103 Things We Love About Philly
59. Black skateboarders
Philly's errant outdoor marble planters and stair rails aren't just destruction fodder for bored suburban rebels anymore. But you might not notice that right off because, unlike their more traditional counterparts, this fresh crop of urban skatepunks won't likely blind you with the white.
58. William Penn's plan for the city
Though some complain about Philly's narrow streets, Penn's plan contributes greatly to the city's livability. Key elements include its five squares (Franklin, Washington, Rittenhouse, Logan, Center) and its core ceremonial streets (Broad and Market). It's pretty amazing that a plan conceived in the 1600s still contributes to the character and quality of life here--from its scale to its organization.
57. Shrine of St. John Neumann
He's right there on North Fifth Street, embalmed. You can catch him there live (or, uh, you can see him there dead, live). Or you can catch his bad waxy self on the ether at www.stjohn neumann.org.
>> 1019 N. Fifth St. 215.627.3080
56. We can't handle recycling
Every city and town across America does it, and though we boast the nation's fifth-largest population, Philadelphia has few practical programs in place for those who want to save the earth. And where the city does try to recycle, the system seldom works right. And it's not entirely the city's fault. Truly, what no-bullshit Philadelphian can be bothered with bureaucracy? But don't take our word for it. Take a stroll along the Center City trash heaps on recycling night (heck, bring a date!) and witness scenes of hopeless chaos: nasty trash clogging recycling bins, unrecycled items littering the streets. It's awfully hard to imagine much of this stuff will make it to a recycling facility, much less back into eco-friendly new products. We understand this isn't exactly one of the best things in Philly. But we wanted to take a second away from celebrating our city and get all self-righteous on your ass. Now, back to our program.
55. Free student concerts at Curtis
As loathsome as some of the history behind it may be, there's a reluctant romance to Philly's old-money traditions. High society was once king here. Nowadays it mostly hides away in Rittenhouse high-rises. But there's still a place to get your blue blood on without the old money. Almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night while classes are in session (October through May), the students at the world-renowned Curtis Institute of Music show off what they've been studying in free public concert recitals. These kids have got some of the best chops in the world, so catch them here before you have to pay to hear them play the Kimmel.
>> Every Mon., Wed. and Fri., 8pm. Free. Curtis Institute of Music, 1726 Locust St. 215.893.5261. www.curtis.edu
Just bear this in mid come summertime, when you select the toppings for your double scoop on a sugar cone: They're jimmies, not sprinkles. Okay?
53. The Bridge: Cinema de Lux
Yeah, yeah. We gave them some shit when they first opened for building a swanky theater that caters to privileged white folks in the middle of the 'hood. But on any given Saturday night, we are some of those privileged white people. Oh, and message to dude: The people on the screen can't hear you.
>> 4012 Walnut St. 215.386.3300. www.thebridgecinema.com
52. Wanamaker's (pipe organ division)
At Christmastime everybody remembers how much they love "the light show," the reindeer-and-snowman '50s phantasmagoria Wanamaker's has been putting on since, well, the '50s. But what about the store's tremendous pipe organ, which toils not-so-quietly behind the scenes all year long? It was built nearly 100 years ago as the world's largest pipe organ for exhibition at the St. Louis World's Fair, and it's since been used for concerts by world-famous musicians. As magnificent as a French cathedral and as loud as the Khyber, it may still be the largest operational pipe organ in the world, though there's some dispute about that (imagine how dorky that discussion must be). Wanamaker's--okay, fine, Lord and Taylor--is a wonderful place to shop. It ranks up there with the most impressive department stores in Manhattan and Paris. But getting blasted through the sportswear department by the unexpected start of a daily organ recital? That's Philadelphia.
51. The Adrienne
If you're one of those spontaneous types who thinks reservations are made to be canceled, head over to the Adrienne, where any day of the week you're bound to find some sort of incendiary entertainment on one of its three stages. The city's only true dramaplex, the Adrienne is home to the politically progressive InterAct Theatre Company, the brash comedy outfits 1812 Productions and Comedy Sportz, and the all-encompassing Theater Catalyst, which includes under its large umbrella the militant women's company Eternal Spiral Project and a wide range of the city's most adventurous nomadic companies. These wandering outfits may not have much money, but with Theater Catalyst's help, they more than make up for budgetary shortcomings by presenting something incredibly valuable: theater without fear.
>> 2030 Sansom St.
50. Hanging out by the river near Walnut Street while the boxcars pass
No matter the weather, it's always gray and muddy down there, and the underbrush and broken glass are forever messing up your boots. You keep to yourself so as not to bother the hobos, who are always sleeping. And you figure the fishermen go home hungry. You're just 30 steps below the city but you feel so far gone. Then the boxcars come, and though you never hop one, the thought is always there.
49. Little Pete's
Every city figures it's got the market cornered on low-rent diners where the waitresses serve hairnet attitude along with the hash they're slingin', but this legendary minichain of local diners is the real deal. Sometimes the waitresses are sweet like Mama. Sometimes these heavily made-up matrons don't even ask for your order--they just look at you expectantly, so you know it's your turn. Sometimes the food takes a while, so you elbow for room at the counter the whole time. Other days they bring the food so quickly it seems the cook must have the power to defy time and space. Less than two minutes after ordering an omelet it's sitting there hot and steaming in front of you? Life is so good.
>> 219 S. 17th St., 1904 Chestnut St., 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. and 6701 State Rd.
