a guide to philly: things to do, places to see, and, most importantly, food
a friend of mine is moving to the philadelphia area (just as i’m about to leave it) and asked me for recommendations of things to do in the city, the best restaurants, concert venues, etc. figured i’d post the little guide i made up for her, of a few of my favorite things in philly— it might help someone else too! i just want everyone to know where to get mexican thai tacos.
Places to see & things to do:
Mutter Museum- medical oddities. Not for the queasy. But awesome.
Franklin Institute- where you can feel claustrophobic in a giant heart model
Art Museum- obvious but so worth it if you haven’t been
Barnes Foundation- haven’t been but have heard it is great
Independence Hall- get your history on
Union Transfer- for larger concerts
Kung Fu Necktie- for smaller acts
Italian Market- go on a Saturday, get a cannoli at Isgro, and a sandwich at Paesano’s
Philadelphia Zoo- I will never be too old for the zoo. Lions and a polar bear!
Elfreth’s Alley- cute, colorful historical buildings
First Fridays- Old City art galleries open and serve wine first Friday of the month
First Unitarian Church- sweaty basement concerts (sometimes upstairs sitting concerts)
Kimmel Center- students can get discount rates to see the orchestra
Punk Rock Flea Market
Penn Museum- lots of mummies
Night Market- a monthly summer event with food trucks and music. GO to this!
Eastern State Penitentiary- for a terrifying haunted house trip on Halloween
Christ Church Burial Ground
Food & Drink:
Jim’s Steaks- for cheesesteaks, wit whiz
Rita’s Water Ice- pronounced “wooder”
Paesano’s- the best sandwich you’ve ever had. I promise
Reading Terminal Market- very important stop, get a pumple cake or Bassett’s ice cream
PYT- burgers and alcoholic milkshakes
Pub & Kitchen- great bar, great tasty British-inspired food
The Dandelion- they have Pimm’s pitchers! Yum. British gastro-pub.
Koch’s Deli- really good hoagies
Vedge- amazing vegetarian restaurant. You never knew carrots could taste this good.
Hop Sing Laundromat- super hip speakeasy
Federal Donuts- also known as Fed Nuts. fried chicken and donuts.
Franklin Fountain- get served ice cream by people in antique paper hats
Barbuzzo- one of my favorite restaurants and the home of the caramel budino
Sweetbox Cupcakes- delicious, a food truck and a store
Cucina Zapata- favorite food truck, with Thai Mexican food and bubble tea
4th Street Deli- best cookies.
Magpie Pie Boutique- adorable pie shop, get pie fries.
Sabrina’s- for brunch of enormous proportions
A few neighborhoods/ places to know and pronounce:
there is no 14th Street. 14th street = Broad Street
Schuylkill is pronounced Skoo-kill
Old City- like it sounds, the oldest part of town. Fun shopping and bars here
West Philly (encompasses a bunch of smaller neighborhoods)/ University City- everything west of the Schuylkill, where Penn, Drexel, Clark Park are
Center City- the middle box that goes from the Schuylkill to South Street to Spring Garden to the Delaware River
Rittenhouse- a park and shopping. Fancy area. Also has a nice farmers’ market
Northern Liberties (NoLibs)- gentrifying hipster-ish neighborhood.
How to find stuff to do in Philly/ events/ concerts etc:
Swollen Fox concert listings *now merged with XPN- the complete concert listing for the city
Uwishunu- blog of mostly food events
May 22, 2013
beginning of an attempt at a short story
She hated buses. The grunting shifts, the slimy squeak of sliding doors, the wires with too many fingerprints, pulling, snagging, yanking down for stops. Trains had a smoothness that soothed. It was always that the bus, hesitating, jerking and yet without restraints, made her sick. The train lulled and mocked her worry over schedules by propelling her into sleep. But trains had their own unpleasantness. They conjured memories of a boy who’d vanished in New York.
