NYT Video Unwittingly Reveals Entire Problem With Fishtown

Dear lord, this video is embarrassing.

fishtown video screen shot

A screen shot from the New York Times video about Fishtown.

Longhaired singer/literary impresario Joey Sweeney gave a little zetz yesterday to Fork chef Eli Kulp, who seemed to look down his nose at Philadelphia when talking about the city in a GrubStreet piece. Kulp said, “People in New York just don’t go to Philadelphia.”

Nonetheless, New York’s paper of record, the New York Times, sure does — and to Fishtown, in particular. (About which we can only say, “Lots of Philadelphians move to New York and work in the media.” Write what you know, and all that.)

Thus we have “Rebirth Along the River” from 2008:

THE Fishtown district of Philadelphia was known as a tight-knit Irish Catholic enclave — and a place to score drugs. … But these days artists easily outnumber fishermen and heroin addicts.

We have a Drink Up column about Johnny Brenda’s, Frankford Hall and other Fishtown haunts. We have a section on Fishtown for 36 Hours in Philadelphia. As recently as October, we have an article about Fishtown’s “creative renaissance.”

And now — this week! — we have this video about Fishtown from the Times’ online Style section. Please watch it before we move on. I will wait.

This is simply no good, this video. I don’t say that to indict the New York Times. I say that to indict Philadelphia. If these people are the epitome of Fishtown style, and Fishtown is the epitome of Philly style, and Philadelphia style is in some way representative of the city’s highest expression of creativity, of course Eli Kulp wants to run for the hills.

First, the subhed: “In the Fishtown area of Philadelphia, Sarah Anderson, a boutique owner, says her style is inspired by ’70s B-level horror movies.” This is a style vein that’s as tapped out as the one on a right-handed Fishtown heroin addict’s left arm. But plus ça change, plus c’est the meme chose in fashion. Surely Anderson will convey how she turns this exhausted-aesthetic dross into gold.

Here’s what she says:

I’m very inspired by the first girl who gets offed in a ’70s B-level horror movie.

Emphasis mine. (Anderson also says her hat comes from “a failed knitter.” Is there any phrase in the English language more trenchant than “failed knitter”?)

Additional quotes from these un-inspiringly dressed Fishtowners:

I’m a big fan of the Eagles. If you live in Philly, you have to be.

[About a ring]: It’s vicious, it’s big, it says a statement.

Philly really brings things down to a level that is palpable.


When one of the residents says, of that large ring, “You get in my way, you might see it,” I had a realization: The problem with Fishtown now is that it’s boring dressed in interesting’s clothing.

You see someone in a failed knitter’s hat with cool shoes walking into a funky store you never saw before talking about an IPA that a friend is brewing in their bathroom so they can open a speakeasy and you think, “Look at all these people, these creative flâneurs. Surely, they have provocative ideas, and would offer stimulating conversation.”

And then you sit down next to them in a bar and they actually, seriously want to watch the Eagles game and talk about tailgate parties. Or after a beer or two — or maybe none! — they’re willing to throw down over a minor slight; in fact, they’re probably eager to throw down so they can sink a chunky ring into your face. The point is, Fishtown is still Fishtown — no matter how many pairs of vintage sunglasses you find next to empty Arctic Splash containers in a vacant lot.

So from now on, I’d like to request that the New York Times resist the moldering Fishtown hype and either ignore Philadelphia completely (because New Yorkers don’t come here anyway) or else develop a fixation with a different neighborhood. If nothing else, that would give Eli Kulp an alternate perspective on the city he doesn’t like very much to begin with.