Best of Philly: Fun 2006
Place to laugh
Helium Comedy Club This Center City club presents comedy as it should be, up close and personal. But the most intimate stage in the world can’t save bad comedy, and it’s the quality of Helium’s lineup that sets it apart. Recent shows have featured everyone from Philly native Todd Glass from Last Comic Standing to Nick Swardson, who appeared in The Benchwarmers alongside David Spade, Jon Heder and Rob Schneider. This town is still no mecca for stand-up, but thanks to Helium, it’s no longer a wasteland. 2031 Sansom Street, 215-496-9001; heliumcomedy.com.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum When you think of the great outdoors, the words “near the airport” probably don’t spring to mind. Yet this refuge, just a stone’s throw from Philly International, is home to a menagerie of wildlife, from migratory birds to muskrats to Southern leopard frogs. There are also 10 miles of hiking/biking trails, two boardwalks, and various places to fish and canoe, making the Heinz the most interesting bit of real estate served by SEPTA. 8601 Lindbergh Boulevard, 215-365-3118; heinz.fws.gov.
South Philadelphia Taproom There’s something positively un-American about those jukeboxes that let jerks with rolls of quarters move their songs ahead of yours. You won’t find one of those fascist machines at the Taproom. Rather, along the far back wall in this neighborhood hangout, you’ll find a killer box that values old-school more than trendy tunes of the moment, with selections ranging from Sinatra to Stones, Beatles to Beastie Boys, and including local bands like Sugar Skull. And oh: The beer’s damn good, too. (See page 220 for more on the booze.) 1509 Mifflin Street, 215-271-7787; southphiladelphiataproom.com.
Outdoor tennis courts
Penn State, Delaware County God bless Ethel Sergeant Clark, whoever she is. Her trust allowed for the construction of the best outdoor courts in the area, on the Delaware County campus of Penn State, in Media. The courts — three of which are lit for nighttime play — are well protected from wind, smooth enough to host a bowling tournament, and numerous enough (11) that you won’t be kept waiting. The only drawback: You need to heed the school calendar. Because these are campus courts, the school’s phys ed classes and teams get first dibs. 25 Yeardsley Mill Road, Media; 610-892-1270.
Camden Riversharks Campbell’s Field will never be Citizens Bank Park, and for that we’re thankful. It’s close (four miles from Rittenhouse Square), accessible, intimate, and home to stunning views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Philly skyline. Best of all, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy yourself. Parking is $3. A ticket is $8. Most everything at the concession stand can be had for less than $6. And you can still heckle somebody named Abreu; Bobby’s brother Denny plays for the ’Sharks. 401 North Delaware Avenue, Camden, 866-SHARKS9; riversharks.com.
Museum you probably haven’t been to
Ellen Powell Tiberino memorial Museum Located in Powelton Village, this tiny museum honors the art and life of the late Ellen Powell Tiberino, one of the city’s most respected — if not most famous — artists. In addition to Tiberino’s paintings and drawings, several of which were completed in 1992, just before the artist died of cancer, the museum features one of the city’s most eclectic spaces for art: a communal courtyard full of work by various Tiberinos and friends. 3819 Hamilton Street, 215-386-3784; tiberinomuseum.com.
Spot to acquire a completely unnecessary skill
Fencing Academy of Philadelphia Learning to handle a foil isn’t exactly practical, though it is a great workout for body and mind. And if you want to learn to fence, there’s no better place than FAP, which has produced some of the region’s and the country’s best fencers. It offers small beginning classes for kids and evening classes for adults at totally reasonable prices. Best of all, once you “earn your steel,” you can compete against other students at “open bouting” nights. 3519 Lancaster Avenue, 215-382-0293; FAP-fencing.com.
Tritone Don’t try requesting “Freebird” at the debauched monthly karaoke night at Tritone, where the crowd looks plucked from a 1978 Sex Pistols show. There are no lame music machines, either: The live backing band can play upwards of 50 songs to accompany anyone brave enough to sing/shout. Pierced and tattooed host and DJ Psydde Delicious brags that this is the ultimate Philly punk rock scene, where regulars revel in the music they grew up on. Amateurs and legit rockers can sign up, but consider yourself warned: Bones have been broken. 1508 South Street, 215-545-0475; tritonebar.com.
Museum that doesn’t feel like a museum
Grounds for Sculpture Spread out across the former site of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, this sculpture garden is as much a celebration of tranquility as a setting for modern art. The lush foliage, the rolling landscape, and the peacocks roaming the grounds provide the ideal milieu for striking works by such artists as Isaac Witkin, Anthony Caro, George Segal and J. Seward Johnson Jr. Think of it as high-culture, 35-acre Xanax. 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616; groundsforsculpture.org.
Place to smarten up
The Constitution Center This year, the Constitution Center is hosting (or has hosted) New Yorker editor David Remnick for a discussion on journalism, historian Richard Brook-hiser on the founding fathers, New York Times columnist David Brooks on Congressional politics, Esera Tuaolo on being a gay pro football player, and Joan Didion on grief. (Conspiracy alert! It also puts on a series called “Philadelphia Talks” with the editors of this very rag.) That’s not too shabby a nerd lineup — and one hell of a night on PBS — especially given that tickets are affordable and available. Our only complaint about the Constitution Center’s speaker events is the marketing: Nobody knows about them. 525 Arch Street, 215-409-6600; constitutioncenter.org.
