Best of Philly 2014: Behind the Scenes

A look at how the sausage gets made — and waxed.

One recent afternoon, associate editor Joel Mathis — who covers media, politics and other Important Stuff for our website, — had an experience most investigative reporters would undoubtedly relate to: He met a confidential source at a restaurant in town for a secret exchange of materials. The handoff went well — the package Joel received led to a nice scoop for us — but there was one part of the encounter that was maybe not so All the President’s Men.

Joel arrived at the clandestine meeting having just gotten a chest wax.

Yes, I said chest wax. As in, you know, manscaping. Personal grooming. Now, I should say here that I don’t know Joel to be an overly vain guy, but whether he is or not doesn’t really matter. The chest-wax appointment was one of Joel’s assignments for this month’s Best of Philly, wherein we do our best to suss out the greatest stuff Philadelphia has to offer, from fried chicken spots and bagel shops to florists and, yes, manscapers. (Joel wasn’t the only staffer to offer up his chest. Assistant editor Josh Middleton also got waxed.)

I mention this anecdote for two reasons. First, it illustrates what a team effort Best of Philly always is for us. Everyone — including those staffers who generally spend their days chronicling backroom deals and power moves — pitches in to BOP. Second — and maybe even more important — we approach the research for Best of Philly with the same level of aggressiveness and thoroughness we do all the journalism in the magazine and on our website. Sources are called. Interviews are conducted. Appointments are made. Shoe leather is sacrificed. (And in certain cases, follicles are removed.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I asked the edit staff to send me some of what they did in pursuit of this year’s Best of Philly. Here’s a sampling of the responses:

“Dyed my hair bright pink.”

“Sweated my brains out at Flywheel.”

“Endured post-spray-tan stickiness for one entire workday (women everywhere will feel my pain).”

“Drove to East Jabib (i.e., Kennett Square) to discover what might possibly be my new favorite vintage furniture store.”

“Got my eyebrows waxed.”

“Shopped in six towns in one day.”

“Pretended I had kids to creepily shop in kids’ clothing stores.”

“I, a person with anxiety issues, climbed into a soundproof, light-proof tank of water. In Kensington.”

“Spent about $800 during my BOP Shopping scouting trips. My husband knows about $400 of this.”

“I’ve got nothing better than calling lobbyists and hacks. Sorry.”

And all this is to say nothing of the pounds of food that were eaten and gallons of alcohol that were ingested — sometimes right here in our offices. The point of it all? To be able to stand behind our picks as truly representing the greatest stuff Philadelphia has to offer.

Pulling all this information together — and then presenting it in an entertaining, useful fashion — is no easy task. This year’s package was edited by Ashley Primis and Christine Speer Lejeune, who not only oversaw a team of category editors in making our picks, but also cooked up two new features: a series of mini-profiles of Best Of winners, in which we show why they’re so good at what they do, and our roundup of the 23 best young Philadelphians of 2014 — a nod to the men and women making our city interesting and injecting new energy into Philly these days. (You can see our list, which ranges from Project Runway winner Dom Streater to Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, here.)

The final pieces of the Best of Philly puzzle, its design and photography, were overseen by design director Michael Wilson and photo director Jessica Webster. Like the reporting for Best of Philly, the logistics of the photography can be daunting. Shoots have to be arranged. Food has to be ordered and delivered. Stylists get involved. The result, though, is well worth it: several dozen dazzling images you see in this issue — including this year’s choice for best ice cream, Weckerly’s, which fills the cone on our cover. (That shot, with its drizzling of confetti-like sprinkles, was photographed by Dom Savini.)

Best of Philly began in 1974, making this the 41st consecutive year we’ve put together this package. It remains the best-known — and most imitated — thing we do, and we strive each year to make it as timely, useful and engaging as possible. Is it fun? You bet. But it’s also plenty of work. As lifestyle editor Emily Goulet confessed to me when I asked for those Best of Philly stories:

“I was the one who sent Joel for the chest wax. He called me immediately afterward and left me a voicemail. The voicemail was a steady stream of yelled curse words, for about a minute.”

Thanks for taking one for the team, Joel (and Josh). The hirsute men of Philly will undoubtedly be grateful.

Originally published as “Best of Philly, Behind the Scenes” in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

To see the fruits of our 41st annual labors, pick up the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine, on newsstands now, or subscribe today. Then join us at the Best of Philly Bash at Citizens Bank Park on August 12th!