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103 Things We Love About Philly

By PW Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Mar. 26, 2003

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98. The Palestra
"Welcome to the University of Pennsylvania Palestra, college basketball's most historic gym," announcer John McAdams says at the start of every basketball game played there. And he does so without a hint of arrogance or irony. The place is as much a part of basketball as the countless young talents who've slammed on its rims, shouted from its stands and bled on its court. Built in 1927 and home to more than 30 years of Big 5 doubleheaders, the Palestra has seen more games, visiting teams and NCAA championships than any other gymnasium in the nation. Its hardwood floors and booming acoustics are spoken of in the same hushed tones as the legends of the game themselves. A Dallas-based writer once wrote of the Palestra, "It is a basketball echo chamber where 100 people sound like a thousand, where a thousand sound like 10,000, and where 10,000 sound like nothing you've ever heard before."
>> 220 S. 32nd St. 215.898.6151

97. Philadelphia Independent
Their take on local issues--such as what Northern Liberties is doing or not doing to Keep It Real, our frightfully old-headed City Hall and the theme park known as Old City--might be a little heady from time to time, but their comics are hilarious, their design impeccable and their spirit--that new libertarian hipster egghead fop spirit--gets to the very core of why papers like us and them are supposed to exist in the first place. Plus, their parties are so cool they make ours look like outtakes from Office Space.

96. Val Shively's R&B Records
There are something like 4 million 45s in Val's Upper Darby goldmine, including all kinds of cool and long- forgotten R&B and doo-wop obscurities. Forget browsing the store; it's aggressively discouraged. Best to submit your "want lists" by dropping in, or via phone, fax or mail (95 percent of R&B's business is mail order). Chances are Val will have whatever you need, especially if the title's in his soul groove.
>> 49 Garrett Rd., Upper Darby. Send want lists to PO Box B, Havertown, PA 19083. Phone: 610.352.2320. Fax: 610.352.8199

95. Standard Tap
How do we love thee? Let us count the ways: Jukebox chock-full of bold rock action? Check. The tap-beer-only policy? Talk about giving good head. The cozy dark wood interior and the chalkboard menu? Double check. The way the waitstaff doesn't make you feel like they're doing you a favor by even talking to you? Check, again. The paintings? Like that one depicting the placid woodland scene, onto which somebody added a drainage ditch? We may not know much about art, but we know funny when we see it.
>> 901 N. Second St. 215.238.0630

94. "Parking" on top of the Art Museum steps
If you don't force yourself to look every once in a while, a city can easily become a soulless backdrop--streets you walk down, buildings you hurry past and faces you choose not to notice. So the next time you're driving past the Art Museum, pull onto the museum service road and go round the building till you're perched right atop the Rocky steps. Take someone with you, go yourself, have a smoke or just take a look: There's a whole city spread out before your eyes.

93. John Chaney
His pit-bull squad was an underdog--deservedly. Written off for dead. But when John Chaney's previously underachieving Temple basketball team somehow fought its way into the Big Dance in March 2001, the other teams got scared. Chaney's 11th-seeded team jumped out early and thrashed No. 6 Texas by 14, thumped the third-ranked Florida Gators by 21 and tortured the Penn State Nits by a dozen. So there he was, for the fifth time on the verge of the Final Four appearance that's eluded him for three decades. Michigan State's Tom Izzo said if his bid for a repeat national championship failed, he wouldn't mind losing to Chaney. Alas, he didn't. But America declared its respect. Chaney was the raspy, sloppy also-ran everybody wanted to see succeed. What took so long? At a game patrolled by "big German police dogs," he once punched an opposing team's mouthy doctor in the chest, then sent someone out for a get-well card. He was a Public League Player of the Year. He was briefly a Harlem Globetrotter. He is a sleeves-rolled-up everyman whose dark eyes make him the ultimate Owl. In an era of "me first" b-ball bozos, he turns his players into men--on and off the court.

