Philadelphia’s arts and entertainment scene can’t be squeezed into a 1,000-word article. It’s just too big for that. Why else would Americans for the Arts (AFTA), a nonprofit organization that recognizes the country’s best art centers, have visited the city this summer? But don’t take their word for it—take ours. Follow this SparkNotes-like guide to the city during your first 15 days here. And after that? Read the darn book already.
1. Don’t Eat Like a College Student
Imagine if Ramen looked and tasted as appetizing as it appears on the Maruchan package wrapping. That’s the best way to describe pho, a big bowl of white rice noodles and beef slices in broth, which sells for $5 to $7 at Vietnamese markets. Top it off with a blended bubble tea, an avocado, jackfruit or strawberry smoothie sprinkled with tapioca balls.
12th Street and Washington Avenue, Sixth Street and Washington Avenue
2. Fulfill Your Fight Club Fantasies
If you’re looking for a combative edge in fitness (or just an alternative to IBC Student Recreation Center’s crowded weight room), check out the Philadelphia Mixed Martial Arts Academy and the Fight Factory. Both provide mixed martial arts lessons from world-class instructors. Fight Factory’s Eddie Alvarez is considered one of the top fighters in the 155-pound weight class. Not so confident in your butt-kicking abilities? Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is popular among the athletically challenged, since it teaches you how to keep up with bigger, stronger opponents.
1321 Juniper St. and 2200 E. Susquehanna Ave.
3. Love Cheesesteaks, But Love Hoagies
More sliced steak on bread with Cheese Whiz may be Philly’s most enduring culinary export, but hoagies are also a staple at almost any deli in the city. The homemade bread rolls at Sarcone’s Deli and Bakery (734 South 9th St.) are packed with high carbs. Nick’s Charcoal Pit (1242 Snyder Ave.) is famous for its filet mignon sandwich, while Govinda’s (Broad and South streets) puts a vegetarian spin on the white collar sandwich.
4. Go to Church
The colorful events that the Rotunda, a once-abandoned church, hosts range from Holistic Mom Network meetings to monthly hip-hop gatherings. Most of the events are free; otherwise, admission is on a sliding scale and usually under $15. Upcoming shows worth attending: Gods vs Men: The Book of Xen, a colorful dystopian satire with song and dance that is being performed on Aug. 30-31, and Urban ECHO, a dance exhibition that runs the first and second Saturdays of September.
4104 Walnut St.
5. Don’t Drive on I-76 to Admire Nature
Hidden near 38th Street on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus is one of Philadelphia’s best kept secrets: a five-acre botanical garden lush with indigenous wildlife – excluding pigeons, squirrels and cockroaches. In 1897, Dr. John M. MacFarland created the Biopond, which is maintained by Penn’s School
of Arts and Sciences. It’s an oasis in a jungle of concrete.
3710 Hamilton Walk
6. Drink to the Local Economy
Yards Brewing Company set up shop in the historic Weisbrod & Hess building in 2001, and brewed beer with the future owners of the Philadelphia Brewing Company until a bitter breakup in 2007. Yards moved to Delaware Avenue and kept the original recipes for its pale ales and seasonal brews and PBC
maintained the brewery in Kensington. PBC offers a blend of local and European ales like the Walt Whitman, as well as hoppy brews like the Kenzinger. Ben Franklin once said, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Yards and PBC remind us of his words.
7. Don’t Pay for Art
More than 40 art galleries open their doors to the public and offer live music, food and wine on the first Friday of every month, from 5-9 p.m. F.U.E.L. (249 Arch St.), which was converted into living quarters for the cast of MTV’s Real World: Philadelphia, is a high-ceilinged gallery with hip art. The Old City Jewish Art Association (55 N. 5 St.) is especially generous with free food on the first Fridays. Though members focus on Jewish-themed art, anyone is welcome to browse and dine at no cost.
8. Scratch That: Pay for Art if Van Gogh’s Involved
Originals by Monet, Dali, DuChamp and Van Gogh are among the 225,000-plus works of art featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the accompanying Perelman Building. Sundays are free from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and tickets are $10 with a student ID during weekdays. Try to see the exhibit on Nandalal Bose, one of India’s most prolific modern artists, before it closes on Sept. 1. Jog up the steps and pose next to the statue of Stallone—err, Rocky.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
9. Laugh So You Don’t Cry
Helium’s open-mic night has featured Comedy Central talent like Greg Giraldo and Joe Rogan, as well as some of Philly’s funniest rising comedians. Kent Haines, Steve Gerben and Chip Chantry are among the city’s best. Feel free to join them: you have three minutes to sink or float in the Philly’s comedic waters.
The environment is supportive and heckling is discouraged, unless someone goes over their time limit.
20th and Samson streets
10. Be Proud of Philly’s Own
The mix of urban soul and independent culture has Philly at the epicenter of one of the strongest rock and hip-hop scenes on the East Coast. Many a hipster swoon for Dr. Dog, mewithoutYou and Man Man, all of whom call Philly their home. Jill Scott, the Roots and Musiq Soulchild are native Philadelphians, while RJD2 relocated to the city from Oregon. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, the brilliant, demented minds behind Adult Swim’s Tom Goes To The Mayor and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job are Temple alumni. Their earlier dabbling in absurdity can be seen on www.timanderic.com.
11. Take a Shower
Shampoo’s name is not a gimmick. Foam rains from the club’s ceiling every Sunday, so bring your rubber
ducky on the dance floor. Five separate rooms, like the blue room for dance and the velvet underground room for old school and classic club tracks, make Shampoo one of the bigger clubs in the city. It’s also one of the few places that caters to the underage crowd. Spoiled Thursdays is for ages 14 to 18. Nocturne Gothic Wednesdays attracts crowds of vampire look-a-likes with $3 drink specials and throbbing industrial music. Don’t worry—they won’t bite unless you give them permission.
Willow Street between Seventh and Eighth streets
12. Believe in Aliens
Founder Jennifer Bates succumbed to leukemia in May 2007, but her legacy lives on through her Fishtown-based bookstore that specializes in the esoteric. Conspiracy theories, the occult and science fiction are all popular subjects at Germ Books. A UFO discussion group meets on the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m., where you’re sure to get a weird look is if you ask for Harry Potter.
2005 Frankford Ave.
13. Jog in Our Own Central Park
Consisting of 63 parks that span some 9,200 acres, Fairmount Park has enough space and activities for any city-weary person to get lost in. Kelly Drive has trails for biking and walking that run parallel to the Schuylkill River, which is frequented by rowers. The area near the Art Museum district also has golf courses and pavilion for public events.
14. Swill Beer for Free
Come into Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar on your birthday and the first drink is on the house. Located 40 steps from Geno’s on Passyunk Avenue, this Depression-era dive bar embodies the friendly neighborhood spirit of South Philly. Ray’s has Quizzo on Mondays, karaoke on Fridays, live music on
Saturdays and comedy nights once a month, for no cover. It’s a prime spot to sip on a Kenzinger and light up a cigarette.
1200 E. Passyunk Ave.
15. If Life’s a Tragedy, Throw a Party
Once a month, Eric Broomfield honors his late brother with Carnivolution, West Philly’s wildest party. Located at the Ellen Powell Tiberino Museum, the gathering features Broomfield’s band the Hydrogen Jukebox, which plays Vaudevillian rock. Guests include clowns, fire-breathers, knife throwers and sword
3819 W. Philly Ave.