Can USA250 Make Philly the Star of America’s 250th Birthday?


I was 13 years old in 1976—not exactly a budding patriot, but a good enough student of American history by that point to understand that the bicentennial of the country was a big deal. And so it was that on the bright and beautiful morning of July 4th, I bounded in from church (it was Sunday) and tore up the stairs to my bedroom in Northeast Philly, changing into my own version of the Stars and Stripes (red shirt, blue shorts, white sneakers) for not just any day, but the day: the nation’s 200th birthday. Read more »

ALBUM REVIEW: The Honest Truth About Cher’s ‘Closer to the Truth’

Before I say anything else about Cher’s first album in more than a decade, a word about my bona fides: The very first album I bought (on vinyl, thank you) was Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves in (gulp) 1971. I was eight years old. How my parents did not have the faculty to pull me aside and say, “We have something to tell you,” I will never understand.  Read more »

ALBUM REVIEW: The Honest Truth About Cher’s ‘Closer to the Truth’

Before I say anything else about Cher’s first album in more than a decade, a word about my bona fides: The very first album I bought (on vinyl, thank you) was Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves in (gulp) 1971. I was eight years old. How my parents did not have the faculty to pull me aside and say, “We have something to tell you,” I will never understand.  Read more »

Brewster: The Quintessential Cape Cod Weekend Getaway

Ocea Edge Resort and Golf Club in Cape Cod, Massachutsetts appearing in the July 2013 issue of Philadelphia Magazine

How to Get to Brewster from Phiadelphia: You can drive (seven hours) to Brewster, or Amtrak (six hours) or fly (an hour and change) to Boston, then rent a car for the 90-minute drive to Brewster.

Where to Stay in Brewster: The fittingly titled Ocean Edge, which offers some of the most spectacular water views on the Cape, is a sprawling 429-acre (!) resort with every amenity imaginable—along with a sp ectacular Jack Nicklaus-designed, PGA-worthy golf course. Choose between sumptuous Pottery Barn-y guest rooms or one of the recently opened multi-bedroom, two-story villas. But luxury isn’t cheap: A three-bedroom villa with water views will set you back $2,600 a night in high summer season. (Regular rooms cost around $310.)

What to Eat and Drink in Brewster: On the property, the Ocean Terrace serves up fab alfresco dining overlooking the bay, while Bayzo’s Pub (you’ve got to love a place named for alcoholics) is a clubby enclave with great beers and better burgers. The Brewster Fish House, a hop-skip from the resort, is a must for those who appreciate just-caught fare, expertly prepared in a quaint cottage. (Eat at the bar.) And there’s a reason folks line up for the lobster rolls at clam shacks Cobie’s and JT’s Seafood.

What to Do When You’re in Brewster: The scenic 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail is a biker’s paradise that winds through 1,900-acre Nickerson State Park, which boasts more than 400 campsites and some of the Cape’s best fishing. Ocean Edge rents bikes in two spots on the property, and the staff will point you in the right direction, ensuring a memorable ride. Cosmopolitan Provincetown, with its restaurants, shopping and iconic lighthouses, is an hour’s drive away. If you’d rather stay closer to home, Ocean Edge is a seaside playground. Besides hitting up the links, there are four pools (one indoors), a buzzing fitness center, spa treatments and tennis courts galore. For kids there are sports camps, ocean adventures, movie nights, and more.

Where to Shop in Brewster: There’s no traditional cutesy “down-town” in Brewster, so its several galleries and shops are spread about. Don’t miss the Brewster Scoop.

Where to Relax in Brewster: Cape Cod beaches are small and often rocky, but are some of the most beautiful in the country. Ocean Edge can provide an all-access beach pass, so you can check out the varied options, including the beloved Brewster Flats, which is fun during both low and high tides. Inhale deeply. Repeat.

View Cape Cod: The Quintessential New England Weekend Getaway in a larger map

The Best Ice Cream in Philadelphia

The ice cream of your youth was of indiscriminate variety—a carton pulled from a supermarket freezer belching frosty smoke, a cone you reached up on tippy-toe to retrieve from the man in the white truck with the bells. Didn’t matter which. It was ice cream.

