Best Play to Catch Underground Theater and Drink Craft Beer
The newly christened Underground Arts space in the Wolf Building on Callowhill is hardly a new idea. Philly is blessed with countless alternative, even illegal, venues that cater to the up-and-coming, the avant-garde and the experimental in art, but, combine that with multiple craft beer taps and you’ve got a full-on Philadelphia boner. The 12,000-square-foot space contains a theater with stadium seating, an open stage area for the intimate, beatnik fare and a giant bar with room for hundreds to dance—and it’s not even finished being built yet! The mission statement of the place—“To provide an outlet for ... struggling artists to have their voices heard ... and be able to make their livings from their art”—makes us want to throw our arms around the whole place and squeeze. In the future, they plan on hosting exhibitions by sculptors, installation artists, videographers and the like in a full-on gallery space. As long as they keep pouring the frosty cold stuff, we’ll show up.
Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St. undergroundarts.org
Best Drag Show/Most Talented Drag Queen
QREAM is Philly’s newest, grittiest drag show and it’s happening monthly at the Barbary. QREAM’s creator, drag king Oscar Wildchilde (aka Emily Doofnoggle), hopes to expand Philly’s drag scene past the Gayborhood. Each night, Tammy Faymous aka Alex Kaccala belts out (no lip-syncing here) tunes like Tina Turner’s, “Proud Mary” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” in at this hybrid dance party/drag show. “There are water guns full of vodka, beer cans being sprayed and shirtless straight boys on the dance floor grinding up against a queen who just sang Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” says Miss Faymous. Sounds like a party.
QREAM, Barbary, 951 Frankford Ave. 215.634.7400. thebrbry.blogspot.com
Best Sacred Place to See Theater
Founded in 1823 on the site where Ben Franklin nearly blew his wig off flying his famous kite and key contraption, St. Stephens Church was the site of the Arden Theatre Company’s breakout production of Sweeney Todd. The space—which currently plays host to Lantern Theater Company—features an unusual bi-level playing area and what may be the world’s smallest balcony. The space actually demands an informal performance style that is a joy for audiences, who sit so close to the action that they don’t feel like they are watching a play as much as taking part in it.
St. Stephens Church, 19 S. 10th St. 215.922.3807. ststephensphl.org
Best Art Space to Feel Like You’ve Left Philadelphia
On the outside, Biello Martin Studio looks like every other Old City gallery space. But the moment you step inside, you’re greeted by another world that feels like an elaborate Victorian parlor in Paris. Owned by interdisciplinary artist Michael Biello and composer/musician Dan Martin, the intimate space’s ceiling is adorned with handmade glittering chandeliers, fringe, and everywhere you look are sculptures of monkeys, Buddhas and other oddities. Though it can be seen by appointment only, the moment you step into the gallery, you feel transported to the heyday of Gothic splendor, where any odd dream feels like it can be recreated as art of your own.
Biello Martin Studio, 148 N. Third St. 215.923.8737. biellomartin.com
Best Free Arts Programming
The Institute of Contemporary Art consistently presents some of the most intellectually engaging and carefully crafted, mixed-media exhibits in the city. They’ve long prided themselves on a series of almost entirely free arts programming. ICA has increasingly expanded the breadth and depth of this programming to include interactive practical arts, and have made strides to integrate mobile technology into this process. Their newest addition to programming is a salon series, debuting this month, that seeks to bring their art exhibits into conversation across disciplines, asking difficult questions that underlie art making.
Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St. icaphila.org
Best Monthly Arts Event That’ll Make You Reconsider First Friday
While First Friday is one of the premiere social events in the city, if you go more than once you’ll notice most of the Old City galleries lack creative or engaging art. Fourth Wall, a program of the nonprofit Fractured Atlas, holds a monthly fourth Saturday salon that brings a musician, a visual artist and an activist or social commentator together in a collaborative conversation with other arts organizations in the city. Art is the center of critical conversation but not at the expense of the inspirational and celebratory nature of this art making.
Fourth Wall Arts, Various locations. 215.645.2424. fourthwallarts.org
Best New Mural in the Gayborhood That Looks Like Sperm
Ever think to yourself: Hey, I wonder where I can have a threesome and then promptly forget about it? Well, one of our writers thinks he's found that place. Want Mexican food that doesn't burn on the way out? Of course you do. More of these questions and answers have found their way into this year's Better Than Best issue. And what's better than best, you ask? We have no idea. We just knew we couldn't use Best Of, because another publication in this town has it on lockdown. But that doesn't mean we didn't put an enormous amount of effort into bringing you the most random hidden gems Philly has to offer. Because we did. And we think we've got a pretty good list going on here.