Philadelphia: A Local’s Guide to the City of Neighborhoods Part One

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Philly, Illadelphia, The City of Brotherly Love, Home of The Philly Cheesesteak, The Pretzel Capital, and my former home for over 10 years. So many memories from graduating college to getting my puppy to buying a house and getting married happened in and around this vibrant metropolis.  I could never fit all of this dynamic city’s highlights into one article but I will focus on a few.

Let’s start with a smattering of mine and my friend’s favorite spots to gobble and guzzle…aka eat and drink. Tourists think of South Street and the Italian Market as the best spots for cheesesteaks but the absolute best, cheesiest, ooziest, gooiest, fresh off the grill steak spot is Max’s at Broad & Erie. It’s open late, always has a line, with street vendors selling CDs, oils and t-shirts, and conveniently has a bar next door where you can grab a drink to go with your half or whole cheesesteak. My favorite comes with cheese whiz, mushrooms, a little mayo and ketchup and is usually consumed after 2am. Max’s was featured in the movie ‘Creed’ and is often frequented by artists in the music industry. In 2015 Playboy’s head writer voted Max’s as his favorite Philly cheesesteak spot, beating out the more commonly known places and sparking an often contentious debate.

If you are looking for dinner at a more reasonable hour and are in the mood for Chinese food, you must check out Ho Sai Gai in Philly’s Chinatown. Ho Sai Gai, from what I’ve read, translates to life is good. It is the best Chinese food I have had anywhere in the United States. No it isn’t for a foodie looking for authentic Chinese food; you should go to China for that. I have been several times and will cover mainland China and Hong Kong in later blogs. But I digress, now back to what you should order:  Start with the made from scratch wonton soup and ask for the home made hot mustard (which isn’t on the menu). Then order the Honey Coconut Pineapple Chicken over white rice. It is delicious, creamy, sweet, tangy and tropical all at the same time. This place offers a casual, comfortable dining in option or a quick takeout option. Now, for a decadent dessert, you will need to head south of Washington Ave to South Philly for Termini Brothers Bakery. This is one of Philadelphia’s first bakeries, dating back to 1921 and is home to the original cannoli! Besides serving creamy cannolis, carrot cakes, eclairs, chocolate covered bananas and a variety of other sugary necessities, they have the most amazing filbert amaretti cookies. I originally had no idea what they were called and referred to them as scrumptious almond thingies, but now I know they are hazelnut flavored and made with almond paste macaroon dough and topped with sugar and still just as scrumptious as the first time I ate them.

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Another mentionable eatery is Bayou Bar & Grill in Manayunk for their wing specials, burgers, happy hour and sports bar atmosphere. It also holds a special place in my heart. My husband used to frequent it by himself once a week to relax after work, have a few beers and catch a game on one of the big screen TVs. Since he was a regular, the locals and bartenders all knew him. When we first started dating, he invited me to join him one night and two bartenders and a patron came up to me and said, “He has never brought a girl here before, you must be really special.” 6 years later and I tend to think I was pretty special. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, my friend Iris has recommended checking out Double Knot in center city which features an eclectic mix of coffees and sushi dishes with a creative vegetable based menu. Blackbird Pizzeria is also in center city and is known for their tofu and seitan sausage pizza and their wide array of calzones, salads and sandwiches all catering to the health conscious. I can’t leave out my dad’s favorite restaurant which is The Moshulu located on The Delaware River. It has an abundant wine and cocktail menu and is known for its seafood dishes including tuna tartare, swordfish, salmon and calamari. It also has plenty of chicken and steak options. We celebrated our wedding rehearsal dinner here at the beautiful Captain’s table. The Moshulu is legendary in that it is the world’s oldest and largest square rigged sailing vessel still afloat and is the world’s one and only restaurant venue on a tall ship. It was built in 1904 in Scotland and originally carried coal and then grain and was eventually captured by the US Navy in WWI as prize booty. The name Moshulu was given to the ship by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and means ‘One who Fears Nothing’ in the Seneca Indian’s language. It creates a truly unique dining experience and provides the best views of Philadelphia’s waterfront. One more stop before this food train ends is Wawa.  Locals go here for their coffee, Wawa brand iced tea, breakfast “Sizzli” sandwiches, fresh pretzels, but most of all for their hoagies. To you non Wawa natives, a hoagie is a sub (submarine sandwich), but must be referred to as a hoagie in Philadelphia! You can build your custom made hoagie on a touch screen in the convenience store.  Of course, Philadelphia is a major city and has many fine dining options that you will find in guidebooks but the above mentioned are some local favorites that are worth venturing out for.