92. Jones
For the return of macaroni and cheese. Latest Dish always had it, Morning Glory serves it up special, and now Jones does it, too--some say better than any. Creamy, but not too thick, and topped with a sumptuous layer of bread crumbs. Order it as an appetizer to share or hoard it as a meal all your own.
>> 700 Chestnut St. 215.223.5663

91. The Northeast
Oxford Circle. Torresdale. Bustleton. Frankford. Rhawnhurst. These are just a few of the neighborhoods that make up the much-maligned Great Northeast, where city-dwelling Philadelphians fear to tread. But the grand swath of land with a less-than-grand reputation is unfairly disparaged, and mostly by people who haven't driven through it in years. Divided east and west by Roosevelt Boulevard, the neighborhood--or constellation of neighborhoods that comprise it--is a New York-style melting pot. The area's diversity has been especially enlivened by the waves of more than 20,000 Russians and Ukrainians who have established vibrant cultural outposts there--restaurants, grocery stores, news- papers and nightclubs among them. The area's other ethnic groups-- American Jews, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Asians and Hispanics--may not always get along, but the mix does bring great vigor to an area many Philly residents have left for dead.

90. Metal chutes: living Philly history
Philly's got a lot going down these days. That's right. Even though the economy sucks, Center City still manages to convince an ever-fresh supply of upscale renters that bedding down where old-school actuaries and accountants once bleakly passed their weekdays pushing pencils is worth a thousand bucks or so a month. But to make this rental miracle come true someone has to purge those erstwhile corporate empires of decades of dusty workplace detritus--surely preserved within water-stained drop ceilings and shabby dark wood paneling like so many decaying Smithsonian dioramas. Hence the need for chutes. Your ears find them first, tracing the sticky, sweet sound of unadulterated destruction to its dusty, rusty source each time a heavy load arrives at its final destination: a dumpster only a semi truck could haul away. If only you could dispatch the debris generated by your own overcluttered urban existence through painted-shut apartment windows and down some obnoxious metal chute into eternity. Kinda like the way colonial folks tossed all their trash and sewage onto the sidewalk. Ah, history.

89. Neon signs
Holdovers from another age, Philly's neon signs tie the city to an era when shopping districts glistened with art deco newness and lent a colorful gleam to an evening stroll. These signs were part whimsy, part information--an innocent celebration of late-night life and quintessentially American, even if the technology is originally French. Broad Street south of Washington is a testament to these times, with the faded glory of the Boot and Saddle Bar sign (a two-story cowboy kicker forever headed west) and the monstrous spectacle of Maglio Furs. Sadly, neglect has made these vernacular masterpieces a daytime spectacle only. But local enthusiasts like neon artist Len Davidson continue the crusade to turn the lights back on through careful restoration and education efforts. Now that it's warm out, treat yourself to a walk down South Broad and experience neon at its finest.

88. Hang the DJ at Silk City
Laura Love's new monthly party at Silk City ensures that everyone gets her 15 minutes of fame. All the "real" DJs might scoff and throw vinyl temper tantrums, but Hang the DJ promises that anyone who brings records can get quality time on the turntables. Next time you start complaining that the DJ isn't playing your favorite song, hit up Hang the DJ, and it'll be nobody's fault but your own.
>> Monthly party, date varies. Free. Silk City Lounge, Fifth and Spring Garden sts. 215.592.8838

87. Terry Gross
While Pink, Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan (see p. 33) do their share of star-spangled Philly PR, Terry Gross performs a different function: Every week she shows 2 million people around the country that in addition to attitude, old architecture and the soft pretzel, Philly also has class and brains. WHYY's most successful export defies that dreadful bookish/moleish/socially inept radio host stereotype. Despite her Lilliputian proportions, Gross takes on the greatest cultural behemoths without breaking a sweat. And her cultural criticism and probing interviews save us from the intellectual wasteland that is commercial radio, if only for an hour a day. When you hear her purr, "I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air," you know you're gonna get something good, produced right here at home.

86. Trash-night garbage picking
Our sports teams may just be a series of colorful euphemisms for the word "choke," and we may never quite achieve the esprit de corps of New York City's arts and music worlds, but there is one area in which we're making a strong effort to eclipse our neighbors to the north. That's in the amount of awesome shit you're likely to find on Center City sidewalks. A crappy economy and fear of terrorism means all those pansy dickweeds from the suburbs who moved in during the go-go '90s are finally leaving, and the result for those of us with the stomach to hang in there can be summed up in just two words. Are you ready? Free Ikea.

