The List

103 Things We Love About Philly

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

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78. Hung Vuong Supermarket
Once you go to Hung Vuong, shopping anywhere else just isn't the same. They pretty much have whatever you want, as long as it's eaten in Shanghai. It's huge and sprawling, and their vegetable section pretty much puts the nearby Italian Market to shame. Even non-Asians can appreciate Hung Vuong's staggering selection of fish sauces, their tiny, tender baby bok choys and their different thicknesses of rice noodles. Stock up on fresh fish, lime leaves and red bean ice cream, then throw in a couple mystery packages to try out at home. Hung Vuong makes the mundane task of grocery shopping fun. But a word to the not-so-adventurous: It's entirely possible that that those golden brown coconut buns you picked up might have pork in them.
>> 1122 Washington Ave. 215.336.2803

77. Project Room
Project Room is not a gallery or a museum. But the rough 600-square-foot space at Eighth and Girard streets is the best place to see cutting-edge and experimental art in Philadelphia. The unheated basementlike space is right for cooking up something funky, and artists have responded with everything from blood and guts (Tristin Lowe's life-sized vomiting doll in the group show "Cathartic Disgust Gestalt") to the sublime (Mark Shetabi's "The Oasis," for one). Kait Midgett, Project Room's founder, herself an artist and former Vox Populi member, entertains proposals for just about anything except the traditional hanging of pictures on walls. With Midgett's blessing, Project Room is a place where artists can go a little crazy and viewers can stretch their ideas about what art is. Project Room's embrace of art's outlandish impulses makes Philadelphia a richer place. It may not all work, but it's all good.
>> 960 N. Eighth St. 215.413.3101.

76. Donuts in the face
Drive on the Schuylkill Expressway past 30th Street Station on any weeknight after 9 or so, and you'll get blissfully whacked in the face by the overwhelming smell of donuts. From whence? Who cares?

75. Philly's oldies DJs
The Geator, Butterball, Harvey Holiday--these guys spin actual cool records, not the pedestrian bubblegum crap that passes for oldies in other markets. Listen to what's played when visiting other cities and you'll know how lucky we are to have a cadre of old-school spinners who still dig the music.

74. The Mummers
Look at it this way: On New Year's Eve, your job is to drink anything and everything you can get the cap off of, switch hats with the lamp, sing off-key at the top of your lungs, play air banjo and dance around like a fool with a paper ass. Repeat until you throw up all over your shoes. Then, come New Year's Day, the Mummers take over for you.

73. Madi Distefano's Brat Productions
Honestly, how many people really enjoy paying $40 to sit in a stuffy theater watching a 400-year-old play? Certainly not the folks at Brat Productions, who have made it their mission to bring affordable contemporary theater to those who might not have a wallet full of cash. Usually seen at some seedy watering hole, Brat recently moved its unique brand of scruffy drama to the Penthouse Suite at the Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel, where for as little as $10 you could catch the controversial one-acts The Fever and The Designated Mourner while high-society types sipped tea in the lobby. Theater was meant for everyone, and by staging theater that matters for the price of a movie, Brat has once again made drama accessible to those without a trust fund.
>> 340 N. 12th St., suite 417. 215.413.0975.

72. Sound of Market
With this constant barrage of war, everyone needs a little 50 Cent to take the edge off. Or maybe some good- natured Brazilian jazz. Whatever your musical tastes, the staff at Sound of Market has your back. Obscure bands and genre virgins don't scare them. Neither do humming customers who are clueless about song titles. The Sound of Market crew has the voila ability to put the CD you want into your eager hands. On the first floor you can buy a stereo--or a Discman and AA batteries--from a selection of wall-to-wall electronics and audio equipment. Up one flight and you step into a music wonderland--Part I. The journey into Part II continues up another set of stairs. As the city's largest independent music store--with more than 85,000 titles in stock--Sound of Market supplies the mass-marketed genres of rock, rap and R&B, along with impressive collections of country, folk, reggae, gospel, blues, jazz and world music. Heavy rotation doesn't limit what's on the shelf. The prices are lower than at the mega-chains. And the staff of music aficionados knows its stuff.
>> 15 S. 11th St. 215.925.3150

