36 Hours in Real Philadelphia: What the New York Times Got Wrong

New Yorkers can take advice from the Times, but if you want the real Philadelphia experience, do this.

We’ve been noticed! Over the weekend, the New York Times36 Hours column directed its searchlight to Philadelphia, joining such places as New Haven, Queens and Ljubljana, Slovenia as recent column subjects. Another 36 Hours city, back on May 7, 2009? Philadelphia! I think the New York Times kind of has a crush on us. At the very least we can win its affections over, say, Baltimore.

While TV producers appear to insist on b-roll consisting entirely of cheesesteaks, Rocky and the Liberty Bell, the Times directed tourists to hipper places like Federal Donuts, Monk’s Cafe, Johnny Brenda’s and Han Dynasty. Frankford Hall made the Times’ list, too, though it was saddled with the “more family-friendly” descriptor.

A lot of people—and, by “a lot of people,” I mean “people in the overeducated, underpaid class that tweets nonsense all day to distract ourselves from the emptiness of life”—noticed this article, and some took it as another example of Philadelphia’s inferiority complex. I don’t think so. To many, many people (the same people) the Times is the Most Important Publication in the World. It’s Johnny Football inviting us to the dance. It’s stupid, sure, but it’s as natural as stargazing when a movie films here. The only thing that would be more exciting: The New Yorker!

Still, the piece might make out-of-towners think a Philadelphian’s life is all trips to the Barnes and Philadelphia History Museums and an endless supply of donuts and fried chicken, shoveled into our mouths as quickly as possible. (Okay, that second part is kind of true.) The Times’ 36 Hours in Philadelphia is adequate. But here’s a (slightly fictionalized and compressed) 36 Hours in Real Philadelphia, another helpful public service from your ol’ friend Dan McQuade. Don’t worry, I am lame and mainstream enough that most of the places on this list could end up in the Times the next time it profiles Philadelphia in 2016.


5 p.m.

Your work week is over! The best way to brush aside the ennui of American capitalism is with a drink, and there’s no better place than Oscar’s Tavern (1524 Sansom Street, 215-972-9938), home of the $3.25 23-ounce lager and the cheesesteak-and-a-half special. Get two friends and buy two cheesesteaks and a half, and you each get a cheesesteak for 66% of the regular price! If Oscar’s is too crowded, head to McGlinchey’s (259 South 15th Street, 215-735-1259), home of cheap beer, surly waitresses, an awesome Ms. Pac-Man machine and a bathroom that rivals 30th Street Station’s. If it’s not heaven, it’s close. Purgatory?

8 p.m.

Look, your friend’s band might suck. (My friends are particularly musically talented, but you’re probably not so lucky.) But that doesn’t matter. When your friend’s band is third on the bill at some creaky, falling-apart venue in West Philadelphia (locations and names vary, seemingly week-to-week), you make it a point to go, dammit, and maybe even buy a t-shirt. Be a friend. Need a place to go for a drink after the show? Try Fiume (45th and Locust streets, 2nd Floor), which has both an incredible beer and whiskey selection at excellent prices. Watch out, though: You are almost guaranteed to see three or four exes of yours while in West Philly. Make sure to only make eye contact with the ones you like!

11 p.m.

Hmm, where does your friend live again? He invited you over to get drunk and play Mario Kart and now you can’t remember where he lives (do you know the address?) and you’re wandering around Gray’s Ferry Point Breeze trying to figure out if he’s on Ellsworth or Federal, and was it 21st or 22nd, and as it gets closer to midnight you’ve given up when he doesn’t get back to you. Drown your sorrows with a beer at Doobies (2201 Lombard Street, 215-546-0316), a place memorably reviewed on Yelp with, “we walked in and it was like the scene in a movie where the needle gets scratched across the record.” If you can survive that—and you should be able to, you baby—play some Kenn Kweder on the jukebox.


1 a.m.

The food selection admittedly gets a little slim late night in Philly, but there are Wawas downtown (four locations, 17th and Arch is the best) and a few other 24-hour chain delis. Craving terrible pizza after midnight? Try the pizza from 7-Eleven (several locations, 10th and Filbert is the newest, 22nd and Lombard has the best energy shot selection). If you can get it relatively soon when it’s out of the oven and you’re just the right amount of drunk and tired, it will be the best meal you’ve ever had. If you don’t go the 7-Eleven route, there’s a 99 percent chance you’ll try to go to Lorenzo & Sons (305 South Street, 215-627-4110), which burnt down over the summer. Whoops!

2 a.m.

Philadelphia is the Sweatpants Capital of America for a reason: We like to eat. So after grabbing a slice of pizza or a Tastykake, head to one of downtown Philly’s diners. There’s the South Street Diner (140 South Street, 215-627-5258), best for reminding you of late-night trips in high school, Little Pete’s (219 South 17th Street, 215-545-5508), which has the best food of the downtown diners and Midtown III (28 South 18th Street, 215-567-5144) and Midtown II (122 South 11th Street, 215-627-6452). Midtown II is your best bet: Not for the food, but for the weird, awesome mix of Gayborhood and Old City regulars it gets when the bars close at 2 a.m.

3 a.m. or whatever

Overrated, but necessary.

11 a.m.

Down one of the energy shots you bought at 7-Eleven last night and get up! You have work to do. First, go for a run over the Ben Franklin Bridge (National Bridge Inventory number 4500010, whatever that means). This will hopefully purge out all of the alcohol from the previous night and help you end your hangover. When you get back, you’ll get a text from your buddy, reminding you to submit your fantasy football lineup for that week. Grab your laptop and trek to The Last Drop (1300 Pine Street, too hip for a phone number), perhaps the city’s finest, judgiest coffee shop.

2 p.m.

The Italian Market (9th and Christian)? Sure, but only for the better Lorenzo’s Pizza (900 Christian Street, 215-922-2540), decent Mexican food and ridiculously cheap flea-market socks. Another local Italian tradition is bocce, and South Philly has two excellent courts: Bardascino Park (10th and Carpenter) and Marconi Plaza (Broad and Oregon, renovated in 2000 for $677,000.) You’ll be issued a track suit and a bocce set upon crossing into South Philadelphia. While playing bocce, get a text from your friend saying you broke the rules while entering in your fantasy football lineup. Head to Brew (1900 South 15th Street, 215-339-5177), South Philly’s excellent beer and coffee shop. If you’re a little more north, Chapterhouse (620 South 9th Street, 215-238-2626) will do the trick. The Wi-Fi password is springtime (hmm, probably not anymore).

6 p.m.

After a nap, you’re ready to go out. Philadelphia’s most-buzz worthy bar is Hop Sing Laundromat (1029 Race Street, too mysterious for a phone number), but you won’t get in because you’ve accidentally worn fancy Jordans, violating the dress code. “But I bought these at sneaker boutique Abakus Takeout (227 North 10th Street, 215-351-7978),” you’ll say to the owner, making sure to include the address and phone number. Be sure not to make a scene or you could end up being booked at Police Headquarters, aka the Roundhouse (One Franklin Square, 911).

9 p.m.

Hop on the Market-Frankford El (always “the El,” never “the Blue Line”) at 11th Street and head to Kensington for a date with a girl you either met at a bar or on OkCupid or whatever, you don’t really remember. The lucky date wanted to meet up here, so you’ve chosen Memphis Taproom (2331 East Cumberland Street, 215-425-4460), the first in the rapidly expanding beer bar empire of Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida. A lot of thought goes into the beer list: It has quality beers from both local breweries you’ve heard of and from far-flung foreign ones you haven’t. After a few beers, go lower scale and head to El Bar (1356 North Front Street, 215-634-6430), a perfectly acceptable divey bar that serves decent beer and shots. If possible, sit out back and wait for one of the area’s countless stray cats to come up and ask for a friendly pat on the head.


12:30 a.m.

Head back to your date’s house (Somewhere in Kensington? Oh, crap, I can’t even remember what this person’s name was—Janine? Jessie?—man, I really am a jerk, I should probably make better life choices) for a nightcap. Both of you pass out on the couch while making out.

8 a.m.

Wake up hung over. Wake your date up, too, and make sure to say goodbye and apologize—and not one of those blanket apologies, either, work hard to remember something obnoxious you did and say you’re sorry, and really mean it. Head on the El and get some brunch at Morning Glory (735 South 10th Street, 215-413-3999). Take your date, too, if the night went better than you thought! When choosing brunch in Philadelphia, the answer should always be Morning Glory. Always. Well, unless the wait is too long. If that’s the case, head to Fitzwater Cafe (728 South 7th Street, 215-629-0428), which will do in a pinch.

10 a.m.

Make that brunch extra special by spending time afterward in Kahn Park (11th and Pine streets), named after legendary Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn, a place so concrete it’s a park in name only. Fitting! When you finish taking in the local scenery, head home and sit on your couch and watch TV until you fall asleep. This is the only thing you should do on Sundays, anywhere.

Your mileage may vary. For example, you might have kids; if so, replace every bar with “soccer practice/dance recital” and every other place with “pediatrician’s office.”

[LOVE Park homepage photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Shutterstock.com]