85. Soft pretzels at Catlick school
There are lots of Catholics in the greater Philadelphia area-- about 1.5 million, according to the Archdiocese. Whether that means practicing or "submarine" Catholics (they only surface when there's trouble), it's hard to say. But the Church in Philly could probably up its attendance numbers significantly by launching an advertising campaign with just one selling point: soft pretzels at recess! The Catlick school tradition goes back to the days when proto-grandma and her pals skipped rope in the schoolyard and bought a hot pretzel from a vendor on the corner for, like, a penny. Now they cost a quarter, but the effect is the same--the midmorning carb injection still brightens many a uniformed kid's dreary day. If only those nuns could buy a sense of humor.

84. Scrapple
The other, other white meat. Mmmmm. With ketchup, of course.

83. Manny, Moe and Jack
Quoth the Dickies: "They know what you're after." Indeed, that's exactly what urban car owners want: auto parts with a Marx Brothers bent. Oh, and don't you know those dorky dudes were from Philly.

82. Bob and Barbara's Pabst Blue Ribbon/ Jim Beam shot special
With the economy withering and the job market fading like a ghost in the daytime, our entertainment budgets these days consist of the booty harvested from couch cushions and the pockets of old coats. The good news for the cash-strapped is that enduring Philly haunt Bob and Barbara's provides all the lubrication a wounded soul could possibly need. For $3 you can throw back the bar's longtime special: a cold can of PBR chased by a fiery shot of Jim Beam. Combined with the bar's low lights and Elks Lodge atmosphere, Bob and Barbara's comes off like the greatest speakeasy of the new recession. Stumble in on a Monday, Friday or Saturday for the gritty bop and jazz of Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers--one of the few house bands in this city that sounds great before you start drinking.
>> 1509 South St. 215.545.4511

81. Tritone
It has long been said of Philadelphia that we have all the same things New York has, only fewer of them. Nowhere is this adage more true than when it comes to concert venues. Though Old City's storied Khyber (see p. 39) continues to produce an enviable and respectable calendar, a rock junkie can easily tire of the same four walls--especially if they're seeing those walls three or four nights a week. Enter Tritone, a dusky pub in the nonmalled section of South Street. Though it's already home to a healthy number of DJ nights, its deep shadows seem perfectly suited to the kinds of shows that require a sort of unsettling intimacy (think I Am the World Trade Center, Neil Halstead or Mary Timony). Their continued efforts will save eager audiences from exile on Second Street.
>> 1508 South St. 215.545.0475

80. Wissahickon Park
Philadelphia consistently ranks in the top 15 most ozone-polluted cities in the country, according to the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air Reports. In a recent EPA report, Pennsylvania was ranked second behind Texas in the total amount of toxins released by its manufacturing industries. We're talking 139.9 million pounds of toxins released annually. We've got mercury in our fish; last year 292,422 cases of adult asthma were reported; and on a hot day in summer, city grates waft the delicious aroma of sewage. Good thing there's Wissahickon Park, a 1,800-acre chunk of gorge, cliffs and hemlock forest where even the most citified cynic can find earthy bliss. Located a few miles from Center City, Wissahickon Valley was designated one of the first national natural landmarks in 1964 and remains the crown jewel of the Fairmount Park system. We're talking cool shade, birds, a bubbling creek and hiking trails galore. Yes, hiking. Forty-plus miles of trails for humans, hounds and horses. Okay, so it ain't the Grand Canyon. But the Wissahickon is one of the few places in Philadelphia that takes your breath away. In a good way.
>> For directions and more info contact the Friends of Wissahickon at 215.247.0417 or

79. Independent Media Center of Philadelphia
This DIY editorial collective and newswire is "dedicated to building media democracy by providing progressive, in-depth and accurate coverage." Its website can't be beat for antiwar information and a truly singular approach to issues of both local and national importance. It's way far to the left--a radical's radicalism--but it's got a face even a liberal can love. Check out recent photos and articles about Philadelphia's antiwar actions. Very inspiring.

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