1. The PSFS Sign
The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society may be long gone, but its signature 27-foot-tall sign, perched high above what is now the Loews Philadelphia Hotel at 12th and Market, shines on. When Loews reopened the building as a hotel in 2000, there was discussion of projecting its name behind the PSFS letters; that proposal was quickly scrapped. CEO Jonathan Tisch said it was “not worth tampering with an icon of the Philadelphia skyline.” Indeed not.
2. The Flagship Anthropologie Store on 18th Street
One of the retail world’s most revered brands—born and bred and based in this city—is housed in one of the oldest, and inarguably most gorgeous, buildings on Rittenhouse Square, the former home of financier and Philadelphia Orchestra benefactor Alexander Van Rensselaer. As you browse the artfully displayed collections of hip fashions and shabby-chic dinnerware, your brain frenetically hops between such thoughts as, “Oh, they better not have run out of that sweater in my size” and “God, I wish I lived here.” Sigh. Us, too.
3. The Pink Sisters
Ethereal, serene and mysterious, the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters live a life cut off from the world at their pretty Fairmount convent, where they spend their days in mainly silent contemplation and prayer for the burdens and evils of the world. Since 1915, the order’s nuns have been identifiable by their peppermint vestments, a symbol of joy and their dedication to the Holy Spirit. On the rare occasions when you see them out—at Mass in the city, or simply walking through the convent garden in quiet reflection—these visions in rose remind you of the humbling power of shared sacrifice.
4. The New Hope & Ivyland Railroad
Chugging along for more than a century, the smoke-billowing steam-powered choo-choo (with dining car!) never fails to provide a dollop of throwback Petticoat Junction charm.
5. The Corner Booth at Mcglinchey’s
Walk into McGlinchey’s and you step into a bygone era, one where the booze flows cheaply (and often without cessation), the smoke clouds linger long, and picturesque grittiness abounds. From the Glinch’s grungy corner booth, near the jukebox, the house’s whiskey-soaked details come into focus, shedding light on any number of broken spirits visible from the street through the stained-glass windows. Yuppies don’t dawdle, thanks to the unabashedly unkempt restrooms and the raucous proto-punk that hammers one of the city’s best jukeboxes. This is a trip through a Philadelphia time machine back to an age when bars were bars. Just add alcohol.
6. Driving the Deserted Schuylkill
Brutal at 8 a.m., bliss at 2 a.m.
7. Getting Turned Around and Mixed Up at King of Prussia Mall
It doesn’t matter how many YOU ARE HERE signs you look at—you’re going to get lost in our behemoth retail Oz.
8. Getting Excited When a Movie Is Shot Here
We bitch, bitch, bitch about the street closures—then feverishly scan every frame of the finished film to I.D. the local spots.
9. Eating Pho at Every Vietnamese Place on Washington Avenue
Not the prettiest food crawl, but surely one of the tastiest.
10. Cleaning Out the Supermarket Before a Snowstorm
It never ceases to amaze how Hurricane Schwartz can transform an Acme parking lot into a scene from Cormac McCarthy.
11. St. David’s Episcopal Church
Almost three centuries ago, a group of Welsh colonists who had settled in Radnor built a small stone church for weekly worship. There’s a bigger version now, all white pews and gold chandeliers, where the last remaining Wasps come together to bow heads, praying for forgiveness and tax breaks. But the original chapel, a beacon of grace so beautiful that it was immortalized in poetry by Longfellow, still stands in the old churchyard, a vestige of the elegant legacy of the old Main Line.
12. Trash Fires in the Italian Market
The Italian Market isn’t really all that Italian anymore, since it now serves up a clutch of ethnicities: Mexican, Korean, Vietnamese. But the trash-can fires abide, pulling us toward them with a rough combination of urban grit and romance—each sooty ember a city snowflake, black and beautiful in a brisk 9th Street wind.
13. The LED Display in the Comcast Center
Beyond the technology that makes it possible, the appeal of the living art displayed on the giant video screen in the Comcast Center lies in how it makes us feel: young. You see it in the faces of the businesspeople who stop to take it in: that unmistakable sense of wonder, something akin to seeing your first Broadway show. Only this isn’t Broadway. It’s the lobby of a Center City office building, where adults get to feel like kids.
14. The Sons of Ben
Dedicated and knowledgeable and eager (very eager), the boys who serve as the unofficial cheering section of the Philadelphia Union aren’t ready to accept that Americans haven’t exactly embraced pro soccer. Beer and “DOOP” chants serve as distractions for marginal fans, but in the River End of the Union’s stadium, they’re rites of passion. The Sons embody their “Ad Finem Fidelis” motto, faithful to the end even as the team sells its stars, misses the playoffs, and battles its former manager in court. Oh, to love anything as much as these guys love their Union.
15. Seeing a Movie at the Ritz
If your taste in movies tends to Marvel comic-book stories or whatever film Vin Diesel is in, go elsewhere: There are characterless cineplexes in Bensalem and Brookhaven and dozens of other places where you can pay your $10 (or more) to be wowed by the special effects and ear-splitting surround sound as you down stale tortilla chips laden with that disgusting “nacho cheese” sauce.