The bus seats were furred in blue, the bus dotted with yellow poles and a broken red dial at the front that flashed pieces of street names. To her it seemed to be winking with the knowledge of its uselessness. The weight in her pocket was a cold shuffle of tokens and coins. She took one out and felt it warm in her palm. She wondered at its little silver and gold face, its antiquity. It did not seem to belong in her hot hands in a world of crossed satellite signals and people blinking at their lovers on screens, smiling across oceans without even marveling. Where did it? She’d watched a video of the New York subway when it first opened, 1910, a grainy trolley shuttling through a shaky corridor, and the people in tall hats gathering around it on the platform; in the film they seemed to scuttle whole yards at once; there was no blurring, only bouncing from one spot to the next. Tokens belonged then, where they’d begun.
The city moved around her; the bus made a westward trajectory, leaping past storefronts and gutters in gulps between stops. Louise studied the brown water under the Chestnut Street bridge as they slid over it; the river was wide and dark; despite the sun it was little more than a muddy, eddied mirror. Whatever its depths were, she couldn’t guess—though she’d swam in it once, in the summer, years ago, miles from here. Where the water was clearer.
The bus was grinding to a stop (having carved a route past the columns of the train station and dozens of blocks of students roaming, coughing, laughing) and she rose, feeling the heft of inertia on her body as the force pulled her backward, resisting the tires’ insistence. A pause as she let herself hang from the pole, one-handed grip and then the pavement under her feet and the bus trundling on. She looked up and began to walk, taking buildings’ eaves as cues. Maps irritated her; they were a tangle of red nets cast over dotted lines. They meant nothing but squinting. And she’d rather find her own way than pore over paper.
She walked. She looked at each person passing her, studying, seizing their faces with her gaze, wanting to know who they were and why. Then a snag: a face she knew—though changed, blurred—but still the same. She stopped, a name stuck to her tongue. It cartwheeled out before she could check its progress with a second thought: “Esther?”
The face slid toward the sound, a flitting of pupils and a quick tightening in the lips, the brows quizzical but softly so. Esther’s hair clouded around her head like bronze floss, looped in sunstorm whorls, a nest. Some kind of corona. And the eyes, green and too wide, like a lizard’s or a seer’s, two round bulbs stuck in shallow sockets. Louise had not seen Esther since high school.
“Oh hey… Louise. What’s up?” Esther’s words were woozy—looped syllables that fumbled against each other, a slow churn of noises. Louise noticed, now, the delicate spindles of red crawling up Esther’s eyeballs like bloody webs. The yellowness in them. The dull flush of her mouth.
“Not much. How’re you?”
“I’m fine.” Esther squinted in the sun.
“I haven’t seen you in a while. Do you still live in Virginia?”
“No…” Esther paused, watching the sidewalk. “I moved back a few months ago. What about you?” She looked at Louise closely now, peering, and Louise felt herself flinching, an itch to run, to measure her safety by the blocks she could put between herself and this question. What about her? What about the time since she’d left school that had elapsed in leaps and skips, bouncing from one season to the next without any remembered indication of the blurred days in the middle? What could she say for the time and herself, except that they were both silent, marred, lost? She spent Saturday afternoons counting the oily fingerprints on bus wires on the way to the only place she felt uninterrupted. How often she wished she could stop heaving distance between herself and living, life, the present tense; instead she craved the solace of memory, of dissected pasts and the untangled lines of lives that were complete.
“Oh, I’ve been back here for a while, I guess.” Louise thought she might choke. She found an excuse to get away within the close of five more minutes of stilted exchange, thinking that in Esther’s eyes was an accusation—or a wily triumph. They were both fallen, then; Esther’s half smile, uncoiling, seemed to wink.
Finding the gate and sliding it open, Louise followed the gravel path to the nook of stream where a birch shot white limbs skyward. She sat, cautious, cross-legged, on the grass. “I’m sorry, Mom.” She said it aloud, but hadn’t meant to. There was no one around—the place was as noiseless as any city niche could hope to be; it contained just a rustling, and somewhere far off, a hum. But she was late, and startled still by her encounter with Esther, and the silence breathed taut and eerie around her.
