Why We Love Philly: The Philly 76

The traditions, oddities, foods, sounds, landmarks and characters that make us deliriously happy to call this place our own.

51. Immigrants

We have no Ellis Island, no towering coppered icon reminding us of the huddled masses we’re made of: Swedes, Quakers, Irish, Germans—the ones who established this town, made it into a manufacturing hub, and settled the suburbs. We don’t have ledgers full of names, dates and countries of origin, detailing the past and anticipating the future for the Italians and the Mexicans whose flags fly proudly in South Philly. We don’t have plaques heralding the Vietnamese, Indians and Ukrainians who in the past 20 years have turned dying pockets into thriving many-nations-into-one neighborhoods. That’s okay. Our pride radiates from the neon signs of Wing Phat Plaza. It’s carved into the stone cottages of Mount Airy. And sold over the counter at Port Richmond’s Polish delis for five bucks a pound.

52. The Odunde Festival

There are festivals all over the Philly calendar, but none may be as joyous as the Odunde, which Lois Fernandez modeled after Nigerian New Year’s festivities. Half a million people of all hues flock to a massive street party with delicious food, artisans’ wares, and the infectious thump-thump-thump of an African beat.

53. Morris Arboretum

Poor John and Lydia Morris. They’d probably flip in their graves if they knew that the coolest thing about the 92-acre arboretum they began tending in Chestnut Hill in 1887 isn’t the 2,500 plants from around the globe, or the Japanese water garden with paths winding into hidden grottos, or the view from the austere Mercury Temple (with a bronze god and everything). The best part is a treehouse. Yes. A treehouse. Just see what happens to your heart when you’re lying on a net 50 feet off the ground, staring through all those branches at the sky.

54. The “Runway” Between Parc and Rouge

It’s where we pretend we live in Paris, the skinny corridor of bistro tables that line, soldier-like, the swath of sidewalk between Locust and Walnut. As you approach it, you begin adjustments that are as imperceptible as they are subconscious: You tuck in, suck in, calibrate your stride so as to parade single file by the ogling diners who unabashedly stare up at you over their plates of half-eaten burgers and tuna tartare. You adopt an air of indifference, try to find that middle marching ground between purposeful walk and out-and-out strut, and repeat to yourself, over and over and over: Do. Not. Trip.

55. Larry Andersen and Scott Franzke

Has radio lost its mojo? Morphed into a dumping ground for oldies acts and bloviating talking heads, irrelevant in this age of iTunes and Spotify? No doubt. Except on those warm summer nights when what comes through your subwoofers are the soothing sounds of two grown men—both smart, both wry, both occasionally ridiculous—watching a Phillies game. And notice we say watching, not analyzing the thing to death with statistics and strategies. Yes, Scott and Larry will tell you what you need to know about all that, but honestly, how much do you really need to know about all that? It’s baseball, for cripes’ sake. Mostly what you need are two dudes who are awesomely good company. Scott and Larry are awesomely good company.

56. Having Jerry Blavat Snap His Fingers at You and Say, “My Man!”

No matter how coordinated, cool or rhythmically astute you are, you will never outdo or properly imitate the 72-year-old DJ’s signature finger-snapping hello, which may be the only greeting truly worthy of the adjective “iconic.” As he moves through a series of multiple finger snaps with both hands, back and forth between the two—seemingly never in the exact same pattern—he inserts, with perfect syncopation, “My man!” or, alternatively, “My man, pots and pans!” We’re assuming the pots and pans reference isn’t pejorative, though we’ve never really been able to figure it out. In any event, doing this interaction justice in written words is like trying to emulate Christopher Walken’s vocalizations on the printed page. We suggest you just go find the Geator and say hi.

