Old City, one of Philadelphia’s most popular neighborhoods, is an eclectic mix of old and new. Historic buildings line cobblestone and paved streets. The hip nightlife scene brings a daily gathering of students, professionals and tourists. The neighborhood lies from Vine Street to Walnut Street and from Fifth Street to Front Street. Residents and visitors enjoy the multitude of art galleries, retail shops, restaurants, performing arts theaters and movie theaters. The area, which is often considered the heart of Center City nightlife, has been labeled hip-storic due to its seamless blending of history and entertainment.
In the 1700s, Old City was home to many colonial artisans. Over the years, the area has become popularized by its art galleries, which feature work from local and national artists. On the first Friday of each month, all art galleries are open to the public from 5 p.m. 9 p.m. First Friday is one of the city’s most popular cultural events, as casual browsers and regular art buyers stroll the streets. View the work of fellow students at the Temple Gallery of the Tyler School of Art on 45 N. Second Street.
History aficionados can visit the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street and Franklin Court and Printshop on Market Street, Benjamin Franklin’s original house, and Christ’s Church on Second Street, George Washington’s place of worship. Another historic landmark is Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest residential street. Houses on the street have been continuously inhabited since the early 1700s.
Kelly McCabe and her family have lived on Elfreth’s Alley for six years. “Old City is historic, yet vibrant…It’s also convenient. I can walk to parks and museums.” McCabe noted the neighborhood’s popularity among college students as part of the reason why the area appears youthful and energetic.
A variety of restaurants line the busy streets. The Old City Wrap Shack, located at 146 N. 2nd Street, is a food stand on the side of a residential building. Loyal customers stand outside, regardless of weather, for any of the several wraps, ranging from cheesesteak to vegetarian. The Wrap Shack also serves baked potatoes and homemade soup, a great way to warm up on a cold winter day.
Lucy’s Hat Shop is a contemporary restaurant with a menu similar to Applebee’s or Friday’s. Located on Market Street between Second and Third, the restaurant / lounge takes it name from the building’s original use – a women’s hat company. Complete with a late-night DJ, fuzzy couches and a tin ceiling, Lucy’s is ideal for students who want to enjoy a good meal on a budget.
Chain restaurants, such as Cosi and Starbucks, are a haven for 20-somethings. Cosi, located at Fourth and Chestnut streets, serves salads, sandwiches, wraps, and soups all at under $10. Old City’s location features “Surf and Sip,” allowing customers to check e-mail while eating.
Starbucks is located at Third and Arch streets, directly across from The Real World house. Here, diners can get their daily dose of coffee and cappuccino. Cremalita, an ice cream chain store, specializes in low fat ice cream. Many flavors are fat-free and cholesterol-free with no sugar or carbohydrates. Yet the ice cream is still rich in flavor. Cremalita is across the street from Cosi and Independence National Historical Park.
“I’m getting my masters in historic preservation so working in Old City is perfect,” said Becky Sell who has two jobs in Old City. “Old City is known for its bars,” continues Sell. “I come here to work and I come here to drink.” There are more than 100 restaurants and bars in Old City, giving a new meaning to the words “night out on the town.”
Glam, located on Second Street near Chestnut, was a popular hangout for The Real World cast. The restaurant/lounge is outfitted in pink from the lights to the walls of the VIP room. Oversized couches and long booths make it apt for small and large groups. Monday nights are devoted to football as players and fans share their love of the sport. Dancers move their body to the likes of disco, R&B, house and hip-hop.
Nearby is Bank Street, a small, narrow alley between Market and Chestnut streets that is abundant with nightlife. On Fridays and Saturdays, the alley is crowded with club-goers chatting and laughing outside Club 27 and The Five Spot. Club 27, formerly Envy, offers three floors of dancing and partying. The age limit is 21 and over, except on Thursday nights when it is 18 to enter, 21 to drink. Techno and house music dominate the atmosphere, yet each lounge features different music. Best of all, there is no cover before 10 p.m.
Down the street is The Five Spot, a 21 and older club and lounge. Events range from open mic night every Tuesday, a sketch comedy show the first Friday of the month and a burlesque show the first Saturday. On the weekend partiers dance to house, hip-hop and reggae music. Glam, Club 27 and The Five Spot are open until 2 a.m.
Old City’s location in Philadelphia appeals to the 7000 men, women and children that make the area their home. Independence National Historical Park, the location of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and several other museums, border the local hotspot on the east and south. Penn’s Landing, Society Hill, Washington Square and South Street are a short walk or bike ride away.
Besides conventional methods of transportation, city residents and tourists can take a duck tour of Philadelphia via the Ride the Ducks company. Departing from Sixth and Chestnut streets, passengers ride in a boat on wheels as they enjoy the sights of Society Hill and Old City. The 80-minute tour drives past every historic site in the area from the Liberty Bell to Ben Franklin’s Grave and includes a splash in the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing. At $23 the tour is pricey but worth every dollar and quack.
Get to Old City by taking the Market-Frankford subway line to the Second Street stop or bus Route 5 to Front and Market streets. Metered parking is available throughout the neighborhood; remember to bring plenty of quarters and be plenty patient on busier nights. Pay lots are also available.
If you are seeking to explore all that Philadelphia has to offer, Old City is a festive place to start.
Stephanie Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.