On the other hand, if your tastes are a bit more, shall we say, sophisticated, and you don’t have an aversion to subtitles, chances are you’ve spent a fair amount of time at one of the Ritz cinemas in Old City, whether for Saturday date night (Toblerone from the snack bar, check) or the discounted Wednesday-night screenings, with better popcorn than most and one of those expensive bottled juices they sell at the concession stand.
The Ritzes actually haven’t been part of Philly that long, even though it feels like they have. The first—the Ritz Three (which eventually became the Ritz Five)—was opened in 1976, on the occasion of the Bicentennial, by Philadelphia entrepreneur Ramon Posel, who was also responsible, for better or worse, for some of the region’s earliest strip malls. Posel’s father, a Russian immigrant, owned seven movie houses in Philadelphia back in the days when people dressed up to go to the movies. (Yes, this actually used to happen.) There are now three Ritzes left, all of them in Old City.
Before the Ritz, repertory and art-house films in Philadelphia simply didn’t exist. You typically had to haul your ass up to New York to catch anything smacking of celluloid high art. The Ritz, and everything that name carried with it, changed all of that, bringing Philadelphia not just good cinema, but great cinema. As Inquirer movie columnist Carrie Rickey observed in Posel’s obituary in 2005, “The Ritz has become as irreplaceable a Philadelphia cultural institution as the Museum of Art.”
What would we do without the Ritz? Thankfully, we don’t have to think about it. Pass the Toblerone.
16. The Toynbee Tiles
For decades, sharp-eyed Philadelphians have glimpsed them embedded in the city’s blacktop and wondered in regard to their urgent message that links historian Arnold Toynbee, the resurrection of the dead and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: WTF? Are the now-world-famous Toynbee Tiles proof of alien invasion? The work of a schizophrenic sufferer? An art-student prank gone viral? Recent repaving projects have threatened their omniscient creepiness, but luckily, last year’s Sundance-winning documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by native son Jon Foy, captured the enduring urban mystery of the linoleum plaques’ creation and disposition—in the middle of I-95, yo?—as well as the fanaticism they engender in a trio of young investigators, who gradually reveal the gentle neighborly compassion that lurks beneath the hard-ass exterior of the City of Brotherly Love.
17. The Subway on Phillies Game Days
Heading to Passyunk and seeing all that red—a sea of jerseys, hats and t-shirts—roots a person, baseball fan or no, down deep in the muck and stone of the city’s collective consciousness. Philly is only Philly during a home stand, and no man with eyes could ever believe he was anywhere else on earth.
18. Main Line Gossip
“Did you hear?” “No, do tell.” “Well, you didn’t hear it from me, but … ” Name a better way to start a lunch conversation on Lancaster Avenue. The curve from Wynnewood to Malvern may no longer be God’s Country, but it’s still a house of worship for scandal and rumor. Is there any other reason for the Guard House to still exist? (If only tight-lipped bartender Joe would spill what he knows.) From Hope Scott’s earthy jokes to the Luries’ divorce, we never tire of the innuendo, intrigue and occasional flagrante delicto of the Body Fabulous.
19. The Counter at Little Pete’s at 3 A.M.
Short-skirted young women cram clown-car-style into a booth, chowing down fries. Frat guys crack themselves up at the counter. The waitresses are a blur, dropping “hons” and “dolls” as quickly as they slam down heaping plates of eggs. At the register, transactions ring up—Ching! Ching! One group goes, another drifts in. And amid the late-late-nighters you spot that one guy in the flannel shirt, sitting eating breakfast for real before his workday that starts at four. Then it’s your turn to leave, slightly startled by the first golden rays of sun just hitting the buildings outside.
20. Franklin Field
With Xfinity Live’s Bud Lights and bull rides now the epicenter of Philly sports fandom, we could all use a nostalgia lap around America’s oldest operating football stadium, the only one in town not named after a bank. It’s the field where the country’s first scoreboard was raised in 1895, where the Army battled the Navy, and where nearly 80 world track records have come to pass. And it’s a field of reckoning—where players become athletes, athletes become heroes, and all men, even Santa Claus, must face their foes.
21. Philadelphia Pale Ale
It’s Yards’s flagship beer, and a beer named for Philadelphia is a lot more Philly than any brick of cream cheese. But in the end, it comes down to this: Citrusy. Floral. Light. Eminently quaffable. Questions?
22. Federal Donuts
It’s not just that Federal Donuts is a doughnut shop. And it’s not just that it serves fried chicken, either. As important as fried chicken is to the soul of any metropolis, it isn’t enough on its own to move the needle on the civic Love-o-Meter. No, what makes Federal Donuts special is that its operator, Michael Solomonov, has committed significant blood, sweat and flour to bringing things like spicy PB&J and chocolate-covered-banana-flavored doughnuts and fried chicken glazed with dill pickle spice into our edible consciousness. After years of cheese-steaks and soft pretzels, we can hold high a box of fried chicken or a maple-bacon doughnut, wave it in the direction of Manhattan or Chicago, and proudly say, “Yeah, now don’t you wish you lived here?”