57. PHS Pop-Up Gardens

Who knew a few dozen shabby-chic wooden dining chairs, painted a wild rainbow of poppy hues, thrown together with some long tables and plopped on an empty lot, could produce such an urban oasis? Evidently, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, whose random makeovers—four and counting, in varied Center City locales—have become must-visits for weary toddler-toting moms and sanctuary-seeking bookworms alike. In a city often long on ugly (uh, yes, we’re talking to you, south stretch of Columbus Boulevard, among others), these little urban gardens of Eden bring much-needed beauty to the beast.

58. Crabfries

The world may ogle our cheesesteaks, but it’s bouquets of crinkle-cut french fries that have stolen our sports-bar palates. Chickie’s and Pete’s tosses hot fried sticks of potato in red crab spice, which we then lustily dunk in gooey, melted white American cheese. Eat your heart out, they cry to us. And we do.

59. The Chip on Our Shoulder

Hardened and crass, Philadelphia doesn’t walk through life in New York’s shadow—it saunters. The strut is the product of years of petty slights from our city and egregious ones from the national media. You’ve heard it: We’re not pretty enough or healthy enough or smart enough. We lack a certain style. We wear sweatpants too much. (Actually, that one’s true.) But we’re the better for it. The collective hint of “Youz guys don’t know” cynicism gives an edge to our personality, telegraphing that this is a city not to be messed with. We wake up every day just a little pissed off; political scandals, high-blood pressure and 45 years without a Super Bowl ring will do that to a person. Philadelphia may be our older brother—it slaps, taunts, teases and occasionally pummels us—but it teaches us lessons that Mom and Dad can’t and textbooks don’t.

60. R5 Stations

The 26 stations on the R5 line (yes, we know SEPTA officially dropped the “R’s” for all its regional rail lines in 2010, but it’s still the R5) link one of the oldest sections of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line of Public Works—quite literally, how the Main Line came to be known as the Main Line. And truly, there’s just something about beginning and ending your day at one of them: It’s as if the mom climbing on with her two kids at the general-store Wayne station, the Tory Burch-ed sophomores chatting as they exit at Villanova and the high-powered attorney catching up on the day’s news before hopping off at Paoli all share a common bond. They do: They watch their charming neighborhoods, threaded together like a string of pearls, pass blurringly by, comfortable in the knowledge that each of them is en route to or from his own forwarding address.

61. Bradley Cooper

All the ladies in Philadelphia have the hots for Bradley Cooper, and no wonder: When a local boy looks that good with his shirt off, it’s hard not to get snow-day giddy at the sight. But that’s just lust—and, Bradley? Though we really, really appreciated that scene in Limitless, you must know that our feelings for you run deeper. We also love you for your smile. And your sharp mind. And your constant Jenkintown shout-outs. And your spot-on rendition of the Philly accent. But most of all, we love you for your heart. When you moved your mom in with you while your dad was sick, we straight-up swooned. Because a man who loves his mom? There’s nothing sexier than that.

62. Germantown Academy vs. Penn Charter

In 1887, Germantown Academy beat Penn Charter 20-6 in a relatively new sport called “football.” Every November, the days get shorter, families come together for Thanksgiving dinner, and football players at Penn Charter and GA play “The Game,” as hard as their forefathers did 125 years ago. The helmets are no longer leather. The stadium is new. But the rooting, the suffering, the ferocity, and the battle for bragging rights in the longest uninterrupted high-school football rivalry in the nation never, ever change.

63. Watching a Phils Game in the Piazza

On warm summer nights, young parents, their kids, pale hipsters and retirees come together on the swinging Piazza in NoLibs to watch televised baseball alfresco. On first glimpse, the 40-foot LED screen, mounted to a restored factory wall, seems a tad jarring. That soon fades into the shared sense of one city, indivisible, under Phillies.

64. Pizza Brain

A city is characterized by its people—its celebrities and politicians, its businessfolk and proletarian masses. And also by its weirdos: the freaks, the iconoclasts, those who rise above the daily clamor simply by the volume of their crazy. Brian Dwyer, the brains behind Kensington’s Pizza Brain, is a neighborhood guy obsessed with pizza who brought to Frankford Avenue the kind of joint where he and his crew can talk with straight faces about the six months they spent looking for the right pepperoni, as well as the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia (certified by Guinness). Now eat!

65. Those People Who Sit in La Colombe All Day Long

Try this little experiment: Head to the Rittenhouse cafe at around 10 a.m. As you stand in line, peruse the room. You will see people, mostly men, generally with good hair and nice clothes, occupying the tables, sipping cups of coffee, perhaps pulling flaky pieces from croissants. Return at 3 p.m. and marvel at how many of them are still there, by now sipping espressos, having accomplished … nothing. We love everything about these people and their highly caffeinated total lack of productivity. And wish we were one of them.

66. Big Concerts on the Parkway

We could do without the fences. And the admission. (We heart you, Jay-Z, but not that much.) Still, every time, the Parkway feels like someone picked up the corners of the Delaware Valley, shook, and tossed us down for the biggest, baddest block party in the history of Philadelphia block parties.

67. The Photo of Brad Lidge Dropping to His Knees at the End of the 2008 World Series

Every once in a while, we ask ourselves, “Did that really happen? Did we actually win the World Series?” Then we Google this photo. Yup, we did.

68. Stock’s Pound Cake

They bake other treats here—cookies, doughnuts. But it’s the pound cake that families drive miles for, wait in line for, a confection so dense and buttery, it’s practically crumb-less. Life could be measured in Stock’s pound cake. It’s the cake of occasions, big and small: birthdays and graduations, communions and christenings, weddings and baby showers, Easter Sundays and Christmas mornings. Fitting, since the cakes themselves are a Stock family custom, made in the same Port Richmond bakery, and according to the same (top-secret) recipe, for nearly 90 years. Here’s to another century of baking.

69. 200-Person Family Reunions in Fairmount Park

Every year, people start lining up at midnight on the first Monday in March. By the time the Fairmount Park Special Events Office opens that morning—the first official day of “picnic season”—a hundred people are waiting. If you wonder why, just listen to Will Smith sing “Summertime”: “A place called the Plateau/Is where everybody goes.”

Not a weekend goes by during picnic season when there isn’t at least one huge family reunion going on somewhere in Fairmount Park. There are often four generations accounted for, sometimes five. There are signs, commemorative t-shirts. And food. Always, always, lots and lots of food.

Some families prefer the picnic sites along Lemon Hill drive; others love Georges Hill. But prime reunioning is in the grove on Belmont Plateau. Will knew.

If you’re around this coming Independence Day, you’ll see the Wade-Selena Jones Family Reunion, capital letters, on the Plateau, organized by 61-year-old matriarch Helen Jones Goodwin, who’s already rented the Belmont Mansion so she can skip the spring line. She’s expecting 400 or so folks—from California, from Seattle, from Michigan and even Kuwait. A slew of Joneses are riding up on a chartered bus from Jacksonville.

It takes a lot of planning to get 400 of your relatives to Fairmount Park. The Joneses started in October. Helen’s brother Garry designed the t-shirts and put together a video invite that he posted on YouTube, the event details running like a ticker under the clip of Rocky running up the Art Museum steps: Softball! Basketball! Music by Grandmaster G! Helen’s trying to get Mayor Nutter to come, give them a key to the city. She’s got a pretty good incentive: Southern-style BBQ ribs, Jamaican jerk chicken and dirty rice, baked beans. And, perhaps best of all, that view of the city. Helen says there will be lots of picture-taking. For the Joneses, the photos will be a lasting reminder of their family coming together. For the rest of us, the picture-taking is a much-needed reminder that Philadelphia is a place for family—and how lucky we are to have the enduring welcome mat that is Fairmount Park.

