Like any crush, I was cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a long-term relationship—while reasonably doubting that my mountain girl heart could ever make a home in America’s sixth biggest city.
But a turning point came one March night four years ago, when my husband booked a table at Double Knot, a newly opened, subterranean izakaya, for my birthday. We didn’t know what awaited us down the hidden flight of stairs, but our group was immediately awestruck by the moody candlelight, smoking cocktails, stunning bar, and edamame dumplings. (Especially the dumplings.)
It’s the sort of place you’d never find in Utah’s suburbs where I grew up, and one that makes you love a city bold enough to create it. In the following years, Double Knot has never lost its charm, becoming our go-to destination for date nights and hosting out-of-town guests.
Beloved only-in-Philly experiences like this quickly evolved beyond bars and restaurants to unforgettable moments: partying in the city after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, racing down Broad Street with 35,000 people in the pouring rain, and singing on SEPTA in lederhosen and dirndls after one-too-many Oktoberfest beer samples.
These moments make Philly, well, Philly, charming us (and others) to come and stay—years beyond any planned expiration date. Whether you’re a born-and-bred Philadelphian or a transplant like me, we hope to showcase this vibe in Sensi, sharing the unique stories of the city and its characters.
In our March issue, we talk tiny houses, booze-free cocktails, where to find Philly’s best CBD goodies, and why you need a personal brand. We hope you love what we’re creating, but Sensi is here for you, and we want the pages of this publication to reflect that. Whether you email or @ me, let me know what you want to see in Philadelphia’s newest magazine.
Maybe it’s a bit bold to launch Sensi in 8 new markets in a single year after only four years in business. But for our team, expanding the reach of this publication and bringing the Sensi spirit to Philadelphia matters. We’re a small—but mighty—force in today’s publishing world, and the industry is taking notice. In 2019, our magazine won Publication of the Year (for the third time in a row) at the Cannabis Business Awards in Las Vegas, and we’re just getting started.
This February in Philadelphia, we’re covering innovation, invention, and our city’s ability to rise to the challenge—especially in the face of adversity. Whether it’s Carson Wentz throwing for a record-breaking 4,000 yards in a season (with his star players riding the bench) or the dilapidated warehouses of Fishtown taking on new life as vibrant distilleries, restaurants, and bars, Philly is the city of the underdog, rising up when others doubt it.
National Geographic named once-gritty Philly the best US city to visit in 2020, and as residents, we’re not even surprised. The City of Brotherly Love is stepping out of New York City’s shadow, reinventing itself in the new decade as a post-industrial capital for food and fun, proving you don’t need to be the biggest dog to have the best bite.
We share this vibe with features on Fishtown’s dramatic transformation, the story of two South Philly runners bringing adventure travel to urbanites, and the scoop on two long-awaited restaurant openings. What do you want to see in Sensi magazine? Email me with your ideas for making Philadelphia’s newest publication its best.
From the Flower Show’s dazzling floral installations to the Auto Show’s exotic cars, February in Philadelphia brings spectacular sights worth leaving the house for. If you’re stumped on planning a Valentine’s Day date, attend our alternatives to make your significant other (or Bumble date) swoon.
Black History Month
All February Various locations, Philadelphia visitphilly.com As an important center for African American culture and history, Philadelphia goes big on celebrating with a month of service days, book talks, mixers, and more.
Feb. 6–16 Various locations, Greater Philadelphia theatrephiladelphia.org Experience affordable theater productions, readings, and interactive events at this 10-day celebration of the city’s vibrant theater community.
Philadelphia Orchestra: Sorcerers, Spells, and Magic
Feb. 13 Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Center City philorch.org
Valentine’s Day with Tiny Dynamite
Feb. 14 Manayunk Brewing Company, Manayunk tinydynamite.org Bring a date or fly solo at this casual look at modern love put on by talented Philly performers. Bonus: every ticket includes pizza and a pint.
Feb. 23 Reading Terminal Market, Center City readingterminalmarket.org Help preserve the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmer’s market at this nighttime fundraiser that transforms the market into a party with more than 1,000 revelers. Expect bites from 30 market merchants, four open bars, six live bands, and casino games.
Feb. 29–Mar. 8 Philadelphia Convention Center, Center City theflowershow.com Floral fans unite at the world’s largest and longest-running indoor flower show. Launched in 1829, the event draws 250,000 people to see themed displays. This year’s “Riviera Holiday” is inspired by vibrant Mediterranean gardens.
Long a Broad Street eyesore, the iconic Divine Lorraine has been scrubbed of its ghosts and graffiti with a complete renovation to the tune of $44 million. Opened in 1884, the building first held luxurious apartments before being converted into the Divine Lorraine Hotel in 1948. After its abandonment in 1999, the building sat vacant until 2015 when developer Eric Blumenfeld brought the building full circle—converting it back into opulent residences. And while its new apartment homes are dazzling, the much-anticipated Italian restaurant, Cicala, has the city buzzing.