23. Christmas Eve at Tenth Presbyterian
No matter how cold or sacrilegious your heart, it’s hard not to be warmed by the annual Christmas Eve caroling service at Spruce Street’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, known to regulars as Tenth Pres. The singing is conducted entirely by candlelight, casting a warm glow over the Christmas tree, which is adorned with a single white dove and towers over Rittenhouse types and their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, everyone decked in the finest festive attire. Though the assemblage doesn’t always agree on things once they leave the pews (this is the Square, after all), the spine-tingling, haunting sound of the congregants’ collective a cappella “Silent Night,” which caps the service, is as serene and unifying as … Christmas. You feel chills, and not from the night air.
24. The Barnes
25. South Street
It takes a real Philadelphian to embrace our most misunderstood street. Click to read more about why we love South Street.
26. Terry Gross
She is our more curious, more compassionate, better self, which makes her show seem less like an interview and more like you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation. Especially when she goes deep with someone as only she can. Of course, the guests Gross interviews on NPR’s Fresh Air, broadcast nationally for an hour each weekday “from WHYY in Philadelphia,” are often A-list: Neil Young, Steve Martin, Jay-Z, Stephen Colbert, June Carter Cash, Zach Galifianakis. There have been thousands of cultural and artistic icons over 37 years, all of whom have smoothly settled in to explain how their lives beget art.
But the guests we’ve never heard of—that’s when 61-year-old Terry, all four-feet-11-inches of her, really comes through.
Tig Notaro is a comedian who was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts in August; a day later, she went up onstage at Club Largo in L.A. Terry replayed how Notaro opened her act: “Good evening! Hello! I have cancer, how are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer, how are you?” Her cheerfulness is eerie; the Largo audience gasps and titters.
Talk about life begetting art. Notaro, raw and strange, was a perfect guest for Terry, who told her she’d had an internal debate over whether to laugh when she first heard the bit. “And then I’m listening to the audience respond … ” Gross went on, carefully building. “Some people are laughing, and some people are shushing, and you can kind of hear the silence of some people. What response made you feel best, as the set kept going?” Oh, such a nice way of asking: Are you an abject narcissist or … incredibly brave?
“It was the first time in my career where I’ve looked into an audience and seen people crying,” Notaro replied. “I suggested that I should call it a night, and this guy spoke up: ‘Absolutely not!’ … I almost started crying—oh, please don’t cry, you can’t walk out here and tell them all this stuff and then start crying onstage. I would have felt so defeated.”
Our answer: brave. Plucked clean and sweet once again by the best interviewer in radio.
Good, cheap coffee that’s never burnt. Soft pretzels stuffed with cheddar cheese. Customer service that’s small-town friendly but doesn’t actually require you to interact with other humans. (Hello, touch-screens!) Sandwiches served on damn-good rolls and made fresh right in front of you according to the specifications you punch into one of those touch-screens. And 24-hour convenience in a city where it’s otherwise impossible to buy a carton of milk after 10 p.m. It’s like God traveled deep into our regional psyche and said: “Let there be Wawa.”
28. The Manayunk Wall
In 1985, two men looked at Manayunk’s Levering Street and saw serious potential: a grueling 17 percent-grade hill that would make the quads of the most seasoned European competitors beg for mercy. Twenty-seven years later, the race they founded—the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship—is the crown jewel of U.S. cycling, with names like Phinney, Heiden and Hincapie among its alumni. That hill, now known simply as the Wall, is legendary. And no easier to climb.
29. The View of the Parkway From the Art Museum Steps
Every metropolis has photo-op spots. Philly, not always immediately thought of as picturesque, actually overflows with these. But perhaps none is as lovely as the view from atop the steps of the Art Museum, and it hasn’t got anything to do with an underdog boxer. Look out over the flag-lined Ben Franklin Parkway to the majestic Logan Fountain, and on to the gorgeous Beaux Arts City Hall, and you feel everything is waiting for you. Your life, in your city.
30. Conshohocken State Road
This great Schuylkill relief valve, this winding shortcut out of standstill traffic—this is the way savvy commuters beat the bedevilment that is the Conshohocken Curve. But the woodsy path also offers the best in Main Line voyeurism: At each turn, you can peek up hills, along driveways and over fences to glimpse the pretty manses of some of the most monied Gladwynians. (Carpool for safety, of course.) There’s a bonus: PA 23 also leads to more “secret” routes that put distance between you and the honking on 76. But it’s the gawking that makes it worth the trip.
