Here Come the Phillies
24th Apr 2010
Gentrification. The idea stirs strong dissenting voices and opinions, and nowhere more than Philadelphia, a city of brotherly contrasts. While sections of this oldest of American cities have been in accelerating decline for a generation, the decay has provided fertile´ground for artistic rebirth, ushering in a lopsided reform built on collegiate ambition sprouting from the city's academic roots.
Sure, the US recession has stunted commercial development, but young Phillies are taking matters into their own hands to reinvent a city in their own image.
The home of Amtrak and the historic Pennsylvania Railroad, Philadelphia is best served by rail links ushering commuters between the DC – New York mainline. The city is dense enough that the visitor arriving by air or rail can get by using taxis, but renting a car is probably a good idea. Crumbling infrastructure on choked freeways are the rule for the auto, so make sure you have axle insurance.
For adventurers, innovative bike usage plans and the Philadelphia Car Share program are slowly providing new options. The subway is ancient and decrepid, avoided if at all possible. Ditto the buses.
Philadelphia is often described geographically — with Center City the home to a surprisingly mixed residential/commercial core, West Philly a hipster hotzone, South and East less popular, and North lending itself toward classic Suburbia with a number of higher end restaurants. The city suffers from a surprising and refreshing lack of boutique hotels — the Barclay for fancier types being the main choice.
The Westin is nice for business, and the Kimpton Group's Palomar provides a combination of good location and suitable service. For the cultural junkie, may we recommend bed & breakfast concepts such as The Gables, a lovely example of preservation in the city that reeks of neighborhood revitalization.
Whisky Village and Tinto are icons due to the success of Iron Chef Jose Garce, but the heart and soul of the city is found in simple places like Ants Pants— great for breakfast, or John's Roast Pork — a fun casual dinner spot. For brunch, Redding Terminal in City Center offers an outstanding selection of stalls and food service spots selling everything you can imagine — from pig trotters to donuts — with many products from Amish farmers based in adjacent Lancaster county.
Those Amish know what they're doing: the pecan sticky buns are not to be missed — nor are the salty pretzels. This is also a great place to sample a famous local delicacy — the Philly cheesesteak. Debates rage about the best overall location for a cheesesteak, but Pats and Gino's and Tony Luke’s are both often mentioned. Very brotherly, these cheesesteak joints.
Like many a US city, the core of Philadelphia can feel like a war between localized blight and drunken youth imported for a semester. Universities like UPenn, Drexel and Temple supply a steady stream of partygoers for the popular bars along South Street— featuring typical music and prices for the genre.
Others prefer a harder edge, and seek out the various punk concerts and private houses that have nurtured talent. Why not catch a punk concert at the historic Victorian Trocadero Theater, or hang with the hipsters at Fiume — above an Ethiopian restaurant? For the Irish, we present McGlinchy’s, a low-brow mecca.
A thoroughly modern way to explore the sights of Philadelphia and take in the hipster culture that permeates the regeneration of the city is a classic Monumental Bike Tour— a combination of friends, bicycles and bars — all provided on a circuit that intersperses notable attractions like the Free Library of Philadelphia (the nation’s first) and Benjamin Franklin’s house, with a dastardly combination of bars and pubs.
Pick up your bike at Trophy Bikes and proceed to Society Hill, the Liberty Bell and Love Park. While drinking and riding may have its dangers, the combination of a sunny day, wheeled transportation and a list of the city’s watering holes never fails to impress. Such a route begins at McGillans Ale House, Eulogy or 12 Steps Down and will finish with nostalgic opinions about the founding of the nation as you sway and swivel at Bob & Barbaras, "the diviest of the dive bars" in a city built on dive bars.
When its all over, you’ll have walking and riding impressions of a city that refuses to give up its spark. From culinary adventures to a preponderance of neighborhood dog parks, the Phillies are turning shabby into chic — on their own terms. It is refreshingly authentic, and as they say: ‘Philly just has heart’.