A Night in the Life of the Night Mayor

His job title might sound fun, but Raheem Manning, the city’s first director of nighttime economy, has a serious mandate: Find ways to once again make the city feel more vibrant — and safe — after the sun goes down.

Raheem Manning Night Mayor

Raheem Manning, the Night Mayor / Photography by Gene Smirnov

It’s 12:30 a.m. on what’s just become a Friday in August, and I’m out and about with the Night Mayor.

We’re on West Girard at Saint Lazarus, the Saint to regulars, a Fishtown bar where his friend DJs once a week. We knock back whiskey shots, admittedly not our first of the night but certainly our last, and the Night Mayor introduces me to what feels like every other person in the bar. I can’t hear any of their names over a Drake remix. One leans in close to my ear and shouts, “He’s perfect for this job, isn’t he?”

In case you’re wondering, Philadelphia’s Night Mayor isn’t Jim Kenney in pajamas. He’s not an anonymous superhero who lives on an abandoned pier and fights supervillains. But if you wanted to, say, throw an EDM festival on a pier, Raheem Manning might be just the person to help you do it.

In Philadelphia, the municipal position that’s become known globally as “night mayor” — first in Amsterdam in 2012, and now in over 70 cities worldwide, including Pittsburgh, D.C. and New York City — is officially dubbed “Director of Nighttime Economy.” When Manning accepted the role in the summer of 2022, he became the first of his kind in our city government, part of the Department of Commerce’s business development team. The announcement inspired chatter among civic nerds on Twitter: Here was a Wynnefield-born 33-year-old who was about to attempt the totally new in a city typically associated with the old. News outlets fawned, wanting to know his favorite drinks, hangouts, party destinations. While his job title is undeniably fun, there’s soberness at its core. If Philadelphians don’t go out at night, the city inches back toward its not-too-distant past — the urban desolation of the 1980s and ’90s. I asked Manning if he’d let me follow him around for a night out, while his appointment was fresh, so I could see Philly’s nightlife through the eyes of someone who’d just been made responsible for helping the scene flourish.

Six hours before Manning and I do shots with his friends at the Saint, I meet him in Rittenhouse. The city is quieter and busier. Twenty-Second Street flows with the WFH crowd toting Trader Joe’s bags. Office denizens in sweat-stained dress shirts wait for the 21 bus, stepping around a man passed out on the sidewalk. Streeteries fill with pleasant but awkward Thursday-night dates who realize their decision to sit outside in the summer heat was ill-advised. A woman finds her car towed on Spruce Street. “Fuck this fucking city,” she says.

Over the course of our evening out, Manning and I will drink cocktails at Friday Saturday Sunday, slurp spicy cold noodles at EMei in Chinatown, watch Miss Lisa Lisa’s drag show at Bob & Barbara’s on South Street, split a chicken cutlet at Palizzi Social Club in East Passyunk, and end up somewhat spontaneously at the Saint. We’ll traverse the city on Arch Street, and Manning will reveal his karaoke preferences: anything by Ja Rule and Ashanti, or “Eye of the Tiger.” He’ll tell me his dream to expand his role into a fully staffed office. By the end of the night, he’ll use the phrase “strategic governance plan” numerous times and say his goal is for Philly to become a globally competitive 24-hour city. I’ll believe him. Or, at least, I’ll believe that he’ll try.

Raheem Manning (right) chats with Friday Saturday Sunday chef/co-owner Chad Williams in the restaurant’s bar.

Manning has joined our city government at a heavy moment. While our nighttime economy — headlined by the arts, restaurants and bars — attempts to rebound from the pandemic and navigate new challenges of inflation and staffing shortages, some Philadelphians have grown hesitant to venture out at night due to high-profile public-safety concerns. If Manning is successful in his position, it will be because he reinjects some of Philly’s pre-pandemic mojo; it will be because he boosts Philadelphians’ confidence in their city after dark; it will be because he makes late-night culture more accessible to creatives and more attractive to night owls, amenity-seeking suburbanites, and visiting tourists alike. But in a new position without a dedicated budget beyond his own salary, Manning must cheerlead, schmooze and innovate his way through what is possibly Philadelphia’s most essential, existential task in 2023. A city is only as viable, vibrant and safe as its nighttime scene.