Run by restaurateur couple Angela and Joe Cicala, the menu focuses on Sicilian cuisine with family flair. The restaurant’s empty, warehouse-type space has been lovingly reconstructed as an Italian eatery of old, with an heirloom-filled dining room featuring old Cicala family portraits, velvet-draped windows, and vintage furniture sourced from Angela’s grandparents.
Expect hearty plates of pasta, fresh fish, cured and cooked meats, and inventive appetizers. Don’t miss Angela’s signature dessert: a clementine that echoes Cicala’s logo (a reference to Joe’s great grandmother Clementina). The “orange” is actually spumoni gelato ball with candied citrus on top of orange almond cake. Expect this and other delightful surprises at Cicala at the Divine Lorraine Hotel.
From running the red rocks of Moab, Utah, to scaling the Sierra Nevada’s rugged, alpine peaks, adventurous trips to some of America’s (and Italy’s) most beautiful destinations can be booked right here in Philly with Highline, an active adventure travel company. Each of its trail run–focused, small group retreats is designed to help you unplug from the modern world and connect with nature.
South Philadelphians JT Kane and Ryan Callahan thought up the concept for Highline on a two-week road trip across the American West. “We were in this place of coming back from burnout,” says Kane, “and taking the time to escape and run and hike in these wild spaces was kind of the antidote to years of these high-pressure jobs.”
As they traveled, Kane and Callahan dreamed of sharing the experience with others. Both runners with event production backgrounds—Callahan as the founder of the successful Philly 10K race—they realized a running-focused adventure travel company was the perfect partner project. Both South Philadelphians through and through, the duo launched and now run Highline out of the neighborhood’s BOK Building. Since Highline’s first Death Valley retreat in 2017, the company has added one-of-a-kind trips at home and abroad—all centered on trail running in the world’s most epic natural landscapes: Shenandoah, Moab, and as far away as the Italian Dolomites.
Trips focus on taking a break from our 24/7 news cycle and reconnecting with people. “We’re trying to provide people with this intangible reprieve from daily life, and people really do seem to be getting that out of the experience,” says Kane. “We try to activate in places that don’t have cell phone service or access to e-mail, and really quickly people find that they’re thankful for that level of disconnection.”
These restorative, exploratory vacations are never the same twice, but attendees can expect daily trail running and speed hiking along with hot spring soaking, yoga, and lodging that runs the gamut from fancy tents to four-star resorts.
Trips are designed for all levels, but participants should be able to comfortably run three to 10 miles to best enjoy the experience. “We try to keep the pace slow and approachable,” Kane adds. “We take a lot of breaks for photos and make it more enjoyable because it’s not a race, it’s a fun, run-focused vacation.”
And while most participants come from nearby, Kane says the word is getting out. “Being based out of Philadelphia, we get a lot of people from Philadelphia and the mid-Atlantic area, but we’ve started to see it expand. We’ve had people from Texas and California.”
Experience Highline yourself on its long-weekend in Shenandoah in June, the Italian Dolomites adventure in July, an Eastern Sierra trip in August, or its September retreat in Moab.
In Fishtown, an old ice cream equipment factory takes on new life this month as Fabrika, a one-of-a-kind, modern cabaret dinner experience. Late nights bring variety show–style performances paired with Eastern Mediterranean cuisine by Chef Konstantinos Pitsillides and drinks by lead bartender, Andres Sanchez.
The centerpiece of this fresh, vegetal cocktail is Pennsylvania’s own Boyd & Blair potato vodka paired with Fabrika’s house-made beet juice and custom citrus cordial. (You can mix one up at home with your own citrus peel cordial and store-bought beet juice.) Taste the original Tuesday through Sunday evenings during Fabrika’s happy hour or dinner theater.
Makes 1 cocktail
1½ ounces organic beet juice 2 ounces Boyd & Blair Lemon & Lavender potato vodka ½ ounce Fabrika citrus cordial ½ ounce lemon juice Fresh dill
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake vigorously, then double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Loneliness is a killer, more dangerous than obesity and smoking. Studies have found it leads to heart disease, stroke, and immune system problems, and it could even impair cancer recovery. A researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark found loneliness a strong predictor of premature death, declining mental health, and lower quality of life in cardiovascular patients, and a Brigham Young University professor’s meta-analysis of studies from around the world found that socially isolated adults have a 50 percent greater risk of dying from any cause than people who have community.
That’s sobering, especially when you consider that 40 percent of American adults suffer from loneliness, according to an AARP study. And it’s one reason coliving—a new form of housing in which residents with similar interests, values, or intentions share living space, costs, and amenities—is exploding.
Coliving situations run a spectrum, from the resident-driven model to small homes with a half-dozen or so people to massive corporate complexes like The Collective tower with 550 beds in London. Residents, who stay anywhere from a few days to several years and usually don’t have to sign a lease or pay a security deposit, sleep in their own small private rooms (sometimes with bathrooms) and share common spaces such as large kitchens and dining areas, gardens, and work areas. They’re encouraged to interact with one another, often through organized happy hours and brunches. Ollie, which operates coliving spaces in New York and other cities, advertises that “friends are included.”