31. The 1876 Centennial Exhibition Scale Model
For the centennial of the nation’s independence, city fathers built a whole new metropolis in Fairmount Park, one that almost 10 million visitors—about a fifth of the U.S. population—would see. There were roads, a monorail, a lighthouse, police and fire departments, a sewer system, and more than 200 buildings, including the Main Exhibition Hall, then the largest building in the world. Exhibits highlighted art, industry, agriculture, women, photography; first-time introductions included Heinz ketchup, Hires root beer, the Remington typewriter and the telephone. Among the organizers was marble magnate John Baird, whose monumental wares dot Laurel Hill Cemetery. As befits a man in the business of memorializing, Baird couldn’t bear to see this extravaganza crumble into dust, so he paid $25,000 to have a perfect scale model of the 285-acre Centennial grounds created. Today, barely a handful of Centennial buildings stand. But at the Please Touch Museum inside one, Memorial Hall, you can still see Baird’s model, a painstaking portrait of a moment when Philadelphia felt wonderful and new, and anything seemed possible.
32. The Curtis Institute
Quick: What local school claims Anna Moffo, Lang Lang, Jennifer Higdon and Leonard Bernstein as alums? Bite your tongue if you said Penn. Each year since 1924, the Curtis Institute—the most selective music conservatory in the country—has provided free educations to just enough musicians to man an orchestra pit and an opera company. Its grads—taught to exacting standards and expected to fill their days with practice, practice, practice—perform and compose all over the planet. And their classy headquarters remains a bastion of tradition on Rittenhouse Square.
33. Herb Lusk
In the storied legacy of the NFL, Herb Lusk will always be “The Praying Tailback,” the first pro football player to drop to one knee and offer celestial thanks after a score. In Philly, the former Eagle is known for something else. Pastor of North Broad’s Greater Exodus Baptist Church since 1982, he’s built both membership (from 17 to more than 2,000), and an aggressive social-service arm. When North Philly didn’t have a prayer, he kept his eye on a Broad Street renaissance and pushed. Touchdown.
34. Kelly Drive
No one who’s been on Kelly Drive on a sunny spring day, watching the hordes swarm its paths and river trail, can imagine Philadelphia as one of the country’s fattest cities. By foot, bike or blade, you never feel more alive—and happier you live here—than you do traversing the curving road that hugs the river.
35. 13th Street
In the early ’90s, 13th Street was a desolate and scary stretch of city; the only people who walked it were those looking for a shady buck or a good porno. Fast-forward 20 years and it’s a bustling epicurean corridor swarming with 20- and 30-somethings sipping fancy cocktails and nibbling designer pizzas. It’s the embodiment of a new Philadelphia, one hungry to shake off its inferiority complex. So thank you, Amis, Sampan, Lolita, Jamonera, Barbuzzo, Zavino, Capogiro, El Vez, Vintage and the Corner. You feed our bellies and our egos.
36. Outrageous Weddings at St. Monica’s
Crashing weddings isn’t the most flattering thing to admit to, but sometimes we sneak into the back pew for nuptials at St. Monica’s at 17th and Ritner. St. Mon’s weddings are notoriously glitzy. The betrothed arrive in super-shiny Rolls-Royce limos (Hummers, if the groom did the ordering). Bridesmaids—never fewer than eight—sway down the aisle in fluffy dresses of assorted pastel hues, fingernails covered in acrylic falsies painted to match. Brides, glowing with spray tans and excitement, wear puffy white gowns so wide they brush the edges of the polished brown pews. And the weeping! Single aunts in leopard print, unmarried cousins with volcanoes of hair, all bawling in celebration of the couple and their own secret fears of becoming old maids. It’s the best free show in the city. And there’s (almost) always a happy ending.
37. Midnight Pretzels at the Pretzel Factory
The rest of the country may look down their collective noses at our habit of eating soft pretzels for breakfast, but here’s what the rest of the country doesn’t realize: The only way to have a citywide supply of pretzels ready bright and early for the morning commute is to start baking those pretzels late the night before. Which means come midnight, if we go to the bakery in Mayfair, we can walk in and buy pretzels straight off the line. Pretzels that are still so piping hot that we have to wait a full five minutes before laying into all that chewy, salty goodness. So yes, pretzels for breakfast, sure. But even better, pretzels for a midnight snack.
38. The Philadelphia Parking Authority
Wait, you’re saying, the PPA? The PP-freaking-A, here amidst this lovefest of a list? The guys who are so mean? So rude? So abrasive? To which we say: Yes, the PPA, for the simple reason that in a world where no one does his job very well, the PPA does its job—stopping you from parking where you’re not supposed to park—very, very well. So you can complain about their rudeness, whine about their surliness, rail about their ruthlessness, scream till you’re blue about how unfair it all is. But the truth is, it’s not unfair: You parked where you weren’t supposed to park. Now pipe down. And pay up. And then thank God we have at least one taxpayer-funded agency that actually does its job.