48. Dolphin Tavern
Way down on Broad, past the Checkpoint Charlie columns that separate the "Avenue of the Arts" from the rest of humanity, there's a sleepy pub called the Dolphin. The large aqua sign out front resembles our flippered friends only vaguely, and there's absolutely nothing inside the bar to suggest a nautical theme was ever at work. Still, the charm of fading neon and imposingly small windows out front encourages one to get lost here in a sea of smoky atmosphere and Miller High Life. The Dolphin boasts cheap beer and gray wood paneling. There's a dance floor, a jukebox and pool tables. But the real entertainment at the Dolphin is reserved for weekend nights, when go-go girls dance at the bar for locals, drunks and the occasional hipster. Strip clubs typically empty your pockets and boot you as soon as possible, but the Dolphin ain't a strip club, and they don't mind if you stay all night. There's none of the skeevy desperation you get at strip joints, and there's a lot more respect between patron and performer. Think of it as a house of burlesque in the classic sense. For proof consult photos of lovely dancers from decades past on the walls surrounding the bar. Just don't forget to tip the ladies, or "Mom" (the older lady serving drinks) will have some choice words for you.
>> 1539 S. Broad St. 215.467.1752
47. Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
As usual, scads of Philadelphians cannot accept the fact that something good has happened to their town, and are looking to tear the performing arts center down by complaining about ticket prices, crowds, acoustics, snobbery, retail this-and-that. Well, get over it. The Kimmel is a remarkable addition to the cultural life of the region, and if it happened somewhere else--say, in a less cranky city--the residents would be justifiably thrilled.
>> Broad and Spruce sts. 215.790.5800. www.kimmelcenter.org
46. The Bynum brothers
Quiet as it's kept, these two gents have expanded their Zanzibar/ Warmdaddy's restaurant/club empire to Wilmington--and word is, more expansion is coming. They don't get the same ink as the Starr/Stein axis, but that suits them just fine.
45. City Hall
It's hardly the tallest politically oriented building in the world--at 548 feet, it's shorter than the Washington Monument's 555 feet 5.5 inches, for example. But what it lacks in height, City Hall makes up for in statuary--more than 250 works of sculpture, mostly by Alexander Milne Calder. The sprawling, four-and-a-half-acre building is now in the midst of an $80 million exterior renovation that's uncovering its granite and marble charms--including the tender bits of Calder's scantily clad statues. Consider it money well spent. The nine-year big scrub is one of the most visually pleasing projects the city's seen in years. But not all the neighbors are thrilled. Resident redtail hawks and falcons weighed in by dive-bombing the roofers, while other birdy bugaboos include the 10.4 tons of pigeon guano the contractors have disposed of so far (what, they piled this stuff on a scale?)--and the workers haven't even started on the birds' most popular roosting spots on City Hall's sunny west side. Barring scheduling snafus, the project will be complete in November 2009.
>> Broad and Market sts. Free tours available Mon.-Fri., 12:30pm. 215.686.2840
44. Ministry of Information
Tucked away in the hipster sofa crack of Northern Liberties, it looks from the outside like a hideout of the Joker or the Riddler--you know, one of those warehouse lairs with the floors tilted at a 45-degree angle. Not too long ago it was the W&J, owned and operated since time immemorial by that lovable white-haired and mumbling Ukrainian couple. Back in that simpler era when both inflation and the jukebox guy with the new records were turned away at the door, it was the perfect place to go when you wanted to pull an Omega Man and pretend you were the last man alive on earth. The new name is a bit much--in the age of Total Information Awareness, Orwellian kitsch ain't so fuckin' funny anymore. But the car seats and the barbershop chair are a nice touch, the lighting is infinitely groovier, dogs are allowed, a subscription copy of the Onion sits on the bar and, great God almighty, an ice-cold bottle of Yuengling is just two frickin' dollars! All in all, we have only two complaints about what is arguably the best-kept secret in this town: They took down the "No Yelling" sign, and the jukebox leans a little too heavy on early-'90s nostalgia. Not just one but two Helmet CDs? And Quicksand? Dude, it's 2003--time to turn that baseball cap forward.
>> 449 Poplar St. 215.925.0999
43. Passyunk Avenue
Word has it there are lots of big gentrification plans in the works. But for now it remains frozen in 1956, and you know what? It's super keen just the way it is.
42. The Khyber
Like, the only reason we don't call in an air strike on Old City on a Saturday night. Who are those people?
>> 56 S. Second St. 215.238.5888
41. Sun Ra Arkestra
One of the most colorful and outrageous ensembles in the history of jazz, the Sun Ra Arkestra has forged an international reputation for mind-blowing musical spectacles combining astral big-band swing with hard-bop dissonance, often veering into the outer limits of free-jazz exploration. Sun Ra himself is now but a twinkle in the cosmos, but the band plays on. As a wise man once said, live long and prosper.
40. Billy Penn
Time was that City Hall's William Penn statue (and its stone boner) were the tallest things in the city, by a long-standing gentlemen's agreement. Then in the late '80s Philadelphia crawled out of the primordial swamp and allowed One and Two Liberty Place to become the first buildings to dwarf him. Change is good, right? Depends on whom you ask. If you grew up in the city, chances are someone in your family still moans about the days when Billy Penn ruled the skyline. Why do native Philadelphians get so hung up on stuff like that? Is it because of the history that infuses our city, instilling in everyone who lives here a bone-deep respect for our fledgling country's fight for freedom? Nah. We just like things the way we like 'em, okay? Don't ask us to explain it.
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino