What The Hell Happened To Old City?

Just a decade ago, it was the city’s rising, glamorous neighborhood, a maze of cobblestone streets, galleries, boutiques and lounges. Now, weekend after weekend, it’s a whole different story

Meet the face of new Old City: Jamie, a 26-year-old Italian princess from Bucks County. Five-foot-three, in four-inch booties. Clingy turquoise minidress, cinched with a studded black leather belt that accentuates the contrast between her slim waist and her ample chest. We’re inside 32˚, the “luxe lounge” in Old City that was once among the city’s hottest hot spots. Eight years ago, the crowd waiting for drinks was three-deep on a sweltering Friday; you might see a Phillie or an Eagle sipping Moët, or a Hollywood stud relaxing with a few curvy blondes after a movie shoot in town.

Tonight, the bartenders look bored. The roped-off VIP lounge is empty. The private liquor cabinets and their $225 bottles of Grey Goose are collecting dust. In a word, it’s dead. Granted, a lot of the club’s clientele is likely at the Shore, but even on crowded nights, celeb sightings are rare. The upscale crowds have defected. What you get instead are guys in shorts with untucked polo shirts, and girls like Jamie, who want to be glamorous like Fergie but on a Sam’s Club budget.

Jamie orders a vodka and club soda and fires up a Marlboro Menthol Light. Her drinking marathon with her blond, short-shorted friend began after work at five, when they headed to — well, let Jamie explain it.

“What’s that fuckin’ place at the Phoenix?”

Tir Na Nog? I reply.

“Right! Then Public House, Field House … ”

The girls eventually worked their way down to a dance club at 2nd and Chestnut, the new epicenter of debauchery in Philadelphia.

“Grey Lounge. We only stayed there for two drinks. It smelled like dead fish,” Jamie says, a slight slur to her words. “I assume it’s the sushi.” Next up was Heat, another dance lounge. “I stop everywhere,” Jamie says, blowing smoke and talking with her hands. “Everywhere that serves, I’m stopping for a drink. Specifically, Miller Lite. But I’ll drink vodka if it’s on special.”

Short-Shorts says they used to go to Cebu at 3rd and Chestnut: “It used to be so much fun. It was very clubbish. I met [R&B singer] Ray J there. We hung out in the VIP all night.” I tell her Cebu was closed down as a nuisance bar — underage drinking, fights. Someone was shot inside. She shrugs and checks her iPhone.
Both women are single, but neither sees Old City as a target-rich environment for hooking up. “I have a horrible experience with that,” Jamie says. “They travel in packs. You get to Old City, the guys look better, but they rub up on you. It’s really fuckin’ cheesy.”