39. Sophy Curson
Now that stores like H&M anchor Philly’s once-coveted street corners, the days of Nan Duskin, Bonwit Teller and John Wanamaker seem unimaginable, part of a Downton Abbey age. Perhaps this explains the small pang you feel when passing Sophy Curson, a monument to the Old Guard, capital letters intentional. Even the nameplate is quaint: unassuming script that stretches across the brick exterior, unchanged since 1953. It’s elegant, and a tad intimidating—you still need to ring a bell to enter. The truth is, most Philadelphians haven’t; to do so would destroy its myth, its magic. Instead we imagine the shop as it was, a place in which hatboxes were daintily presented to gloved women, where saleswomen in pearls swung tape measures with exacting flair, and where Grace Kelly’s wedding guests bought their gowns before sailing off to Monaco.
40. Running Over the Ben Franklin Bridge
It will cost you $5 to pilot your vehicle over the 8,000-foot expanse and back again, but it’s free in a pair of sneakers. Some things come to mind as you jog: Am I really running to Camden? Can I beat the PATCO train? Who the hell came up with the idea for that weird highway divider thing? On your return, your mind clears as you take in the city skyline. Just please: Mind the bikes.
41. The KYW Newsradio Ticker
That steady clack-clack-clack in the background—once a signal of reports coming in on the teletype, now just sound effect—still makes the news seem newsier.
42. The Flicker of the Departures Board at 30th Street Station
LED screens may be the future, but that mass flipping sound, like an electronic flock of birds, heightens the trip anticipation.
43. The Action News Theme
Still moving us closer to your world, my friend, 40 years later.
Of all the many awful manifestations of the Philly accent (“Schtreet” for “Street,” “Hü-gee” for “Hoagie”), the bastardization of the second person plural may be our most signature. (Youz guys know what we mean.)
45. The Eagles Fight Song
The only time the city bonds in our collective palooka-ism. Fly, Eagles, fly!
46. Bucks County
Less than an hour up I-95 and you’re there: a world that seems light-years from the buzz and fizz of the city, all winding roads that zigzag up the Delaware River, along the place where Washington once crossed, abruptly narrowing at creaky covered bridges (ah, to hear the legends of the ghosts who haunt them), offering panoramas of rolling hills and sprawling antiques-filled farmhouses. It’s where Philadelphians come to escape the chaos of the city, and where New Yorkers come when they tire of Hamptons flash. Yet the quiet character of Bucks County still feels authentic, untouched, even as more people discover its bucolic charms.
47. The New Green Bike Lanes on the Ben Franklin Parkway
When the city painted the hard-to-see bike lanes along the Ben Franklin Parkway a hard-to-miss lime green last year, it made just the right statement: that cyclists are welcome here, too. Never have a few buckets of paint done so much to transform the lives of so many.
There are people who will argue that a Krimpet is merely stylized sponge cake. These people have never rubbed a butterscotch Krimpet upside down on a table to ensure proper icing-to-cake ratio. They have never felt devilish joy when buying a three-pack—two would be plenty, but since there’s an extra … —at the corner store. And they have surely never, ever bitten into the squishy-sweet cake and quietly thanked the good folks of Tastykake for baking the perfect treat.
49. Philadelphia Eddie
Back in the early 1700s, Blackbeard was the most feared pirate in the Atlantic—connected, well-trained and utterly tenacious, a living nightmare for any crew that crossed his path. With lit fuses tucked in his hat, he attacked under a flag that insinuated a torturous violent death at the hands of the most ruthless man on the sea. His head ultimately ended up on the point of a ship’s bow off the coast of North Carolina, but he would be reborn roughly 200 years later as a tattooist named “Philadelphia Eddie” Funk.
The lit fuses and flags are gone, replaced by lines and layers of once-vibrant tattoos that cover Funk head to toe—the retired tattoo artist having long ago completed the mission he started in 1952 with his first tattoo on Coney Island. Time, as we all know, is not kind, and has muddied Eddie’s once-clean lines into an amalgamation of one enormous green ink slick composed of what must formerly have been hundreds of unique, bold pieces done by artists around the world. His beard is also gone; now what catches your eye is a pompadour hairstyle that evokes all the subtlety of an old Chevy hood ornament. The effect, however, remains the same.
His lifetime of raucous adventures, beginning with a grocery-store robbery to get his first tattoo kit in the ’50s, comes through clearly in his voice. Gravelly and taut, Funk’s signature growl hints at collective decades spent on bar stools, inhaling highballs of high-powered liquor, chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes and chasing women. The spice of mischief comes across, too, tinged with the bit of danger one is bound to encounter and eventually embody when traveling the world in search of treasure. That treasure isn’t gold doubloons and gems, but tattoo pigments and techniques, which Funk has made it a mission to plunder and redistribute through the Americas.
It’s often been said that Philly is a town of great characters. For more than half a century, spilling ink in his namesake studio off of South Street, our own Blackbeard has been one of our best.
50. Tailgating at the Linc
It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the drinking game. Click here to read more about why we love tailgating the Linc.