May 9, 2013
In the spring, does nudge into the yard. The fawns are not afraid of me, standing there with an outstretched grasp. Deer old enough to remember the gunshots of autumn will run. The mothers’ legs tremble at the first sign of broken grass blades, but fawns, alone, will stay. You could touch them, I think, if you tried.
I’ve always loved them, for their grace and speed, for their blinking, liquid eyes. I drew pictures of deer as a child, four straight lines for legs and white crayon baubles for spots.
The does’ retreat in Valley Forge is Mount Joy, and so was mine, once. Mount Joy is a hot hilltop in the summer, ringed in cannons and asphalt paths nicked into the slope. You could lay in one of its round meadows and drink yellow sunlight with your head back. There are deer everywhere among the birches.
I’ve never seen a deer on Mount Misery, which slants sharply into a stream, clear and cold and banked in silver leaves, a place I have played since childhood. When I go there now I still slip off my shoes, leave them by the path, wade into the water, feel moss slick beneath my feet. Emerge with mud between my toes. Mount Misery used to be Mount Sorrow—but I’ve never heard a story about the name that I believed.
One year we got a Christmas card: my cousin had killed his first deer. A picture of a boy and his rifle fell out; he was twelve. They were proud, they wrote. In the photograph, he curled his fingers around the barrel, crouched beside the body, beaming. Don’t look at the blood blooming in its side. Look at its teeth and its ears and its warm black nose.
I almost hit a deer once. I was driving at dusk on a coiled road bracketed by dark pines when I had to stop. Do deer fear cars or revere them? I think it is a moment of pure blindness. Would you run if you fell under sudden lights?
Can I judge a boy with a gun, when I have never handled a trigger and never sat in the woods with an animal’s life hanging in the air before me? At least, for a moment, someone considered that fact, of life. You could be haunted by loudness in the woods. You could remember it and keep it with you and think, when you go home to your kitchen, a boy’s life is not like a deer’s. But a deer’s is its own small marvel, while it lasts.
April 21, 2013
April 18, 2013
I’ve been told more than once that I should keep a dream diary. I have vivid, strange, surreal, sometimes awful, rarely lucid, dreams, that meld the fantastic with the everyday. So, here’s last night’s.
I was staying in a wooden and metal frame house with a two story high glass panel window, a place I had never seen before. It looked a little like the mountain house my aunt built in South Dakota years ago. The house seemed elevated far above the ground. As I sat staring at the window, a giant eagle, twenty feet tall, smashed through the glass like a truck pummeling through a storefront. Other, smaller eagles crashed through the window at different square panes. At first, I watched this without being afraid, but then the eagles’ cold yellow eyes were peering at me and i could feel the air from outside rushing in. I ran out of the house.
I found myself on a tram, like at a theme park, with low metal cars, on a green hillside. Almost like a child’s train ride. The sky was yellow. We went to a classroom with a chalkboard. A girl who I had never seen before asked me to do equations on the board. I couldn’t solve the problems and then I remembered what natural logs were and suddenly saw an e, written in white chalk.
The night ended with me and three of my friends in an Italian restaurant.
April 12, 2013
On being raised Catholic
I grew up in the charged space between an atheist dad and a Catholic church-going mom. When I was eight, I spilled red wine down the front of my Communion dress at the ceremony. At nine, I tripped and broke a crucifix that had belonged to my grandmother on the patio behind our house, a few weeks after she died. At ten, I whispered to my dad that I didn’t believe in God in our living room late at night. I was afraid that my mom had heard me. When I finally told my mom, I was twenty, and she cried.
Throughout my childhood, a white wicker angel sat on my nightstand. A silver cross hung above my bed. Tucked behind the framed picture on the wall were always last year’s palms. When my mom took me up to bed, she kneeled beside me and folded her hands, and we prayed.
I loved church as a child. The hymns were my favorite. I wanted to learn how to read so that I could sing along. I loved the ritual of Communion, of cupping your palms together and crossing yourself as you walked away. I was terrified of Confession. The first time I went, the priest, who was an older, graying man, asked me to tell him my sins. I said that I argued with my little brother, that sometimes I wanted to hit him. I was in second grade.
I wasn’t allowed to choose my Confirmation name, because my mom insisted that it be my grandmother’s, whose rosary I still have in a cardboard jewelry box in my room. My grandmother’s religion was integral to her being in a way that I could never understand. She carried those blue beads in her pocket for years. One night when I was up sick, she told me to lie down and say the rosary with her, that prayers would bring me peace. Hail Mary, mother of God.
I used to sit at the top of the stairs while my mom carried on long conversations with her sister, listening. There was a fire in my aunt’s house the same year my grandmother got sick. They had no insurance, and the family heirlooms and photographs in the attic burned with the knickknacks and kitchen utensils downstairs.
My mom brought me to Florida with her to see my aunt and grandmother. When they found my grandmother’s cancer, I was in the waiting room. But I hung back when the doctors came over to us, like I always do, watching my mom’s face from across the room. I sat alone in the hospital for three days while they ran tests. I went back to my grandmother’s house with my mom, folded the quilts, dusted the shelves, packed the books in boxes, readying it for the sale we knew would come soon, although I did not really understand why. One afternoon I was cleaning the photos in the hall with my mom when my uncle elbowed through the door. He was my mom’s youngest brother, a man with long dark hair and a mustache, who I had rarely met. He stood, facing my mom in the center of the hall.
“Where the fuck is mom?” he asked, swaying.
“Don’t you dare curse in front of my daughter,” my mom said. “And get out of this house.”
“No,” he slurred. “This is my house too. I’m not leaving unless you make me. You can’t. I’ll win that.”
“I dare you to touch me. Go ahead. See what happens.” She stared at him, shaking, but not with fear.
I did not understand that my uncle was drunk, did not know that he had been stealing money and alcohol from my grandmother for years, something that continued until she died a few months later. I was afraid but, also, I was not. My mom is invincible, I thought.
I took my first Communion twice that spring. Once at home and once in Florida, for my grandmother’s sake.
April 8, 2013
An English major walks into a bar...
Why you should stop mocking English majors
March 29, 2013
New York was supposed to be my city.
When you finally get to the city you’ve always dreamed of living in, you find that it deflates in little ways every day. You get stuck in a stalled subway car for an hour and the whole car clogs with heat and sweat films on your forehead. You spend your lunches measuring mouthfuls while women in stilettos clatter past, a rhythm that says stay skinny get thin eat less. You try on pencil skirts and pumps, but you just keep tripping up. In August, an eighteen-year-old girl jumps from her window into the street one block from where you live. Maybe the place you thought you belonged in doesn’t want to belong to you.
March 21, 2013
Why I (still) want to be a journalist
Today, I read this: http://allysonbird.com/2013/03/19/why-i-left-news/
Every day there is another news article, another blog post, another adult telling me all of the reasons that I shouldn’t try to be a writer. You will never get a job, they say. You will never make money. You will be bitter and penniless and boxed into a shadowy apartment and a dead end future. They advise me to apply to law school or try consulting or PR.
Who am I to believe that I have any kind of fighting chance in journalism? That I won’t be broken down by long hours and low pay, if so many reporters who are older and smarter and better than I am can’t keep going?
Writing is and has always been the only path that I could see. This is what I am good at and what I love. This is how I want to do good and give back. This is how I want to make my life matter.
Maybe I will buckle under the weight of a “decaying” industry. Maybe I will end up sad and frustrated and shattered. But maybe I won’t, and I have to keep going long enough to find that out.