71. Chinatown
It's Chinatown, Jack. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Although it's just plain not true that all the restaurants share one giant underground kitchen, our Chinatown is, in fact, a stop along the semiunderground railroad from the People's Police State of China to this, the dwindling cradle of democracy. And while immigration is a touchy topic post-9/11, it only makes our melting pot of a city richer for the diversity. Just don't try to build a baseball stadium nearby. They hate it when that happens.

70. AKA Music
If all the world is a Nick Hornby novel-turned-film, this is the set for High Fidelity.
>> 7 N. Second St. 215.922.3828

69. M. Night Shyamalan
Because he applied to NYU's film school rather than going to Penn or Princeton to study medicine like his parents wanted. Because he sucked it up when the studio told him he could direct his movie only if he did an uncredited rewrite of She's All That, a teeny-bopper chick flick. Because he still hasn't seen that cheesy movie. Because his big break was The Sixth Sense. Because The Sixth Sense was so damn good. Because even though some consider it a disappointment, his follow-up movie, Unbreakable, is gathering a devoted audience on home video and cable and still garnering sequel talk. Because the movie that came after that, Signs, was almost as damn good as his debut, and so close to Hitchcockian that it's impossible not to want to see whatever he does next. Because, as big as he gets, he refuses to move to Hollywood. Because, to him, the Delaware Valley is the best stage in the world. Because he tells people as much when they ask for an explanation. Because he understands Philadelphia and loves Philadelphia. Because we're proud to love him back.

68. WOGL Oldies 98
Even more than college radio or NPR, this feels right. Give us O.C. Smith's "Little Green Apples" and Lou Rawls' "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" on a regular basis and we'll keep coming back.

67. Mitchell and Ness
This little Walnut Street store that started out making old-time pro uniform jerseys for aging boomers exploded when hip-hop artists made their clothing fashion staples. Now M&N's throwback joints--priced at two to three bills each--have become standard wear for Nelly, Jermaine Dupri, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, OutKast (who's said to own $25,000 worth of the jerseys) and lots of others, our own A.I. included. Other companies have licensed uniforms of yore, but their quality can't compare.
>> 1229 Walnut St. 215.592.6512

66. Doobie's jukebox
Doobie's jukebox, which at any given time features just about everything David Bowie ever recorded, is bigger, somehow, than its own cozy bar setting. It is the beating, life-giving heart of the bar. It's the spaceship command center of the No. 1 place for brainy hipsters to get their swerve on. Because Doobie's jukebox, you see, has fueled many a drunken discussion about Foucault and put a twinkle in many a West Philly squatter's eye. Doobie's jukebox--which, for the record, in addition to Bowie, has everything from Nina Simone to Bauhaus--isn't just a jukebox. It's the aural equivalent of the bar's "No Dancing" sign, of its stinky but oh-so-sweet bartenders, of its roving dogs and cheap hummus. Doobie's jukebox is everything that's right and good about Philadelphia. And that's not overstating it a bit.
>> 2201 Lombard St. 215.546.0316

65. Barnes Foundation
One of the world's great art collections sits just outside Philadelphia in a suburban neighborhood that has fought for years to keep people from visiting the art. The Barnes Foundation, home to some of the world's most beloved paintings--nudes by Renoir, dancers by Matisse, portraits by van Gogh--will soon, if the courts allow, move its collection to Philadelphia. That's good news for the city and for everybody who's heard about the Barnes but never seen it. Started in 1922 by doctor Albert Barnes (who died at a ripe old age in 1951), the collection numbers 9,000 works whose estimated value is between 10 billion and 40 billion dollars. It's known for its blockbuster paintings, and for the way it presents them side by side with artifacts from other cultures (African art, Navajo jewelry, wrought iron hinges). A wealthy pharmaceuticals manufacturer with working-class roots, Barnes was a progressive thinker who believed in art as an educational tool for making a stronger democracy. Barnes' vision embraced all art lovers, from the professionals to ordinary people wishing to enrich their lives. Moving the collection to the city is the best idea for the people and for the Barnes.
>> Admission by reservation only. Fri.-Sun., 9:30am-5pm. Barnes Foundation, 300 N. Latches Lane, Merion. 610.667.0290.

