Ask Liz: How Do I Get My Own Rouge and Parc Harems?

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Why do women at the restaurants on 18th Street tolerate the amorous affections of men twice their age, and how do I get to be one of those men? — Envious in Rittenhouse

Are you sure those are “amorous” affections you’re seeing? Maybe your jaundiced Philly view of the world has you seeing prurient interactions where there are none. Haven’t you heard of Take Your Daughter to Rouge Day? No? Well, it’s a thing. So if you want to get affection from a female half your age at a restaurant on 18th Street, I’d suggest you start procreating, stat.

Now that Philly got the nod for the Democratic convention, has received international praise, has a bustling music/restaurant scene and is home to a growing demographic of 30-somethings, what can we do to keep it from becoming too costly, crowded and overblown, like other cities that jumped the shark? — Concerned in Cherry Hill

Concerned, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you asked this question. Not because I share your concerns — I’ve lived through too many Philadelphia renaissances to panic — but because it gave me the perfect excuse to reach out to urban theorist Richard Florida at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and my enduring crush. Yes, I know: It’s more common to swoon over musicians or actors, but I’m drawn to urbanist public intellectuals. In fact, if there were a Coachella for people like Richard Florida, I’d be in the front row, wearing a too-low tank top and drunkenly mouthing all the words to “Creative Class Blues.” Lucky for you — a person who actually wants a substantive answer — Florida read your letter and offered a thoughtful response via email: “I’m not too worried about Philly. David Byrne, Moby and Spike Lee have all told us about the downsides of escalating housing prices, the invasion of the global super-rich, the gentrification of neighborhood after neighborhood, and the chasing of creatives out of New York City. These problems thus far remain limited to cities like New York and San Francisco, London and Paris, and to a lesser extent places like Boston, D.C. and Seattle.

“Despite some notable examples, Philadelphia has experienced nowhere near the level of gentrification of these cities, according to a detailed study by economist Daniel Hartley with the Cleveland Federal Reserve. Philly remains an affordable alternative to NYC for the creative class, and that is why many of its members are moving there. It’s a big city with lots of space and lots of neighborhoods, so I think it will take quite a while before it falls to the problems that plague New York and other so-called superstar cities.” Feel better? Well, don’t. Florida thinks you’re just worrying about the wrong thing: “The bigger problems in Philadelphia — and in most cities — remain the gaping gap between the haves and the have-nots and highly concentrated poverty and disadvantage. That’s what deserves our attention.”

I’ve noticed that pretty much every new building is built with wood. This seems to include the new building at 3rd and Market where Shirt Corner used to be and townhomes in my neighborhood made entirely of wood. Isn’t this a fire disaster waiting to happen? — Nervous in Northern Liberties

What you’re seeing is not, actually, buildings made entirely of wood — or at least not regular old wood that Richard Proenneke would use to build a log cabin. Licenses and Inspections commissioner Carlton Williams says, “Commercial and residential buildings are required to use fire-rated materials in properties to control the spread of fires.” Gypsum wallboard is the most common of these materials used in the construction of occupied dwellings. “Also,” he adds, “fire-rated insulation between wood beams prevents fires. That’s standard building practice.”

Liz Spikol has lived in Philadelphia nearly all her life, which means she knows stuff. Got a question? Email it to

Originally published as “Ask Liz” in the September 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Archbishop Charles Chaput: The Hardliner

Photograph by Matt Rourke/AP Images

Photograph by Matt Rourke/AP Images

All Pat Smiley wants is a chance to meet with him, to make her case, to be heard — that’s all any of them want, really. But Archbishop Charles Chaput, the head of Philadelphia’s Catholic Church, can be a difficult man to pin down. There have been dozens of closings of Philadelphia Catholic churches since 2010. Some of these churches haven’t been well-attended for many years, and Church coffers have been in steep decline; no one disputes that the local archdiocese has serious financial problems, though no one except Church bean counters knows all the numbers. There are also other problems, of course: the sexual-abuse scandal of the last decade, on top of a Church that operates more and more at odds with contemporary culture — especially concerning the “pelvic issues,” meaning acceptance of gays and birth control and women priests and allowing male priests to marry. There is great doubt and unrest even among the remaining faithful.

Pat Smiley’s church — St. Joachim, the oldest Catholic church in the Northeast — closed two years ago. She still doesn’t really know why. Read more »

Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Levine, and the “Joys” of Womanhood

Illustration by Juliette Borda

Illustration by Juliette Borda

“It’s called a ‘lob,’” my daughter Marcy says a little shyly, turning to model 360 degrees of her new haircut. “For ‘long bob,’ you know?” She faces me again. “What do you think?”

“It’s beautiful,” I tell her, hiding my shock at seeing her shorn of her long hair for the first time since she was — well, since she was a toddler, a quarter of a century ago. But the new ’do does suit her, framing her cheek in a swooping curve.

“I’m going back to get highlights next paycheck. They cost a hundred dollars. Just the cut was $80.” My thrifty girl sounds both amazed at and ashamed of her cosmetic and financial daring. No wonder. I’ve never spent anything like that much money on my hair. Read more »

One of Us: Bart Blatstein, Developer

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Bart Blatstein. But that’s not my legal name. Bart is short for Barton, but I haven’t used Barton since first grade, for obvious reasons.