We have no Ellis Island, no towering coppered icon reminding us of the huddled masses we’re made of: Swedes, Quakers, Irish, Germans—the ones who established this town, made it into a manufacturing hub, and settled the suburbs. We don’t have ledgers full of names, dates and countries of origin, detailing the past and anticipating the future for the Italians and the Mexicans whose flags fly proudly in South Philly. We don’t have plaques heralding the Vietnamese, Indians and Ukrainians who in the past 20 years have turned dying pockets into thriving many-nations-into-one neighborhoods. That’s okay. Our pride radiates from the neon signs of Wing Phat Plaza. It’s carved into the stone cottages of Mount Airy. And sold over the counter at Port Richmond’s Polish delis for five bucks a pound.
52. The Odunde Festival
There are festivals all over the Philly calendar, but none may be as joyous as the Odunde, which Lois Fernandez modeled after Nigerian New Year’s festivities. Half a million people of all hues flock to a massive street party with delicious food, artisans’ wares, and the infectious thump-thump-thump of an African beat.
53. Morris Arboretum
Poor John and Lydia Morris. They’d probably flip in their graves if they knew that the coolest thing about the 92-acre arboretum they began tending in Chestnut Hill in 1887 isn’t the 2,500 plants from around the globe, or the Japanese water garden with paths winding into hidden grottos, or the view from the austere Mercury Temple (with a bronze god and everything). The best part is a treehouse. Yes. A treehouse. Just see what happens to your heart when you’re lying on a net 50 feet off the ground, staring through all those branches at the sky.
54. The “Runway” Between Parc and Rouge
It’s where we pretend we live in Paris, the skinny corridor of bistro tables that line, soldier-like, the swath of sidewalk between Locust and Walnut. As you approach it, you begin adjustments that are as imperceptible as they are subconscious: You tuck in, suck in, calibrate your stride so as to parade single file by the ogling diners who unabashedly stare up at you over their plates of half-eaten burgers and tuna tartare. You adopt an air of indifference, try to find that middle marching ground between purposeful walk and out-and-out strut, and repeat to yourself, over and over and over: Do. Not. Trip.
55. Larry Andersen and Scott Franzke
Has radio lost its mojo? Morphed into a dumping ground for oldies acts and bloviating talking heads, irrelevant in this age of iTunes and Spotify? No doubt. Except on those warm summer nights when what comes through your subwoofers are the soothing sounds of two grown men—both smart, both wry, both occasionally ridiculous—watching a Phillies game. And notice we say watching, not analyzing the thing to death with statistics and strategies. Yes, Scott and Larry will tell you what you need to know about all that, but honestly, how much do you really need to know about all that? It’s baseball, for cripes’ sake. Mostly what you need are two dudes who are awesomely good company. Scott and Larry are awesomely good company.
56. Having Jerry Blavat Snap His Fingers at You and Say, “My Man!”
No matter how coordinated, cool or rhythmically astute you are, you will never outdo or properly imitate the 72-year-old DJ’s signature finger-snapping hello, which may be the only greeting truly worthy of the adjective “iconic.” As he moves through a series of multiple finger snaps with both hands, back and forth between the two—seemingly never in the exact same pattern—he inserts, with perfect syncopation, “My man!” or, alternatively, “My man, pots and pans!” We’re assuming the pots and pans reference isn’t pejorative, though we’ve never really been able to figure it out. In any event, doing this interaction justice in written words is like trying to emulate Christopher Walken’s vocalizations on the printed page. We suggest you just go find the Geator and say hi.
57. PHS Pop-Up Gardens
Who knew a few dozen shabby-chic wooden dining chairs, painted a wild rainbow of poppy hues, thrown together with some long tables and plopped on an empty lot, could produce such an urban oasis? Evidently, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, whose random makeovers—four and counting, in varied Center City locales—have become must-visits for weary toddler-toting moms and sanctuary-seeking bookworms alike. In a city often long on ugly (uh, yes, we’re talking to you, south stretch of Columbus Boulevard, among others), these little urban gardens of Eden bring much-needed beauty to the beast.
The world may ogle our cheesesteaks, but it’s bouquets of crinkle-cut french fries that have stolen our sports-bar palates. Chickie’s and Pete’s tosses hot fried sticks of potato in red crab spice, which we then lustily dunk in gooey, melted white American cheese. Eat your heart out, they cry to us. And we do.
59. The Chip on Our Shoulder
Hardened and crass, Philadelphia doesn’t walk through life in New York’s shadow—it saunters. The strut is the product of years of petty slights from our city and egregious ones from the national media. You’ve heard it: We’re not pretty enough or healthy enough or smart enough. We lack a certain style. We wear sweatpants too much. (Actually, that one’s true.) But we’re the better for it. The collective hint of “Youz guys don’t know” cynicism gives an edge to our personality, telegraphing that this is a city not to be messed with. We wake up every day just a little pissed off; political scandals, high-blood pressure and 45 years without a Super Bowl ring will do that to a person. Philadelphia may be our older brother—it slaps, taunts, teases and occasionally pummels us—but it teaches us lessons that Mom and Dad can’t and textbooks don’t.