Bar when you don’t want to talk to anyone
Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar Far enough away from anything remotely hip but within stumbling distance to Pat’s and Geno’s, Ray’s redefines “no frills.” This bar is so laid-back, you can bring your Whiz wit’ right up to the bartop and wash it down with a cold Pabst, or one of the other 23 brews that won’t set you back more than $3.50 a pop. 1200 East Passyunk Avenue; 215-365-1169.
Place to imitate an Andretti
Arnold’s Go-Karts There’s a reason drivers at Arnold’s are required to wear helmets and harnesses — and sign a waiver. Though they handle a lot better than your average Hyundai, the Formula “E” go-carts are also really, really fast — and zip around a third-of-a-mile indoor track that’s modeled on a European grand prix racecourse and has nine (!) turns. 422 Business Center, V-2200 West Drive, Oaks, 610-666-0600; arnoldsgokarts.com.
Way to blow off steam
City Line Sports Center It’s been proven by science: Hitting a spherical object with a stick makes the world a bit easier to comprehend. When the need arises, haul yourself to the City Line Sports Center, where you can take your pick of remedies, from eight lighted batting cages — four baseball, four softball — to a 32-stall driving range. Your therapist will thank us. 7800 City Avenue; 215-879-3536.
Venue for cool art
Fleisher/Ollman Gallery Fleisher/Ollman has long been one of the country’s best-known and most respected purveyors of work by self-taught contemporary artists. In recent years, it has also emerged as a dynamic local art outlet, presenting invitational exhibitions by young area artists such as Anthony Campuzao, whose Fleisher/Ollman show earlier this year, “The Police Are Here!,” was one of the most talked-about in town. 1616 Walnut Street, suite 100, 215-545-7562; fleisher-ollmangallery.com.
Johnny Goodtimes You’re talking over a drink at your favorite bar when some know-it-all with a mike booms, “What are the names of Demi Moore’s three children?” You try to concentrate on your conversation, but all you can think of is Rumer, Scout … and what’s the other one? What’s the other one?!? This is how it’s been the past few years, ever since Quizzo became an indelible part of Philadelphia’s culture. Yet such disruptions are bearable, even welcome, when the guy holding the mike is Johnny Goodtimes, the funniest and most likable of Philly’s Quizzo hosts. (His write-in campaign after he was overlooked in last year’s Best of Philly issue would’ve turned us off completely if he weren’t, truly, so damn entertaining!) johnnygoodtimes.com.
Weird tourist attraction
Bob & Barbara’s Lounge Bob & Barbara’s is well-known for its diverse crowd, its live music, its Tuesday-night ping-pong and its Thursday-night drag shows. But the bar also boasts a more awesome claim to fame: one of the planet’s largest collections of Pabst memorabilia, from mirrors to lights to foam scrapers to framed magazine ads. The fact that Pabst Brewing Co. has absolutely nothing to do with Philadelphia makes the assortment that much more compelling. 1509 South Street; 215-545-4511.
Dr. Dog When Dr. Dog — founded 10 years ago by West Philadelphia residents Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman — released Easy Beat in 2005, critics complained that it sounded a lot like the Beatles. Um, isn’t that like somebody complaining that his girlfriend looks too much like Eva Longoria? This much is true: With the band’s low-fi sound and meandering, delicate harmonies, its debts aren’t difficult to recognize, from Abbey Road to Pet Sounds. Yet Dr. Dog’s songs are more than the sum of their influences, and with everybody from Fresh Air to the New York Times getting on the bandwagon, we’re betting it won’t be long before other bands get compared to them. drdogmusic.com.
Suede Lounge Like its namesake, which covers most surfaces at this club, Suede radiates a luxurious feel — more so than many of its dance-destination counterparts around the city. It’s relatively intimate, there’s a decent menu (ceviche, caviar), and it feels conspicuously adult — a place where you’re not likely to run into your neighbor’s kid, or feel totally ridiculous because you happen to like dancing and you have a 401(k). 120 Market Street, 215-923-5570; suedeloungephilly.com.
Place not to act your age
The Khyber We know, it’s not exactly a secret; the Khyber has long been an institution for local fans of live music. Yet this filthy, austere oasis in the sea of meatheads and Gucci Girls prowling Old City remains our best, most intimate hall of rock. On any given night, you’ll find hipsters and metalheads swilling lager and reveling in local talents like The Situation and acts with national clout like Tommy Stinson, while upstairs, DJs spin and bartenders pass out Miller Lites that only cost a buck before 11 p.m. 56 South 2nd Street, 215-238-5888; thekhyber.com.
Continental Midtown’s rooftop deck As a rule, the only time it’s worth waiting in line for a bar is if said bar is in South Beach, and if Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan are inside and about to brawl. And even then, lines suck. Yet when it comes to the Continental’s rooftop deck — accessible by one tiny elevator — we continue to put up with it. Aspiring models, hot college kids splurging on overpriced apple martinis, and a head-snapping waitstaff all rub shoulders in the open air. Maybe it’s the moonlight, or all those mixed drinks in the summer heat, but Philly always looks pretty damned good from up here. 1801 Chestnut Street, 215-567-1800; continentalmidtown.com.