Later you discovered exotic flavors sold in flashy pints, and didn’t blink at shelling out what amounted to $16 a gallon. You devoured swirly organic varieties that sat like mounds of cake frosting in small-batch silver tins, or gorged on vaguely Italian-sounding derivatives that you ate at sidewalk cafes and made you feel all Continental.

It didn’t matter. It was ice cream.

Philadelphia may not be its birthplace (legend gives that honor to somewhere in the Persian Empire circa 400 B.C.), but an argument can be made—and should—that ice cream was perfected here. By the late 19th century, Abbott’s, Breyers and Bassetts were the city’s true dairy queens, churning out creamy butterfat-laden fare until those premium pints elbowed in during the 1970s. Abbott’s closed; Breyers was sold, moved, changed. Bassetts remains with us, its signature navy blue cartons with the floating white-and-yellow script still a reassuring talisman.

Water ice is tart and lovely. But Philadelphia is a city of ice cream. Quixotic renditions are sold in fancy restaurants and parlours (note the “u”), atop desserts with names that sound like the titles of romance novels. The staples are still plopped into sugar cones and plastic bowls, then glooped with syrups and candies.

Which to choose? It doesn’t matter. It’s ice cream.

>>From simple peanut butter swirl to fancy fior de latte, click here to see the best ice cream flavors Philly has to offer.

>>Man cannot live by scoops alone. Click here for the best ice cream dishes in Philly.

Introducing G Philly’s Queer 6-Word Memoir Project

Several years ago, my great friend Larry Smith asked me to contribute to a book he was compiling, which eventually became Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure (Harper Perennial). The book kicked off what became known as the Six-Word Memoir Project®, now a cornerstone of the online Smith Magazine, where personal storytelling is truly an art form. My six-word memoir was thus: “Years in the closet. Why? Why?Read more »

Happy 100th Birthday, Rittenhouse Square

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia celebrates its 100th anniversary. Photo by Sam Oberter.

There are other squares, of course, scattered about the city like so many verdant postage stamps, their benches weathered and welcoming. But there is only one Rittenhouse Square. It dwarfs the others not in size, but in prestige. It is imbued with a particular grandeur. It speaks its own refined patois.

One hundred years ago, a fretting group of 80 neighbors gathered in the parlor of Miss Charlotte Siter, looked out her window at their dilapidated green, and decided something must be done. So they retained a French architect named Paul Cret to redesign their fraying common. His vision included a reflecting pool inspired by the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and lawns as soft as Easter grass. That vision, like the village green he left us, was exquisite.

To walk through Rittenhouse Square today is to feel glamorous. Its cathedral of trees towers; its cement urns stand like sentries at the corners, overflowing with ivy and blooms. Every time you visit, it’s as though you’ve entered a grand garden party. Which, of course, you have. Look here and see the spiffy doormen of the Rittenhouse Hotel. Over there, the louche and the fashionable converge to enjoy aperitifs alfresco on the sidewalk between Rouge and Parc. Young mommies escaping their houses, old men playing chess, young lovers, old friends—you see them all. The Square is one of the last places where people sit and read newspapers, in print. Where every June, men in black tie and ladies in gowns gather for a ball. Fairs and farmers’ markets blossom with the spring plantings, buskers create a soundtrack in guitar and violin, and Billy the bronze goat still keeps watch, head down, horns up.

You can walk Rittenhouse Square your whole life and never do so the same way twice. Its winding pathways curve like ribbons, promising to lead you somewhere wonderful. For there is always someplace to go. But an even more compelling reason to stay.

Equality Forum Highlights: Our Favorite Panel

(L-R) National Black Justice Coalition’s Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff and the Equality Forum’s own Malcolm Lazin spoke on the  National Politics Panel.

One of the cornerstones of each year’s Equality Forum is its wide array of topical panel discussions, and this year was no different: programming this go-round dissected everything from religion, the rights of the transgendered, and LGBT history to legal issues for the community and a lively chat among elected LGBT officials, including Pennsylvania’s own state reps Brian Sims and Mike Fleck.

One of our favorites was the National Politics Panel held at the National Constitution Center on Friday, May 3, which was moderated by Chuck Wolfe, the president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, which raises money and support to elect LGBT candidates for political office. (Wolfe is basically the LGBT equivalent of Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List.) The purpose of the panel was simple: To assess where the LGBT movement is in the national political landscape, and analyze, predict, and mull where it’s headed. Read more »

Will Philadelphia’s Catholic Schools Be Resurrected?

