What The Hell Happened To Old City?

Just a decade ago, it was the city’s rising, glamorous neighborhood, a maze of cobblestone streets, galleries, boutiques and lounges. Now, weekend after weekend, it’s a whole different story

Anne’s white dress with green stripes is tiny on her petite frame, and she looks more fresh-faced J.Crew model than Frederick’s of Hollywood tart. No six-inch heels. No bra or cleavage on display. It’s a good bet she’s wearing underwear.
In their search for booty-shaking hip-hop, Anne and her friends tried Red Sky, the club on Market where all the Russian kids from the Northeast and Lower Bucks hang out. Too much house music, not enough Kanye. “And zero beers on tap,” Anne says, perplexed by the menu’s $12 cocktails. “I asked what they had, and the bartender looked at me like I was an idiot.”

They’ve heard Grey Lounge is a good spot for dancing. Anne and her girls pass inspection by the doorman and head straight to the dimly lit floor in the back. To the left, a woman stands on a couch, gyrating. To the right, a greasy-looking dude is getting some lap action that would make the strippers from Delilah’s blush.

Surrounded by all this decadence, Anne looks like Laura Ingalls Wilder in a gangsta-rap video. Though she and her two gal pals are dancing with each other, they’re like chum in shark-infested water. It only takes a few seconds for a pack of raucous guys to move in and violently grind their hips against them. Anne’s trying to have fun, but after one song, they all flee and huddle near the bar. Anne spins to face a young guy in a tight t-shirt standing next to her.

“What was that?” she yells.

“I was just saying hello.”

“You grabbed my ass! That is not saying hello!”

The girls take refuge at a small table near the entrance. I wonder why they don’t just leave. As it turns out, Anne and her gal pals aren’t legal drinkers after all. At the door, as they began weaving a tale explaining why they didn’t have driver’s licenses, the bouncer said, “Make it look like you’re showing me ID. Show me anything.” If they leave now, their night might be over. And more than that, Anne really wants to believe in Old City.

“I’ve been here before for First Friday, with all the art and the free wine,” she says, brown eyes wide and glistening with sincerity. “I mean, what a great place for some girlfriends to go out for the night.”

Anne’s still talking as someone sprints past me and nearly knocks us both over on his way outside. A few guys follow, and the house lights blare on. Apparently, it’s only okay to dance on furniture if you’re female; when a guy tried it, some pushing ensued, and a punch was thrown. The girls look a little shaken up by all the commotion.