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If all this eating is making you thirsty you will want to head to Stratus Rooftop Lounge in Olde City to mingle eleven stories up beside a roaring fireplace. Try an airy cocktail, such as a “Smoke and Mirrors” made with Dewars, Maraschino, Lemon Juice and Simple Syrup.

Next stop takes you north on Philly’s main thoroughfare, Broad St, and puts you at the iconic intersection of Broad and Hunting Park in the heart of North Philly. This used to be Prince’s Total Experience which was infamous for a fun, lively watering hole which brought out the likes of Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, The Temptations, Patti LaBelle, lawyers, politicians and locals, all mingling together, dancing and partying the night away. It then went on to be Roy’s Comfort Zone and in 2012 my husband and I bought it, completely renovated it and named it Gloss Nightclub Bar & Grill. We created a high tech DJ booth, light and smoke shows, a private VIP room and a billiards room, alongside a sports bar, restaurant and nightclub. We turned it back into a Philly nightlife hotspot where we hosted karaoke nights, had Temple University events, charity functions, weddings, birthday parties, concerts, celebrity appearances and so much more.   We went on to sell it and today it is a stop n go (beer takeout establishment). Just a stone’s throw away is Club 151, which is a member’s only after hour’s club, so make sure you bring a local with you to enjoy some old school music, a relaxed atmosphere and late night drinks.

Then head about a mile further north on Broad St and you will find another watering hole: Circles Bar & Grill. Up until we sold it ,a couple months ago, this corner bar used to be owned by us as well. This place is open daily from 10 am til 2am and is always busy. Enjoy an affordable drink, laid back vibe and chat with a local Philadelphian and you will be sure to get an interesting history lesson and a couple hours’ worth of entertaining stories. Come for the drinks and stay for the people. One last stop is at Ballard’s Billiard’s Center at 20th and Cecil B. Moore. This pool hall has been around for decades and my husband learned to play pool here with his father. This place had pool tournaments and even had number running games, which were underground lotteries, back in the day.  Cecil B Moore Avenue used to be called Colombia Avenue until racially motivated riots broke out in 1964 and Mr. Moore was credited with restoring order, bringing back African American owned businesses and integrating previously segregated parts of the city.

Now, it’s time for some shopping: shall we start with stilettos, skinnies or sequins? Smak Parlour is an old time fave because it’s a pink, dollhouse themed boutique with one of a kind finds that I’ve discovered treasures at since I was in college. I love the retro meets modernity with just the right details. Bodycon dresses hang beside girly skirts and cropped jackets. My favorite print of the moment is the paper doll design which is whimsical and reminds me of creating outfits for my paper dolls, growing up. Leaving Olde City behind, we head to Rittenhouse Square where we find Shop Sixty Five, a simplified rocker style stash of leather jackets, vintage tees and the best fitting Rag & Bone denim. Throw in some quirky necklaces, furry vests and sequin jackets and you have an edgy, glamorous fashion haven that isn’t trying too hard but leaves you walking out in an effortlessly cool outfit. Drive 25 minutes northeast of the city and you will find a mall less talked about than King of Prussia, but most definitely worth the drive, just for the bargains. It used to be called Franklin Mills, but is now Philadelphia Mills. Stock up on Jordan’s from Foot Locker Outlet, nude pumps from Aldo, and of the moment velvet booties from Steve Madden. BCBG has always been my regular haunt for fun going out outfits that always fit right off the hanger. I love their silky blouses, flowing dresses and statement jewelry. Saks 5th Avenue Off 5th is almost as good as the real thing but at a much better price. Grab some designer sunglasses, a chic bag, leather wallet, a classic coat that will last you more than 1 season and a delicate cashmere sweater. We all have the “one that got away” that we still yearn for and mine is from this store. No, it wasn’t a man, ha! It was an alluring arctic white fur vest that fit like a glove and made me feel like an Ice Queen. Against my better judgment I let “her” getaway and have never found a suitable substitution so please don’t make the same mistake.

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One thought on “Philadelphia: A Local’s Guide to the City of Neighborhoods Part One”

  1. Very captivating! Thanks for the tips, I know it’s going to help me have a more joyous visit to Philadelphia in January! Thanks so much.

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