Will Philadelphia Catholic schools be resurrected? Parochial education in Philly is on the decline.

I walk in and see Linda Walters, who is now Linda Walters McSwigan, and I recognize her instantly because even when she was a little girl she had the face of an adult, droopy and fixed and serious. She ran for classroom pr­esident in fifth grade, the same year in which I managed the campaign of Michael Tobin, who was our class’s most handsome, athletic and popular kid; one night he and I sat in his kitchen as I glued stars to a colorful poster and whipped up the memorable slogan “With Tobin the Terrific, You’re Always on Top!” All of the other “campaigns” gave out favors—licorice, Fun Dip—to woo voters. I did, too, but not to the other candidates, nor to their campaign managers. If nothing else, Catholic school teaches you tactical thinking.

I cheek-kiss Linda and a few other girls from Resurrection of Our Lord grammar school, Class of 1977, here for our 35th reunion. An odd year to mark, but Jimmy L­amplugh didn’t make the 25-year and he’s in from Ireland and what the hell, the beer will be good. We’re in a wedding-factory-type hall in the Northeast, a few miles from our old school in Rhawnhurst. About 70 graduates are in attendance—a decent turnout from a class of 120, especially when you consider the troubling fact that eight of us are dead.

High-school reunions are one thing, but in Philly, your Catholic grammar-school reunion is something special. To many, it’s the only reunion that counts. If you went through Catholic school here, you’re bonded in a unique way that people who went to public or private school just can’t understand.

I sit at a table, silently wishing I had dropped 20 pounds before coming, amazed at how little so many of us have really changed: Jimmy Drumm, a tough back in those days, is a cop; Lisa Cosenza, loud and brash and bawdy at the age of seven, is still all of those things at 50. I turn to Debbie Wilson Kovach, to whom I basically proposed marriage in seventh grade, only to be crudely rebuffed (Me: “You turned me gay.” Her: “Sorry”), and remark that my 30-year public-high-school reunion turned out 13 percent of the graduating class; here, we have almost 60 percent. I’ve heard similar numbers for other Catholic-school reunions.

Debbie mulls the strong showing. “Maybe it’s simply the fact that we all survived it together.”

But how many will in the future? It’s a question far more sober than Lent. In 2012, the Catholic-school population in the Philadelphia archdiocese—a sweeping land mass that includes the city and most of the adjoining Pennsylvania su­burbs—stood at somewhere around 68,000, which is roughly how many kids were enrolled in 1911. At their zenith in 1961, the region’s parochial grammar and high schools boasted enrollment of 250,000. That’s a total drop of 73 percent over 50 years. And the pace has only picked up: The archdiocese has shed a third of its student population in the last decade.

For someone like me, the verdict here—that the Catholic-school system in Philadelphia is disappearing, school by school—is incomprehensible. In a parochial city such as ours, parochial school has been a tie that binds for generations, as much as neighborhood or ethnicity. We who attended find one another and instantly start talking about the nuns, the discipline, the sacraments, the uniforms, the loudspeaker announcements, then the discipline some more, then the nuns some more. My mother and her hairdresser posse still dine out on horror stories about infamous Sister Bernard Loyola, at St. Columba at 24th and Lehigh. These women went to grammar school in the 1930s.

The archdiocese knows all of this, of course. It knows its schools are an enormous cultural bond in Philadelphia. It also knows they’re dying. Which is why it’s handed the keys to its education system to a new, outside initiative in a last-ditch effort to stanch the bleeding. I just wish I could really believe it’s going to work.

It’s ironic, I suppose, that what I’m missing is faith.

Venezuelan Photographer Debuts Male Stripper Exhibit in Philly

Jan Rattia has been taking pictures since he was a teenager in his native Venezuela, but it wasn’t until he was well into his thirties — and feeling unfulfilled with his career in business — that he decided to turn his passion for photography into a career. A graduate of New York’s prestigious International Center for Photography, Rattia, 38, moved from Atlanta to Rittenhouse Square with his partner, Neil Thall, last year. Today he debuts his first Philly gallery show, provocatively titled “Tease.” Read more »

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