64. Locust Bar
Sometime last year a gang of thugs walked into the Locust Bar just before last call, ordered all of its patrons into the basement, hog-tied them with duct tape (finally! a proper use!) and made off with the night's receipts. That sucked. But here's how awesome the Locust Bar is: Since the robbery, the longstanding no-frills but perfect, perfect, perfect Center City corner bar has only grown in stature. It'll host the dork Olympics every Sunday (otherwise known as that karaoke thing all the indie rockers go to) just as handily as it'll be the venue for your just-got-fired party. It encompasses all that's wonderful in this city, with construction workers sidling up to out-of-work dot-commers who are sneering at square-bo med students who are afraid of the Gayborhood. At any given moment in this city, there is no truer, fun and sweet place to be. The meatball sandwich is good, too.
>> 235 S. 10th St. 215.925.2191

63. Rhea Hughes
The coolest (and, not coincidentally, only female) member of WIP's morning team, Hughes is unafraid to take Cataldi or Morganti to task when their buffoonery turns wounding or abusive. Being a genuine Philly girl, such straightforwardness comes easy.

62. Clark Park Market
On Saturday mornings in fall there's no better place to buy apples as they reach the peak of their season. Neither sprayed nor stickered, these aren't the kind of apples you see at the grocery store. They're tart Jonathan or Fuji apples that practically leak their honey-sweet juices through their unwaxed skins. The leaves on the trees are bright, and folks are out and about. Grandmothers swat small hands away from baskets of sweet potatoes and red peppers. Young Penn professors debate whether to buy organic goat cheese or cheddar. Grown women gawk at the array of flowers for sale. A tall, subdued Amish man sells fragrant mint tea and homemade cinnamon rolls. The market is never too crowded, and there are only a dozen or so vendors. But those who know this market feel like they belong--and almost feel they'd be missed if they stopped coming.
>> Every Sat., 10am-2pm, and Thurs., 3-7pm, June through November. Clark Park, 43rd St. and Baltimore Ave.

61. Allen Iverson
"For 2K3 I rock the A6, my new kicks.

Take a few hits, it ain't nothin', I'm used to it.

Tryin' to build a team, I'm the player ya need.
Heart like Willis Reed, top thief and scorer in the league."

--A.I. with Jadakiss, Reebok commercial, 2002
Hear that, C. Dolores Tucker? The man can rap. Smoothly, too.

60. Robin's Bookstore
As the proprietor of the city's oldest independent bookstore, Larry Robin sells more than just books. He peddles what everyone is searching for-- pockets of truth. The truth can be packaged as a nauseating love affair, a nail-biting mystery, classic literature or hardcore history. Whatever the mood or genre, Robin's Bookstore has been a local literary cornerstone for more than 60 years. For Robin, a self-described First Amendment fanatic, it started in the '60s when the store carried the Black Panther Party newspaper and leaflets protesting the Vietnam War. It continues today. The shelves are crammed with works from Danielle Steel to Toni Morrison, from Adolf Hitler (sorry, Danielle) to Martin Luther King Jr. To add to the store's pervasive new-book smell, Robin's also hosts cozy author events, political cafes and social forums where people gather to discuss everything from love to global war. This deliberate diversity reflects Robin's belief that a democracy is a marketplace of ideas. And the doctrine of consciousness-over-profit has worked. The store has survived the chain wave, along with Center City's years of neglect, to bring the neighborhood bookstore--minus the fancy coffee drinks and ridiculously priced desserts--back to the community as a place where people can share their truths.
>> 108 S. 13th St. 215.735.9600

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