60. R5 Stations
The 26 stations on the R5 line (yes, we know SEPTA officially dropped the “R’s” for all its regional rail lines in 2010, but it’s still the R5) link one of the oldest sections of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line of Public Works—quite literally, how the Main Line came to be known as the Main Line. And truly, there’s just something about beginning and ending your day at one of them: It’s as if the mom climbing on with her two kids at the general-store Wayne station, the Tory Burch-ed sophomores chatting as they exit at Villanova and the high-powered attorney catching up on the day’s news before hopping off at Paoli all share a common bond. They do: They watch their charming neighborhoods, threaded together like a string of pearls, pass blurringly by, comfortable in the knowledge that each of them is en route to or from his own forwarding address.
61. Bradley Cooper
All the ladies in Philadelphia have the hots for Bradley Cooper, and no wonder: When a local boy looks that good with his shirt off, it’s hard not to get snow-day giddy at the sight. But that’s just lust—and, Bradley? Though we really, really appreciated that scene in Limitless, you must know that our feelings for you run deeper. We also love you for your smile. And your sharp mind. And your constant Jenkintown shout-outs. And your spot-on rendition of the Philly accent. But most of all, we love you for your heart. When you moved your mom in with you while your dad was sick, we straight-up swooned. Because a man who loves his mom? There’s nothing sexier than that.
62. Germantown Academy vs. Penn Charter
In 1887, Germantown Academy beat Penn Charter 20-6 in a relatively new sport called “football.” Every November, the days get shorter, families come together for Thanksgiving dinner, and football players at Penn Charter and GA play “The Game,” as hard as their forefathers did 125 years ago. The helmets are no longer leather. The stadium is new. But the rooting, the suffering, the ferocity, and the battle for bragging rights in the longest uninterrupted high-school football rivalry in the nation never, ever change.
63. Watching a Phils Game in the Piazza
On warm summer nights, young parents, their kids, pale hipsters and retirees come together on the swinging Piazza in NoLibs to watch televised baseball alfresco. On first glimpse, the 40-foot LED screen, mounted to a restored factory wall, seems a tad jarring. That soon fades into the shared sense of one city, indivisible, under Phillies.
64. Pizza Brain
A city is characterized by its people—its celebrities and politicians, its businessfolk and proletarian masses. And also by its weirdos: the freaks, the iconoclasts, those who rise above the daily clamor simply by the volume of their crazy. Brian Dwyer, the brains behind Kensington’s Pizza Brain, is a neighborhood guy obsessed with pizza who brought to Frankford Avenue the kind of joint where he and his crew can talk with straight faces about the six months they spent looking for the right pepperoni, as well as the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia (certified by Guinness). Now eat!
65. Those People Who Sit in La Colombe All Day Long
Try this little experiment: Head to the Rittenhouse cafe at around 10 a.m. As you stand in line, peruse the room. You will see people, mostly men, generally with good hair and nice clothes, occupying the tables, sipping cups of coffee, perhaps pulling flaky pieces from croissants. Return at 3 p.m. and marvel at how many of them are still there, by now sipping espressos, having accomplished … nothing. We love everything about these people and their highly caffeinated total lack of productivity. And wish we were one of them.
66. Big Concerts on the Parkway
We could do without the fences. And the admission. (We heart you, Jay-Z, but not that much.) Still, every time, the Parkway feels like someone picked up the corners of the Delaware Valley, shook, and tossed us down for the biggest, baddest block party in the history of Philadelphia block parties.
67. The Photo of Brad Lidge Dropping to His Knees at the End of the 2008 World Series
Every once in a while, we ask ourselves, “Did that really happen? Did we actually win the World Series?” Then we Google this photo. Yup, we did.
68. Stock’s Pound Cake
They bake other treats here—cookies, doughnuts. But it’s the pound cake that families drive miles for, wait in line for, a confection so dense and buttery, it’s practically crumb-less. Life could be measured in Stock’s pound cake. It’s the cake of occasions, big and small: birthdays and graduations, communions and christenings, weddings and baby showers, Easter Sundays and Christmas mornings. Fitting, since the cakes themselves are a Stock family custom, made in the same Port Richmond bakery, and according to the same (top-secret) recipe, for nearly 90 years. Here’s to another century of baking.
69. 200-Person Family Reunions in Fairmount Park
Every year, people start lining up at midnight on the first Monday in March. By the time the Fairmount Park Special Events Office opens that morning—the first official day of “picnic season”—a hundred people are waiting. If you wonder why, just listen to Will Smith sing “Summertime”: “A place called the Plateau/Is where everybody goes.”
Not a weekend goes by during picnic season when there isn’t at least one huge family reunion going on somewhere in Fairmount Park. There are often four generations accounted for, sometimes five. There are signs, commemorative t-shirts. And food. Always, always, lots and lots of food.
Some families prefer the picnic sites along Lemon Hill drive; others love Georges Hill. But prime reunioning is in the grove on Belmont Plateau. Will knew.