I am a … real estate developer with few hobbies. My golf game is so bad that my hobby is real estate development. I’m the worst golfer at my golf club. They all laugh at me.

I bought my first property … on May 15, 1978 — a very small three-story rowhouse shell in Queen Village. It was the result of me not getting into medical school. I had to pursue something.

I live in … Montgomery County, but we’re moving back to Philly next year. We’re empty nesters, and it’s time to transition. Read more »

The Curious Case of Nicky Isen

Left: Illustration by Peter Strain. Right:  The I. Brewster Gallery near 21st and Race. Photograph by Christopher Leaman

Left: Illustration by Peter Strain. Right: The I. Brewster Gallery near 21st and Race. Photograph by Christopher Leaman

The stakes are so high, everyone wears funeral smiles — gray grins, barely there before they’re gone. The courtroom falls silent when Nathan Isen walks in, looking a little sheepish. A small group of friends awaits, including Ralph Yaffe of Boyds and Scott Isdaner, whose family co-founded Pep Boys. They shake Isen’s hand, wish him luck, awkward because no one knows if this is hello or goodbye.

The third-generation descendant of a prominent Main Line family, Isen has, for more than 30 years, sold artwork to Philadelphia’s doctors, lawyers, the well-to-do and the purely aspirational. And he is here today, in federal court at 6th and Market, to be sentenced on a money-laundering charge. Read more »

Would You Wait Eight Years to Join the Lombard Swim Club?

A view of the pool on a sleepy summer afternoon. Photograph by Christopher Leaman

A view of the pool on a sleepy summer afternoon. Photograph by Christopher Leaman

“Just act like you belong and we’ll be fine.”

I’m trying to remember the last time I did something like this. I think it was 1982, when my friend Bing (yes, Bing) and I were 19 and nonchalantly sauntered up to the bouncer of some dive bar in Cherry Hill and somehow convinced him we were 21, subsequently sailing through the door into a den of smoke and thumping music. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to crash a party.

I’m with a friend of a friend of a friend — we’ll call this person Jimmy, though for reasons that will become clear momentarily, Jimmy isn’t said person’s real name — and on this particularly steamy summer night, we’re walking into the entrance of the Lombard Swim Club, an imposing fortress of water, liquor and secrecy located between 20th and 21st streets, not far from Rittenhouse Square. If you’ve strolled this block of Lombard, you probably never even noticed the club was here. Which is precisely the point. Read more »

Best of Philly 2015

bop-2015-cover-305x400Our annual Best of Philly issue may come out in August, but every Philadelphia magazine editor and writer knows that researching this massive compendium of the very best is an all year-process. Our style editor has been known to close in on any well-dressed man she passes on Walnut Street and demand to know where he gets his suits tailored. Our food editor wakes up at the crack of dawn (or possibly doesn’t ever go to sleep) all in the name of eating another stack of fluffy pancakes. Our writers circle names in their notebooks of the people who sources continue to insist are the ones that are doing remarkable things for our city.

All of these notes, tastes, and discoveries come together to form our annual list, which, when taken as a whole, shows off the newest and best of Philadelphia in 2015. As we start to put together the list, trends — the things that truly reflect what is happening in the city now — always emerge. For example, bowls are apparently huge this year. Bowls filled with mountains of black rice, fresh-pulled noodles, and local veggies are being composed by chefs in high-end restaurants and quick-serve lunch spots alike. (In fact, nine of our food winners this year were in the bowl form. We agree that this one-dish eating is pretty awesome.) In other food news, East Passyunk is still one of the most exciting food neighborhoods. Our food writers awarded “Best Ofs” to 10 restaurants, bars, and dishes from the cluster of establishments located on these few South Philly blocks. Read more »

How Switching to Two Wheels Helped Me See Philly With New Eyes

Illustration by Tim Parker

Illustration by Tim Parker

Before you get the wrong idea, this is not a love story.

There have been plenty of those penned about the joys and merits of cycling in the city. Especially in this city, where — in case you haven’t noticed — the ever-widening, constantly creeping bike lanes are suddenly packed with everyone from die-hard daily commuters to meandering tourists on rented wheels.

But this, well, this isn’t one of those stories. Read more »

The Strings of My Heart

Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett

Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett

I was 12 years old when my big sister and my mom came to blows over Joni Mitchell. We were watching one of Mitchell’s first TV appearances in the States. Nan, who was 15, wanted very badly to see her musical idol — badly enough that she was enduring our company in the living room, in front of our black-and-white Zenith. Mitchell hadn’t gotten three bars into whatever song she was singing when Mom and I and my little sister started to giggle: at her big buckteeth, her strange diction, her peculiar solemnity. Nan was irate. “She’s a great artist!” she screamed at us, spittle flying from her mouth, and spun around to run up the stairs to her room.

“We’re only watching this because you wanted to! Get back here, young lady!” my mom shouted, grabbing Nan’s arm as she passed. The next thing I knew, they were whaling away at one another, landing ineffectual blows among the angry words and tears.

That was when I decided: I never wanted to like any music that would cause my mom to take a whack at me. Read more »

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »