a comfy and no-frills BYO in the Italian Market (see their friends: Paesano and Modo Mio). Stateside, despite chef changes, remains one of the best restaurants in the city, nailing cocktails, drafts, oysters and small plates for perfect dates and hangs. Special occasions are to be celebrated at Little Fish and Bibou, too, with reservations necessary and a healthy fistful of cash, but most importantly an empty stomach and a hunger for extraordinary culinary might. But we also have a handful of outstanding go-tos, places South Philadelphians start to take for granted because they go twice a month: Cantina Los Cabolitos, Slice, New Wave Cafe, Royal Tavern, and Lucky 13, for instance. And let’s not sell short the fact that South Philly boasts three of the most bangin’ diner experiences in Pennsylvania: the serviceable Broad Street Diner, the legendary Melrose, and the Queen of the Court, the Oregon Diner.
Then there are two duos shaking up how South Philadelphians drink, even when there’s a bar on nearly every other block corner. And that’s the American Sardine Bar and South Philly Tap Room alliance and The Dolphin and Boot & Saddle team. Sardine Bar’s a newb ‘round these parts but denizens of Point Breeze have been loving it since its doors opened: sick taps, a long list of cans, delicious sandwiches, great hours, a backyard and a warmly receptive crew of servers and bartenders—and it’s a destination for folks all over the city. Their sister boasts a great menu (‘til late, too) and fuels the genius of Brew, a beer shop across the street lodged into the back of the Mifflin Ultimo. Coffee and beer have never coexisted so harmoniously. Ever since the Dolphin reopened with the help of the R5/Drinkers team, South Philly partiers have been stopping in for late night beers and an understuffed dancefloor. But the list of holes-in-the-wall with loving, dedicated regulars is endless: Ray’s, 12 Steps Down, the P.O.P.E., and The Dive would top that list, though.
We are also the home to some of the best coffee shops and cafes in the whole of Philly. Ultimo pours Counter Culture coffee and espresso and they’re the best two coffee joints in town—they know what they’re doing and they’re chill about it. Plus there are righteous contenders in Shot Tower and Grindcore House. And Passyunk wouldn’t be what it is without B2’s bagel sandwiches and Black & Brew’s charms. / BILL CHENEVERT
ROUNDING THE CIRCLE: BACK WEST AGAIN
A while back, stickers appeared on light poles all around West Philly that read ‘This is West Philly—University City is a marketing tool.’’ That about sums up the rebellious spirit of the sprawling enclave to the west of Center City that incorporates the neighborhoods of Mantua, Powelton Village, Spruce Hill, Walnut Hill, Parkside, Cedar Park, Cobbs Creek and Overbrook, and yes, the hotly disputed “University City.”
West Philly incorporates a vast diversity of socioeconomic, ethnic, racial and philosophical backgrounds that includes everything from Penn professors to anarchists to Arabs to Africans to urban denizens with face tats. The rapidly gentrifying Baltimore Avenue retail stretch is one of the places that many of these folks come together, whether it’s to eat vegan food and discuss the liberation of all oppressed peoples at Atiya Ola’s Spirit First Foods (4505 Baltimore Ave.) or pick up some of the famous “green popcorn” flavored with spirulina; eat some of the city’s very best food at Mediterranean eatery Aksum Cafe (4630 Baltimore Ave.); grab some fresh produce, tahini or tofu at Mariposa Food Coop (4824 Baltimore Ave.); have brunch at Cedar Park Café (4912 Baltimore Ave.), now reopened after a fire burned down the bar next door last year, or The Gold Standard Cafe (4800 Baltimore Ave.) or a locally brewed beer and some thin-crust pizza right out of the wood burning oven at Dock Street Brewery (701 S. 50th St.). On that same block, you can enjoy the mellow charms and wifi of the Satellite Coffee Shop (701 S. 50th St.) or head upstairs to get your chi balanced at Philadelphia Community Acupuncture (701 S. 50th). If baked goods are your twist, Four Worlds Bakery (4634 Woodland Ave.) should have everything you need, though the croissants and challah get the best reviews from the neighborhood.
Should you instead favor takeout, you can always ring up J&P Seafood (4820 Spruce St.) whose varying and diverse seafood menu might not attract the high-end foodie but will please just about any other palate. In the summer, it’s the favored takeout spot for those sunning by the pool at University City Swim Club (300 S. Hanson St.), a private social spot tucked on a nondescript small block that boasts an eating/grilling area and three pools. Established in 1964 as a racially diverse club, it currently has a 500-plus waiting list, so you’ll have to see if any friends have a membership to check it out.
For those who love a good hood bar, there’s the neighborhood staple Top Shelf Lounge (5664 Market St.), situated directly under the el to further the ambience. If you prefer more clean-cut pursuits, the Laura Sims Skate House (63rd and Walnut in Cobbs Creek Park) offers adult and youth ice-skating lessons and hockey leagues. You can always head to the far western location of the Cedar Park Café (2035 N. 63rd St.) to fuel yourself ahead of time for the cardio output. On summer nights, nothing beats a show in the open air at the Mann Music Center (5201 Parkside)—and if the kiddies are driving you crazy, there’s always the Please Touch Museum (Memorial Hall, Fairmont Park, 4231 Avenue of the Republic). / TONYA PENDLETON
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What’s your favorite thing about life in this city? Maybe it’s a certain corner in Center City where the people-watching’s always great. Maybe it’s a local singer whose voice is sweeter than sweet. Maybe it’s the je ne sais quoi of drivers who want to run you over. Whatever it is — tell us about it! Write one full paragraph (or more) explaining what you love the most in Philadelphia and why. The two most powerful entries will each win a pair of tickets to PW’s Taste of Philly on Nov. 13, where we’ll also be honoring all the top vote-getters!
Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014
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