#DeadInPhilly: You Can Eat Pretty Much Anywhere You Want Tonight
Follow Philadelphia magazine’s live coverage of Pope Francis’s historic visit all weekend long.
A lot of Philadelphia restaurant owners salivated when the Pope Francis trip to Philadelphia was originally announced, with the city ridiculously overestimating the number of pilgrims who would show up to see the pope — and to eat. But from what I’m hearing, Philly restaurants are dead.
It’s Saturday morning, and normally if you wanted to use OpenTable to make a Philadelphia dinner reservation at this point, you’d be stuck with places like Bistro St. Tropez and Warmdaddy’s. But on this particular Saturday, you can eat pretty much anywhere you want, including at some of Philadelphia’s best restaurants.
Though things are a bit less available than when I checked on Friday, you can still get prime time tables (around 7pm) at places like Vetri, Vedge, Will, Il Pittore, High Street on Market, A.Kitchen… the list goes on. Zahav and Vernick have some earlier and later tables available, and although Laurel had some seats open as of Friday afternoon, those tables now appear to be gone.
I strolled around Center City on Friday evening, looking into restaurant windows to find a place with a good crowd, but my search was in vain. Even El Vez, usually a mob scene on a Friday night, was relatively quiet.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman took to Twitter to ask if one could get a reservation at Vetri this weekend. “At any restaurant in the city,” replied her chef-brother, Marc, who also noted the “hundreds of thousands” of dollars that “small business owners lost.”
Mark DeNinno, owner of Chris’ Jazz Cafe at 1421 Sansom Street, doubled down on the papal weekend, ordering exponentially more food than he would typically need. He also decided to open on Sunday, when he would normally be closed.
On Friday night, DeNinno stood outside of his restaurant, uncertain of what the rest of the weekend would hold. On a day when he would usually serve 60 to 80 lunches — he runs a popular $12 steak frites on Fridays — he cooked exactly one lunch, a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
Of course, it’s still early, and there’s still time to get some business and turn things around. But it’s not looking good — for DeNinno and for everyone else banking on lines out the door, something badly needed after the “everybody’s at the Shore” summer.
“Well, we’ll see what happens,” DeNinno said on Friday, shaking his head. “They have to eat, right?”
UPDATE 9/26 3 p.m.: At 3 p.m., Chris’ Jazz Cafe owner Mark DeNinno reports that he has given more food away to the homeless than he has sold. Meanwhile, developer and former City Council candidate Ori Feibush says that his four cafes are seeing their slowest Saturday in history. “What happened to the 1.5 million customers we were expecting?” he asked on Facebook.
Of course, not every place is empty. Philly Mag writers Dan McQuade and Liz Spikol both went to Little Pete’s and said it was packed, and McGillin’s Olde Ale House got in touch and said that business is good.
But for the most part, we’re hearing that things are pretty awful.