At Friday Saturday Sunday, Paul the bartender serves us two perfect-but-not-precious cocktails. We make small talk with owners Hanna and Chad Williams, whom Manning already knows, and then the two of us set off. As we cross Rittenhouse Square, a man plays the saxophone next to a fold-up table offering literature about how we might be saved by Jesus Christ. Our plan is to start the night with a snack at David’s Mai Lai Wah in Chinatown. Before the pandemic, the late-night staple was known as a place to end drunken nights with fried dumplings. When we arrive at David’s, though, a handwritten sign in the window says the restaurant offers takeout service only and that we’re not permitted to come inside to eat. I suggest a plan B, and we walk down North 10th Street, through the Friendship Arch, and into EMei.

Manning orders us Chongqing chicken, cold spicy noodles, scallion pancakes and bok choy with mushrooms in a few Mandarin phrases he cobbles together sufficiently enough for our server to understand. Manning’s language skills are a holdover from the four months he spent in Shanghai, studying international business at East China Normal University. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Clark Atlanta University and working a finance job in Atlanta, he moved back home to Philly in the fall of 2013 and in 2015 merged his interests in travel and business by founding a company called The Weekender Experiences that curates travel experiences for Black professionals.

In 2020, Manning found himself at a virtual town-hall meeting, advocating for his business. Hosted by City Councilmembers Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Isaiah Thomas, the meeting concerned the distribution of pandemic relief funds to the city’s arts and culture sectors. Manning raised his hand in the Zoom. “Every ounce of aid that the city was giving out had the same clause,” he recalls. “It had to be a brick-and-mortar establishment. And I was like, ‘You know, we live in a world where our creative economies are not brick-and-mortar. I run a travel company.’ I said, ‘I contribute to the creative economy. I hire artists and DJs, and I take them around the world — that’s what I do.’ But I didn’t qualify for the aid that my own city was giving out.” According to Manning, Gilmore Richardson hadn’t considered how the city’s granting practices might exclude businesses like his. Taken aback, she followed up and invited him to join City Council’s Arts and Culture Task Force as co-chair.

Once on the task force, Manning, with 17 other appointed Philadelphia business owners, artists, and creative economy experts, distributed $2.8 million to aid independent artists, small and mid-size arts nonprofits, and creative enterprises, so long as they could prove their business had been affected by the pandemic. Grants were awarded to every individual artist who applied, and the requirement for a business address was dropped.

Beyond the grants, the task force’s broader purpose was to examine the impact of COVID on the city’s arts, culture and nighttime economies and to develop policies and programming to fix what Michael Fichman, co-chair of the task force’s nightlife subcommittee, sees as an institutional problem here. In addition to working professionally as a DJ under the name Michael The Lion and as a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design, Fichman is an author and editor of the Global Night Time Recovery Plan — an online guide to reopening late-night economies during the pandemic — and one of the leading thinkers internationally on the topic of creative nighttime economies.

We need to get people back outside, having a good time at night,” says Manning of his job. “I’m here to make Philadelphians feel better about Philadelphia.”

With Fichman’s help, the task force wrote a 65-page proposal recommending ways the city’s creative economy could survive the pandemic and thrive beyond it. One suggestion was to implement 4 a.m. closing times at certain licensed arts establishments around the city, which would expand opportunities for artists and stimulate the economy. (This could only be done by changing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania law.) Another major recommendation was to create a dedicated office of nightlife. “We had a bunch of ideas of how things could be better for artists or for entrepreneurs or for establishments or patrons,” Fichman says. “But none of those programs or policies or philosophies work unless you have a framework to take care of them, and that’s what the nighttime economy office is. It institutionalizes that we care and that there’s some accountability.”

At the time, Philly was one of several major metropolises without a so-called night mayor or night czar, meaning the arts and culture sector lacked an advocate to push forward ideas informed by the industry’s uniquely nocturnal issues. “There’s a governance problem in Philadelphia nightlife,” says Fichman, “and we hope that this position helps to address that. Some of that is that services, licensing and zoning are not considered from a nighttime perspective. … There really needs to be someone who can work with neighborhoods and communities to make sure things are as harmonious as they can be.”

In the spring of 2021, City Council budgeted the night-mayor position for fiscal year 2022, the Mayor gave his blessing, and the job search began. Turns out the ideal candidate was right in front of them. Manning was announced as the new director of nighttime economy on July 21st. Navigating relationships between residents, operators and the city itself will require a personal touch, Fichman tells me: “But I think that’s one thing Raheem is really good with.”

