Dream a Little Dream: Poplar

Yesterday we gave you the hottest restaurant neighborhoods in the region. Today we’re going to highlight three that could be our next best restaurant neighborhoods.


Current state of the scene: Less apocalyptic than two years ago, but still not so nice.

What it needs: Some very smart local developers to take a weekend trip to Chelsea.

Walk one block on New York’s High Line park and you’ll never be able to look at the Poplar neighborhood in Philadelphia the same way. New York’s elevated park, built on a former train line, offers a pedestrian-friendly place for a stroll, and the neighborhood below bustles with restaurants, cafes and galleries.
In Philadelphia, the Reading Viaduct has been an urban ruin since it was decommissioned in the 1980s. Too massive to tear down, it has blighted an already downtrodden neighborhood. But that’s no longer acceptable. The blueprint has been drawn in New York: Build it and they will come. In fact, they’re already gathering. The Trestle Inn has joined the pioneering Institute bar, and the new Underground Arts bar is on the way. With North Broad happening to the west and the Union Transfer music venue anchoring the South, Poplar’s time is coming, and the potential is great.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • barryg

    “Build it and they will come.” Right, because the economy in NYC, built-in demand for living in Manhattan, and existing architecture had nothing to do with Chelsea turning the corner… and where do you suggest finding financing for the $50-100 million Reading Viaduct project?

  • Austin

    No mention of Llama Tooth eh?

  • rory

    or sazon, or lift, or prohibition! awesome work, foobooz! lol.

    barryg–the financing is coming from the special tax + federal funding, hopefully.

  • We’re talking about potential here. A funded Reading Viaduct makes what’s there better and offers the opportunity for more.

    Rory, Lift and Prohibition are on the other side of Spring Garden from Poplar, don’t want to anger the neighborhood boundary nazis.

  • barryg

    @Rory, the NID tax by charter cannot be used for the Viaduct project. It’s peanuts anyway. I hope they stick to cleaning up the trash and pressuring blighted properties to cleanup (i.e., practical small things that will greatly enhance the neighborhood). I really doubt the Feds are going to drop $50M on Philly for a public space project so soon after Dilworth. If they do, I hope it’s for something practical the whole city can use, like a renovated City Hall station.

  • barryg

    @foobooz, ok, but what it needs is some people to clean it up, make it safer, and invest in property, not take trips to Chelsea and hope someone comes up with cash for a linear park. The park won’t do any good unless the other pieces are in place–they aren’t yet.

  • rory

    @Barryg–fair enough, but the 50-100 mil estimate, where is that from? I see 50 million frequently. Are you just being realistic/pessimistic?

    @foobooz–ok, but then why talk about trestle (below Spring Garden) and Underground Arts (below spring garden)? or the viaduct park effort (mostly below spring garden)? by your definition that spring garden is the southern edge of Poplar, then the only place you mentioned that is north of that border is the institute and, arguably, union transfer right on it. And Sazon deserved some love, regardless! :)

  • barryg

    @Rory, the official estimate is $36 million but public construction projects go 50% over budget more often than not. And then there are ongoing maintenance and security costs.

  • rory

    @Barryg–so 100 million is a bit…steep. $36 + 50% = 54. Another 10 for going even more than 50% over budget and that’s still 36 million in “ongoing maintenance and security costs” which seems a tad bit high for a relatively small park.

    There’s a need to get the 36 million for construction (which, to remind people, is less than the price of tearing it down and something needs to be done with the viaduct). The tax won’t really cover it (could cover “maintenance and security”) or even cause much of dent. But 30 million from the state and/or federal government for a reasonable public work project? that’s completely feasible. not that it’s definite or even likely, but it’s certainly possible.

  • barryg

    We need to acquire the viaduct too.. it’s still owned by the holding company formerly known as the Reading Railroad. Sure it’s possible but even just $36 million could be used to improve parks in every neighborhood in the city, many of which are in wretched shape. $36 million is a lot to blow on one neighborhood that most Philadelphians have no reason to go to (unlike Dilworth which is used by the whole city and is a transit hub). The neighborhood has a lot of potential but is not a sure thing, why should people in South, North, West Philly get crappy parks while the people buying lofts in Callow Hill get really expensive shiny new one? Hell the city can’t even keep up the bike trains in Fairmount Park.

  • rory

    barry, that’s a separate argument to have. The short response to which is that you’re presenting a false zero-sum game. And–if we accepted that false premise–one that Callowhill has been losing for decades, so they have a reason to want their turn as a neighborhood.

    but that’s not really what foobooz is for and I only came to this thread to point out that their list of restaurants is incorrect either based on geography (half are south of spring garden) or not fully representative of the ‘hood’s current situation (if you want to include south of spring garden).

  • Heather

    Well you knew I’d chime in at some point. First off thanks to Art for posting this. Yes, there has been some great development in this section of the city and we have watched it over the past 4 years.

    It is not reasonable to expect someone to remember every restaurant/shop or bar in a particular area. So the hoo ha about forgetting places, seriously guys? Sazon of course is fabulous. Judith and her hubby are as passionate about the neighborhood as they are about their food.

    My husband and I have had discussions about the area as a whole. For us we see The Trestle, Pro-Tap, Union Transfer, Sazon (even as a byo) Union Transfer, and our bar as a true destination area north of center city. Do all of these places fall in to “Poplar” No. And yes, the border nazi’s will tell you so. It is what it is. Regardless the overall impact this development has had on our own business has been tremendous.

    There are 2 other places recently opened on Spring Garden St. First Teaful Bliss Tea Cafe opened about 4 weeks ago. We love the place. The teas are great and the inside of the place feels like being in someone’s house. We have yet to eat there but we understand the food is solid. Second The Armory Skateboard Shop has been opened for a few months. If you want some killer T-shirts go there. The owner is a great guy and one of the employees is a young man whom I watched grow up in the neighborhood–from his first skateboard to where he is now.

    I see the via-duct project happening but not for about 10 more years. Members of the Callowhill NAC have been working on this for years now. Callowhill is proof that you can have a neighborhood in an unusual area. Even though its mostly lofts/condos the folks who live there are passionate about development, especially the via-duct. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cafe Lift. When we opened our bar they were celebrating 5 years. Do the math and its remarkable for any place to remain open in this city that long.

    Its been long in coming but yes I’m happy that other people are seeing what we knew would happen. It took longer than we thought but its been worth the wait. So quit griping about details and go to a show or go get a beer or whatever.