70. The Broad Street Run

In 1980, 1,500 people set out to run from Olney to the Navy Yard along the city’s central artery. They couldn’t foresee that their humble race would not only become one of the country’s largest, but also telegraph a new Philly vitality to the world. Last year, more than 40,000 of us laced up. While a lot has changed in 32 years—from the Gatorade flavors to the five-toed shoes—Broad Street’s staying power lies in what hasn’t: This is still a race by Philly, for Philly and, quite literally, through Philly.

71. Rowhomes

The first rowhouses in America were built here in Philly at the tail end of the 18th century, along Sansom Street between 7th and 8th—what’s now Jewelers’ Row. Echoing European properties dating back to Paris’s early-1600s Place des Vosges, they presented—and still do—a united street front, and were offered as speculative housing: built, then put up for sale, a reversal of the usual process in which buyers purchased land and constructed their house. No other American city took to the look the way we did; whether it was grand brownstones along Locust or tiny trinities in Kensington, Philadelphians decided they liked living cheek-by-jowl. Could be it’s the Quaker in us. Those cookie-cutter fronts, though, can contain anything from the staid Bennett Weinstockism of Rittenhouse to the mad flock/mirror/gilt excesses of South Philly to the austere minimalism of NoLibs bohos. One never knows. But grow up in Philly, and for the rest of your life you won’t truly feel at home unless you’re sharing a wall.

72. The Bar at XIX Atop the Bellevue

It’s charming to sip a drink amid the old and new at the bar at XIX. It’s the accoutrements—the leather, the mahogany, the fireplace—that are new, and which invite you to cozy up before moving into the marbled, rotunda-ed restaurant for dinner. But those new luxuries sit inside an old hotel—circa 1904, to be exact, and so storied that as you sit and swirl a martini, you can’t help but wonder about those who cozied up (and sipped) a century before you.

73. Watching an Eagles Game at Chickie’s and Pete’s

No fan of the Birds was surprised when an ESPN poll decreed Chickie’s and Pete’s the number one sports bar in America last year. Greenbloods stake their spots well before kickoff. As one regular puts it, “Seats don’t free up during a game. No one’s going anywhere.”

74. Parish Carnivals

Sizzling blacktop, icy
Snow cone, crowd that saw
You baptized and your
Brother baptized and your
Mother baptized so there are no
Secrets only
Winners! Ring
Toss, raffle, 50/50,
Balloon pop, stuffed bear,
A goldfish in a baggie that will
Live for an amazing long time.
Dunk tank where you sent Father
Murphy back in ’94
Tilt-a-whirl, bouncy tent,
Cotton candy, cheese
Fries, hot pierogies, roast pork,
Sausage sandwich, nut roll, lemonade,
Sticky-sweet fingers clutching
Tickets clutching
Boyfriends clutching
Memories of this rite, a
Censer streaming scents of summer
And the scary/holy parade of
Painted wooden saints.

75. East Passyunk’s Restaurant Row

Restaurant booms are odd things. They can pop up without any sense of rhyme or reason. Center City’s culinary renaissance may not have been planned, but once it took hold, it hardly felt like a surprise. But South Philly? Who saw that coming? And yet it did. Head down to East Passyunk Avenue on a Friday night and witness for yourself the impossibility of a huge restaurant boom happening in the least likely place. East Passyunk is Philly’s DIY ground zero—the place where young chefs and sharp operators at places like Stateside, Le Virtù, Fond and Belle Cakery damn the torpedoes of our lingering economic malaise and offer all the tropes that define our modern, food-obsessed age: pickles and charcuterie, internationally influenced American cuisine, hard-core Italian craft pastas and warm-from-the-dirt vegetables with all their farm-to-table bona fides intact. It is, in part, the enthusiasm and carefree brilliance of the crews working in these kitchens that make the lightning strike in this neighborhood. But it is also this city’s willingness to forget all the cares of the world over a couple of craft beers and a plate of house-made sausage that makes it happen, night after night after night.

76. Being a Philadelphian

We love it. We hate it. We wouldn’t live anywhere else. Click here to read more about we love being Philadelphians.