If you’re around this coming Independence Day, you’ll see the Wade-Selena Jones Family Reunion, capital letters, on the Plateau, organized by 61-year-old matriarch Helen Jones Goodwin, who’s already rented the Belmont Mansion so she can skip the spring line. She’s expecting 400 or so folks—from California, from Seattle, from Michigan and even Kuwait. A slew of Joneses are riding up on a chartered bus from Jacksonville.
It takes a lot of planning to get 400 of your relatives to Fairmount Park. The Joneses started in October. Helen’s brother Garry designed the t-shirts and put together a video invite that he posted on YouTube, the event details running like a ticker under the clip of Rocky running up the Art Museum steps: Softball! Basketball! Music by Grandmaster G! Helen’s trying to get Mayor Nutter to come, give them a key to the city. She’s got a pretty good incentive: Southern-style BBQ ribs, Jamaican jerk chicken and dirty rice, baked beans. And, perhaps best of all, that view of the city. Helen says there will be lots of picture-taking. For the Joneses, the photos will be a lasting reminder of their family coming together. For the rest of us, the picture-taking is a much-needed reminder that Philadelphia is a place for family—and how lucky we are to have the enduring welcome mat that is Fairmount Park.
70. The Broad Street Run
In 1980, 1,500 people set out to run from Olney to the Navy Yard along the city’s central artery. They couldn’t foresee that their humble race would not only become one of the country’s largest, but also telegraph a new Philly vitality to the world. Last year, more than 40,000 of us laced up. While a lot has changed in 32 years—from the Gatorade flavors to the five-toed shoes—Broad Street’s staying power lies in what hasn’t: This is still a race by Philly, for Philly and, quite literally, through Philly.
The first rowhouses in America were built here in Philly at the tail end of the 18th century, along Sansom Street between 7th and 8th—what’s now Jewelers’ Row. Echoing European properties dating back to Paris’s early-1600s Place des Vosges, they presented—and still do—a united street front, and were offered as speculative housing: built, then put up for sale, a reversal of the usual process in which buyers purchased land and constructed their house. No other American city took to the look the way we did; whether it was grand brownstones along Locust or tiny trinities in Kensington, Philadelphians decided they liked living cheek-by-jowl. Could be it’s the Quaker in us. Those cookie-cutter fronts, though, can contain anything from the staid Bennett Weinstockism of Rittenhouse to the mad flock/mirror/gilt excesses of South Philly to the austere minimalism of NoLibs bohos. One never knows. But grow up in Philly, and for the rest of your life you won’t truly feel at home unless you’re sharing a wall.
72. The Bar at XIX Atop the Bellevue
It’s charming to sip a drink amid the old and new at the bar at XIX. It’s the accoutrements—the leather, the mahogany, the fireplace—that are new, and which invite you to cozy up before moving into the marbled, rotunda-ed restaurant for dinner. But those new luxuries sit inside an old hotel—circa 1904, to be exact, and so storied that as you sit and swirl a martini, you can’t help but wonder about those who cozied up (and sipped) a century before you.
73. Watching an Eagles Game at Chickie’s and Pete’s
No fan of the Birds was surprised when an ESPN poll decreed Chickie’s and Pete’s the number one sports bar in America last year. Greenbloods stake their spots well before kickoff. As one regular puts it, “Seats don’t free up during a game. No one’s going anywhere.”
74. Parish Carnivals
Sizzling blacktop, icy
Snow cone, crowd that saw
You baptized and your
Brother baptized and your
Mother baptized so there are no
Toss, raffle, 50/50,
Balloon pop, stuffed bear,
A goldfish in a baggie that will
Live for an amazing long time.
Dunk tank where you sent Father
Murphy back in ’94
Tilt-a-whirl, bouncy tent,
Cotton candy, cheese
Fries, hot pierogies, roast pork,
Sausage sandwich, nut roll, lemonade,
Sticky-sweet fingers clutching
Memories of this rite, a
Censer streaming scents of summer
And the scary/holy parade of
Painted wooden saints.
75. East Passyunk’s Restaurant Row
Restaurant booms are odd things. They can pop up without any sense of rhyme or reason. Center City’s culinary renaissance may not have been planned, but once it took hold, it hardly felt like a surprise. But South Philly? Who saw that coming? And yet it did. Head down to East Passyunk Avenue on a Friday night and witness for yourself the impossibility of a huge restaurant boom happening in the least likely place. East Passyunk is Philly’s DIY ground zero—the place where young chefs and sharp operators at places like Stateside, Le Virtù, Fond and Belle Cakery damn the torpedoes of our lingering economic malaise and offer all the tropes that define our modern, food-obsessed age: pickles and charcuterie, internationally influenced American cuisine, hard-core Italian craft pastas and warm-from-the-dirt vegetables with all their farm-to-table bona fides intact. It is, in part, the enthusiasm and carefree brilliance of the crews working in these kitchens that make the lightning strike in this neighborhood. But it is also this city’s willingness to forget all the cares of the world over a couple of craft beers and a plate of house-made sausage that makes it happen, night after night after night.
76. Being a Philadelphian
We love it. We hate it. We wouldn’t live anywhere else. Click here to read more about we love being Philadelphians.