It’s 9:06 p.m., and Miss Lisa Lisa’s Thursday-night drag show at Bob & Barbara’s starts in about 24 minutes. Manning and I drink matching Citywides: duos of whiskey shots and cold cans of PBR, resting on white cocktail napkins like two tiny picnic spreads. As we sip our beers, a bartender with red-framed glasses and a messy blond bun leans over the laminate bar and reminisces with Manning about the now-closed Roosevelt’s Pub on Walnut Street, where she used to work. Even these briefest of nighttime encounters seem to matter to Manning, who speaks to everyone he meets with the quintessential ease of a hometown politician, or perhaps the big-hearted protagonist in a Hallmark movie.

The more I sit and drink and talk with him, the more his remarkable stories come out. When Manning was a sophomore at Overbrook High, Will Smith took him and nine other students to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela, for the launch of MTV Base Africa and Smith’s ambassadorship with Mandela’s HIV/AIDS prevention foundation, Project 46664. Manning was and still is a huge Will Smith fan, having grown up hearing stories about the fellow Overbrook High alum from his parents, who are around Smith’s age. On a random Sunday morning, his mom got a phone call from the school principal saying that her son had been selected for the trip based on his good grades and participation in extracurricular activities. Manning had never been on a plane before. “One of the main things you learn is there’s a global perspective for being Black,” Manning tells me at Bob & Barbara’s. “I just knew my Philly part of being Black and a little bit of going down South. But I don’t think we’re taught about a global identity of being Black.” The trip to South Africa marked the beginning of Manning’s travel fixation.

As I take in his tales, some about his travels and some about his Philly life, I start to see that Manning could cheerfully spend an evening out with just about any Philadelphian. This is what he loves to do: find common ground, talk, share, talk, talk, talk. I learn that Manning avoids pork, for example, not out of any religious obligation but because he once decided to see if he could give it up. He rides a motorcycle. He tells me has 527 unread text notifications. He’s single and living with a roommate in West Philly. “I meet strangers all the time,” he says. “I’ll start chatting.” He’s decidedly against dating apps because he thinks he comes across as boring online (which is hard to imagine, given what I’ve already learned about him).

Manning wants to see Philadelphians meet out in the wild again. I agree and ask how he plans to make Philly a hornier city, which I presume is under his purview as mayor of the night. “I don’t know if I can officially do that,” he says, laughing before giving me a polished answer about a strategic governance plan for how nightlife looks, operates and feels. “We need to get people back outside,” he says, “having a good time at night.” Raising his voice over Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” he adds, “I’m here to make Philadelphians feel better about Philadelphia.”

After giving all the cash in our pockets to Miss Lisa Lisa and her drag cohort, we’re picked up in front of Bob & Barbara’s by a Lyft driver named Tommy, who’s to take us to Palizzi Social Club on South 12th Street. Once in the car, Manning gives Tommy a 20-second elevator pitch about his role with the city, then asks, “What would your concern be, or your advice to me?” Tommy, who appears to only quasi-understand who’s in the back seat of his car, tells us he wants the city to feel safer. He says he spent a year serving hot meals twice a week from a homemade stand in Kensington while he played Bob Marley on a portable speaker, but that he stopped because what he saw began to weigh heavy on his heart. Tommy lives in Feltonville. He looks older than 40 but younger than 60. He’s in the process of transferring his New Jersey teaching certification to Pennsylvania despite his fears over how he’ll explain a non-violent drug charge from 20 years ago. “I’m just being honest about this; I don’t know that I’m going to stay in Philly,” he says. Manning’s expression holds steady. We arrive at Palizzi, and Tommy puts the car in park. The three of us sit, wondering what’s next.

Before Manning exits the car, he offers his email address and says he’ll connect Tommy with an organization that matches substitute teachers with charter schools in the area. Tommy thanks us for listening and enters Manning’s email in his phone, and we climb out of the back seat. What Tommy doesn’t know is that he’s just taken part in the Night Mayor’s listening tour.

