Philly’s Hottest New Bar Becomes Gentrification Battleground

Activists take to Yelp to trash Le Bok Fin, a pop-up bar on the roof of a shuttered city school.

The view from Le Bok Fin. | Photo by Michelle Gustafson

The view from Le Bok Fin. | Photo by Michelle Gustafson

For weeks, there has been a fierce debate on social media about Le Bok Fin. It’s a pop-up restaurant that serves French cuisine, offers a stunning, panoramic view of Philadelphia, and has been called “the hottest bar” in the city. What’s so controversial about that? Well, it’s on the rooftop of what was once Bok Technical High School, a vocational school that was closed in 2013 amid major financial cutbacks.

On one side of the debate are people who argue that the project is tone-deaf, that the school never should have closed, and that it should be repurposed with long-term residents — not craft beer-drinking hipsters — in mind. On the other side are those who say that the revitalization of a blighted building is something to be celebrated, and that the larger issues of poverty, affordable housing and education funding should be addressed by the public sector, not individual developers.

And somewhere in between are people who acknowledge that Le Bok Fin is a good thing, but call for empathy for residents who bristle at seeing scads of young white people eating croissants and $6 “Paris” hot dogs in the same place where children of color learned trades just two years ago.

Much of the discussion about Le Bok Fin, though, has taken place in private Facebook groups. On Thursday, critics of the pop-up restaurant took it much more public when they launched a guerrilla campaign on Yelp, posting highly critical comments about Le Bok Fin right alongside five-star reviews posted by fans. Taken together, they mirror the ever-escalating debate over gentrification that is happening all over the city.

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  • The poor will lose. We always do

    • Bill Craig

      Now don’t be negative.. look how great things for poor have gotten under Obama… minus the Black guy who was riddled with Bullets to the back during that car stop in the Carolinas..

      • PPABootSquadVinnie

        I say it’s All Obama’s fault. So does Rush Limbaugh.

    • K&A

      Your elected officials closed the school yet you keep voting for them. Keep up the good work.

    • BobSmith77

      This isn’t the half of it. Global quantitative easing has been the greatest theft in world history and shifting of physical resources to the über wealthy on a scale that is staggering.

    • PPABootSquadVinnie

      Especially with That victim mentality.

  • GT12

    Gimme a break. Blame the city, the school district, whatever you want, but don’t blame the people (I’m pretty sure they aren’t ALL white there) who are SPENDING MONEY in Philadelphia. Don’t blame Scout for giving use to a building that hasn’t had a tenant in 2 freaking years! Its not like the school was shut down so they could put a pop-up restaurant on the roof! God forbid someone succeeds in this town.

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  • ES

    Perhaps it would be better to let the building deteriorate, fill up with squatters, and re-purpose it as a drug deal mall. Far less dangerous to the surrounding community than a marauding crowd of millennials with a few bucks out to have fun. This city is its own worst enemy.

    • K&A

      The neighborhood supports this project. It’s idiot transplants trying to play social justice warrior causing the problems.

  • Bill Craig

    THOSE SCUM…How dare they come into a Philadelphia neighborhood full of downtrodden and spend money.. Forget sales taxes and jobs created including setting up the place ( trades jobs)..instead ..these scum hipsters should just send their money to Janie Blackwell.. she be soo smart.. she be knowing wat to do wit it.. ( look at the smart input on Osage Ave and Mr Edwards) or ( her super duper smart association with PHA).. their it is..

  • The truth

    All these moronic hipsters must not not the definition of “recent”. The school closed 2 years ago. That is NOT recent. And “working class neighborhood”??? Please. Unless you call drug dealing and collecting welfare “working”. You keep using those words. I don’t think you know what they mean.

    • K&A

      What on earth are you blabbering about? E Passyunk is hardly a bad neighborhood. Get a clue.

      • anthony patterson

        They’re just full of hatred, they said so earlier.

    • PPABootSquadVinnie

      Just what, Exactly, makes a place a ‘working class’ neighborhood? I work, and I live in a neighborhood. Must you work with your hands [construction] or on an assembly line to proudly carry the ‘label’ of Working Class? And just Who is the person who decides whether a location is working class or not?
      Keep up the good work Le Bok Fin, it’s nice to see people Actually Doing Something [positive] as opposed to all them hater Negadelphians just gritting on Any kind of change.

  • The truth

    Hipsters and hoodrats. Hate ’em all.

  • rechill

    Schools require children. Where did they go?

  • K&A

    This article is trash. There is no battleground here – just typical SJW BS losers that are typing 1-star reviews from Mom’s basement. Philly Mag should be ashamed for giving these people credence.

  • anthony patterson

    In Reply to ES below:
    Hmm, so those are the only options in modern day America? Says a lot about what you think the people of that neighborhood deserve.

  • Hamiltonian

    It’s been awhile since someone described East Passyunk as a working class neighborhood. Right now, it seems hard to buy a home in good, updated condition with more than 2 bedrooms for less than $450k in East Passyunk. Those aren’t very working class prices.

  • BobSmith77

    So people want to raise civic awareness of the gentrification issue in the city so they protest on Yelp? Pathetic.

    As long as the TV and Internet remain on, people will remain indifferent and self-medicated.

  • HorsedkDotmPeg

    Moral of the story is that not even hipsters like hipsters.

    • PPABootSquadVinnie

      So true, and their reactions to something positive in their neighborhood is the proof. Who knows, soon they may Really have complaints when the whole neighborhood gets ‘nicer’ and property values go up. Isn’t that the goal of a neighborhood?

  • HolyFrijoles11

    I visited Le Bok Fin, and yes, it’s a somewhat pricey beer garden, and yes, it brings in a TON of affluent people into a poorer area. You know what? Doesn’t matter. I bought dinner at Cosmi’s deli and I found out where Termini Bros was because I went there. I’d have never seen them or stopped by otherwise. I bet a lot of other people have done the same thing, exploring a new neighborhood and spending money, helping local businesses stay afloat. The closing of Bok was a shame but the repurposing of one floor for one bar is not the end of days. The future use as an artist residence/colony – not sure how they’ll make the numbers work because that school is MASSIVE, but that’s their concern. Should it be legit residential? Maybe. But then the neighbors would lose their minds over parking concerns. There’s no winning here.

    The fact is that schools close because there’s not enough students to make it viable to keep them open. Between the charters and the dwindling enrollment in the PSD, no one’s going to be able to keep a PSD school open for much longer in these low-performing districts. Having anything that generates positive traffic for a building of that size is a good thing.

    • Lee

      Glad you made it down to our neighborhood!

      Great perspective.

  • PPABootSquadVinnie

    I think this is just another ‘made up’ controversy by PhillyMag, like Fiorello’s ‘Why I Hate Springsteen’ article.

  • AccountableForAll

    Thankfully, most of the poor, politically motivated reviews have been filtered out of Yelp. Good to see Yelp managing their brand.