During Manning’s first year on the job, his primary intent is to hear from as many stakeholders as he can: new and longtime business operators who work after the sun goes down, artists, entrepreneurs, anyone who has something to say about how Philly functions after dark. Some of these conversations are spontaneous; some are planned. Manning knows he needs to meet his sector exactly where they’re at: “With the nighttime economy, a lot of times they’re not going to come to your office. They have a business to run. They’re third-shift workers; they’re asleep during the day.” He’s met with the owners of strip clubs, concert venues, speakeasies, members-only clubs and restaurants. He’s had 1 a.m. meetings at Pace & Blossom in University City. He’s been invited to Friday jazz nights at Taj Mahal in the Northeast, Saturday-night DJ parties at the Fitler Club, Tuesday-night speaking engagements with the 15 members of the Girard Avenue Business Association. Before the pandemic, Philly’s arts and culture sector had a $4.1 billion impact on the region’s economy, supporting 55,000 full-time jobs and generating $224.3 million in tax revenue at local and state levels. Between March 2020 and March 2021, that same sector lost over a third of its revenue, and Mayor Kenney proposed slashing the entire budget from the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. You can imagine its stakeholders have a few things to say to Manning.

Inside Palizzi Social Club, the bar holds a handful of people who look like they belong to the architecture. Manning orders an old-fashioned, and we split a chicken cutlet that’s only available after 10 p.m. while discussing Manning’s idea to create a “Teens Night Out” program for businesses in Philly. “It could be like SIPS for teens,” he says, brainstorming how 18-and-under crowds and venues alike could benefit from an optional citywide program offering young people special promotions like half-off pizza, half-off appetizers, half-off movies at theaters. Of course, such a program would have to end before 10 p.m., in accordance with the city’s now permanent teen curfew, intended to mitigate youth gun violence. On this, Manning, an employee of the administration, offers no comment. (I’ll tell you, though, that youth curfews are considered ineffective in reducing violence and can lead to higher criminalization of children, particularly Black children.)

While sitting at the bar, Manning recalls his own nights out as a teen at erstwhile hot spots Shampoo and Club 923: Usher’s discography vibrating the walls, the DJ occasionally breaking in to announce that someone’s mom had arrived to retrieve her offspring from the dance floor. He remembers his tenure as manager of the McDonald’s on City Avenue in the early 2000s, when he took his job “very seriously” and hired, trained, and eventually fired his classmates with frequency. He recollects his first job as a 10-year-old, selling Christmas trees at 59th and Lancaster, and how he loves Christmas for the same reasons he loves TikTok trends, the same reason he loved the Harlem Shake: They all bring people together.

If Philadelphia’s governing body were a physical body, the nighttime economy director might be an organ in the midsection. Maybe a kidney, where fun and safety merge as one. Manning is as focused on the post-pandemic economic revitalization of Philadelphia’s bars, restaurants, clubs and arts venues as he is on improving the perception of how it feels to be out at night.

Raheem Manning Night Mayor

Raheem Manning talks to DJ Nomari, a.k.a. Ramon Edwards, at Saint Lazarus

He’s heard concerns from business owners all over the city about safety. At Kensington Mexican restaurant Cantina La Martina, general manager Tina Stanczyk and chef/owner Dionicio Jiménez say they’re excited to have someone in a government position like Manning’s. Cantina La Martina is situated next to the Somerset El station, near the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis. A glowing Inquirer review of the restaurant begins with a mention of syringes on the sidewalk.

Though Cantina La Martina has one of the most exciting new dining rooms in the city, it clears out by 8:30 or 9 p.m. Stanczyk chalks this up to a fear of taking public transit. Most customers who come in after 9 p.m., she says, live in the area — a neighbor looking for a bite before a night shift.

Jiménez concurs, saying it’s been difficult to attract late-night diners who don’t or won’t drive — they’re nervous about being on the street. “That is why I think a lot of [restaurant owners] decide to close early,” he says. “Little things like that have been accumulating year by year. Nobody wants to go out late.”

Cantina La Martina closes at 10 p.m., partly to ensure that restaurant staffers who live in West Philly and South Philly can get home at a decent hour and partly because of other staffing issues. “It’s hard to find people,” Jiménez says. “You don’t want to overwork your employees. … A lot of people want the money, but they will not work that many hours. At some point, they’re going to get tired.”

Other evening gathering spots have limited their hours since the pandemic, further decreasing options for Philadelphians looking for free or low-cost nighttime destinations. These so-called third spaces — not work, not home, but inclusive community centers in between — include branches of the Free Library and shops like Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books on Germantown Avenue, which used to stay open until 10 on Friday nights but now closes at seven.

While Manning has no authority over SEPTA or the PPA or when businesses choose to close their doors, he is working on a few citywide marketing initiatives that may help ease attitudes about public safety at night. This year, he wants to implement a safety accreditation program, a set of free training sessions offered to management at businesses open after 5 p.m. When a business successfully completes all trainings — the topics will range from de-escalation to sexual harassment to active-shooter intervention — it will receive an easy-to-spot certification signaling to the public that it’s versed in safety.

Manning dreams of starting a corridor ambassador program to alleviate what he calls “quality of life” matters in high-foot-traffic areas. He imagines these ambassadors as area residents outfitted with pins that invite passersby to ask them for help, and who could escort them for a few blocks if they want a buddy or mediate minor conflicts. In this particular area of night mayorship, Manning is looking to Amsterdam for guidance. In 2015, that city created a completely volunteer-based group of red-jacketed “square hosts” to assist people walking through Rembrandtplein at night and keep drunken outbursts on the street to a minimum.

It seems obvious to say that busier streets are safer streets. What’s less obvious is that the burden to manage late-night foot traffic often falls on nighttime businesses rather than the city itself. When it comes to operating a bar or restaurant after 5 p.m. in Philadelphia, neighbors have a lot to say — especially on the topic of street commotion or noise. According to city code, non-residential properties can’t exceed sound levels five decibels above the background noise measured at the property boundary. That’s about half as loud as rustling leaves.

Noise has always been in the DNA of Bob & Barbara’s. When co-manager Katrina Duva and her brother Oskar took the bar over from their parents before the pandemic, they made it a priority to keep its live music programming free and accessible: “It’s always supposed to be an institution where people come in and experience real music without a cover. … Somebody called it a time warp the other day, which I really loved.” Bob & Barbara’s house bands have been playing on Friday nights for 30 years; the bar has hosted Saturday-night jazz for more than a quarter-century. Duva says she hasn’t encountered much pushback from neighbors, likely because those in the area understand that on South Street, nightlife is foundational. During the pandemic, though, when the strip of businesses around Bob & Barbara’s grew quiet and a slew of residents moved into a newly renovated apartment complex across the street, the dynamic shifted. “When the Royal opened, all those apartments and people moving in, I think people did not know where they were moving to,” Duva says. “When businesses, ourselves included, were doing anything they could to stay alive, having music out front … we definitely dealt with a couple complaints.”

He was always innovative and hardworking,” says Manning champion Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson. “I am confident he will support our goal of becoming a safe and dynamic 24-hour city.”

In San Francisco or a city in the U.K., an ordinance would already exist to protect long-standing venues like Bob & Barbara’s from new neighbors’ grumblings, based on the “Agent of Change” principle, first developed in London’s Islington neighborhood to put the onus on new developers to ensure that residents weren’t disturbed by noise from a nightclub. “Agent of Change” declares that the party responsible for changing a block — whether a new bar or a new apartment complex — bears the burden of mitigating the sound on the street. Philly currently has no such ordinance, though it’s something Manning says he’s looking into.

“A lot of what we talked about on the Arts and Culture Task Force is that it’s just way too hard to create a place to make music,” says nighttime economy expert Fichman. “It’s functionally illegal to operate a music venue unless you have a ton of investment. That leads to gatekeeping and frustration from artists.” Fichman believes the demand for live music and the talent base to produce it are abundant in Philadelphia. He uses Baltimore Avenue in West Philly as an example: “There’s nothing on Baltimore Avenue that is zoned for live music — for special assembly by right.” And yet each year, the neighborhood puts on ever-larger versions of Porchfest, a day on which musicians perform in front of their homes. “The problem is that there are no good spaces” for a music venue, Fichman adds. “And even if there were, there’s no real match between entrepreneurs and money. But you can’t tell me the demand is not there.”

Manning can’t implement laws or create funds that would salve the headaches of nighttime business owners or anyone interested in opening a new establishment. But he’s now the person who has the ear of officials who might. The way Manning sees it, improving the city’s nighttime scene happens one conversation at a time.

In December, several months after our first meeting, I visit Manning at his 12th-floor office on Arch Street. I want to see how he’s absorbed the information gathered during the honeymoon phase of his job, how he’s begun to process all that input. No surprise, I discover he’s got the same spinning-top energy at 3 p.m. that he does at 12:30 a.m., only now under fluorescent lights in the post-apocalyptic and mostly empty Municipal Services Building, designed before either of us were thoughts in this world.

At this point, Manning has spent nearly half a year on his listening tour. He gets DMs on his personal Twitter and Instagram accounts from business owners looking to talk with him and is hearing clear asks from his constituents: “They have a lot of things that we need to do better that I can take up and champion, which makes my job much easier, because what I become is an engine for change. I’m allowing the industry and Philadelphians to tell me how they want their city to look after 5 p.m.”

Manning’s power and what his sector needs from him aren’t entirely aligned, though. He can’t reverse the city’s decision to ban nearly all its streeteries; he can’t change state laws that allow the cost of a liquor license to hover around $180,000; he can’t promise that bars will ever be able to stay open past 2 a.m. But Manning seems to think there’s wiggle room for exceptions when it comes to the unsexy parts of the job: permitting and zoning. Or, at least, Manning thinks there’s wiggle room to ask. One of the biggest things he can do for his city is bring nighttime problems into the light of day.

For Manning to change Philly’s nighttime scene, he must convince his colleagues in government — be it in the Mayor’s Office or the Commerce Department — that his ideas, the ones that bubble forth from all that talking and listening, are worth investing time and resources in. He seems to be making progress with some members of City Council. Katherine Gilmore Richardson emails that she remembers Manning from when she was an educator at Overbrook High: “He was always innovative and extremely hardworking. I am confident that he will be able to support Philadelphia in our goal of becoming a safe and dynamic 24-hour city.” She believes Manning can be effective by brainstorming creative ideas: “Through something as simple as repurposing vacant city land and lots, we can help create hubs of activity that keep our city lively and safe, while also supporting local and diverse businesses and creating employment opportunities for residents.”

night mayor

The Night Mayor checks his phone.

Beyond deepening his relationships with Council, Manning has spent the past few months running monthly check-ins with his advisory council. He’s had multiple meetings with Mayor Kenney. He says he’s gaining traction on a potential safety accreditation program and a Teens Night Out.

What Manning can do all on his own is offer his enthusiastic brand of customer service to nighttime business operators and workers. Such acts are nanoscopic in the grand scheme of governance but ultimately essential to Manning’s success — acts as simple as giving out his email address, informing a bar operator about tax incentives for businesses paying staff above minimum wage, or mediating a dispute between a restaurant owner with a takeout window and a neighbor who wants to shut it down. This is where he excels. This is why Gilmore Richardson remembers that high-school student; it’s why Manning’s friend told me he was perfect for the job. It’s why, frankly, I was happy to spend six hours with him on a random Thursday night in the heat of summer.

In conversations big and small, Manning remains the guy who says, “I hear you, I want to help you. Let me see what I can do,” directly combating what Fichman calls our municipal government’s “culture of no.” “You see it all over the place when it comes to nightlife or changes in the way the city looks, functions or feels for people.” Fichman says. “Philadelphia is frequently a victim of its own low expectations.”

Philly has, perhaps, always denied itself the chance to be a true 24-hour city: Most SEPTA stops running at midnight; there are few central districts where you can bounce from one club to the next. And control of our bar scene — that electric current unique to a city, the escape for anyone who would rather not sit on the couch for another two years — remains largely out of reach: The state tells bars when to close; liquor sales are managed by a monolithic agency that still requires special permits to sell booze on Sundays (except if it’s the Super Bowl, of course). But no one in government — neither the current mayor nor whoever comes in next — can stop the sun from setting. Philadelphia still ticks all 1,440 minutes of the day. Nurses get off their shifts in University City without late-night food options. Uber drivers pick up the remnants of one-night stands in Northern Liberties at 3 a.m. After-hours clubs buzz without the slightest intention of slowing down. This city will always brim with those seeking joy, socialization, and a sense of belonging after 5 p.m. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all have moved to the suburbs already?

Raheem Manning’s role, like the night itself, is ripe with potential but full of chaos one can never pin down (and who would want to?). His goals sound as shiny and ambitious as any young politician’s. His ideas are innovative; he sees arts and culture as solutions to big problems rather than side dishes. His plans are progressive, focused on empowering businesses with policies and funding rather than enforcement.

What Manning will feasibly accomplish during his time as the nighttime economy director remains a big open question, in part based on his ties to a government that often seems like it’s trying to drive forward while stuck in reverse. If nothing else, Manning is observing Philadelphia after 5 p.m. with a closeness that no one officially has before. Whether you’re asleep or at a party or work, Philly is still Philly at 2 a.m. And there’s a lot to see when no one is looking. If there’s a future where Philly is safer, more vibrant, and unapologetically creative at 2 a.m., there’s a good chance the city will feel the same way when the sun comes up.

Published as “My Night With the Night Mayor” in the February 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.