“Coliving is different than just having roommates, who may be people you found on Craigslist and just happen to share [your] living space. It’s done with more intention,” says Christine McDannell, who lived in unincorporated coliving houses for years before she launched Kindred Quarters, a coliving operator with homes in San Diego and Los Angeles, in 2017.
Author of The Coliving Code: How to Find Your Tribe, Share Resources, and Design Your Life, McDannell also runs Kndrd, a software company for coliving managers and residents, and she hosts the weekly Coliving Code Show every Wednesday on YouTube, iTunes, Soundcloud, and coliving.tv. She has watched—and helped—the industry grow up, and she’s amazed at how few, if any, horror stories she hears. That’s largely because millennials—by far the largest demographic among colivers—are accustomed to sharing and being held accountable through online reviews, she adds.
“You just don’t hear the crazy stories about roommating with strangers in an unfamiliar city,” she says. “When people write bad reviews, it’s usually about the Wi-Fi.”
As companies fat with funding expand into cities across the globe, coliving is newly corporatized—but it’s hardly a novel concept. Boarding houses provided rooms and shared meals for single men and women in the 19th and early 20th centuries; one of the most famous, the Barbizon Hotel in New York, was a “club residence for professional women” from 1927 until the 1980s.
People lived communally throughout most of history until industrialization facilitated privatization of family life and housing throughout the 20th century—with a few disruptions. In Israel, people have been living in communal villages called kibbutzim for more than 100 years. In the US, hippies attempted to create communes in the 1960s, but they were destroyed by free love, drugs, and egos (which did a lot to discourage coliving, even today).
At the same time in Denmark, however, cohousing (an earlier iteration of coliving) was emerging as a way to share childcare. Today, more than 700 communities thrive in Denmark. In Sweden, the government provides cohousing facilities.
A handful of cohousing communities following the Danish model have been established in the US, and hacker houses are common in tech capitals like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, but the concept has been slow to catch on until recently.
As it becomes increasingly impossible for mere mortals to afford skyrocketing rents in desirable cities, Americans are coming around to coliving and finding creative solutions to all sorts of social issues. Older women are shacking up together following the Golden Girls model. Coabode.org matches single moms who want to raise kids together. At Hope Meadows in Chicago, retirees live with foster kids.
The opportunity to pay lower rent (in many but not all cases) and share expenses makes all the difference in places like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. When New York–based coliving operator Common opened a development with 24 furnished spaces in Los Angeles for between $1,300 and $1,800 a month, more than 9,000 people applied.
McDannell says coliving is exploding because it solves important challenges that plague modern society. “People are signing away their paychecks on rent and feeling increasingly isolated,” she wrote in “Why We’re Building a CoLiving Community Ecosystem” on LinkedIn. “It is due time that HaaS (Housing as a Service) disrupts the antiquated industry of property management and real estate.”
Our editor-in-chief’s hottest hits of the month. Read
The nationwide trend (finally) takes off in Philly. Read
Fewer Penalties, More Perks
Free Library of Philadelphia axes outstanding debts on late books.
Cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and now Philadelphia are ending late fees on overdue items and wiping out old library patron debts. Why? To remove barriers from those who felt the library wasn’t for them. The policy takes effect in the spring, and the Free Library hopes it encourages people to use the library’s services. But don’t think this means you can “borrow” books and keep them forever. New books can’t be checked out until overdue ones are returned (or paid for if lost). Not a bibliophile? The library also rents plenty of museum passes, string instruments, birding backpacks, streaming video devices, and board games. Plus it offers free meditation, yoga, and tai chi classes.
Ignite with Flavor
Dan Bilzerian, known as “The King of Instagram,” first built his empire using social media marketing. In 2017, he launched Ignite, a line of CBD products, which has since expanded to include vapes, drops, toothpicks, topicals, pet products, gummies, and lip balm. Flavor profiles include blood orange, lemon, cherry, lavender, and tropical fruit. Its all-natural CBD drops are blended with essential oils. Topicals are made with 100 percent plant-based ingredients. Its newest product is the 350 mg full-spectrum drops and bath bombs. Ignite / $15–$65 / ignitecbd.co
LOVE-ly Philly Gifts
February is a great time to show your love for the city with these only-in-Philly gifts.
Rosen & Co. Philly Skyline Candles Fill your home with fragrance with these soy wax candles housed in a Philadelphia skyline glass. $25 / rosenandco.us
LOVE Necklace Based on Robert Indiana’s renowned Philadelphia LOVE sculpture, this necklace is available in real gold and silver finishes. Buy locally at Verde on 13th Street. $74 / weheartphilly.bigcartel.com
Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates Give your love a taste of Philly with this series of nine handcrafted chocolates featuring symbols of the city. $20 / marcieblaine.com
Party Like It’s 1999
Old school becomes new again.
With the nostalgia of the ’90s revival including the comeback of scrunchies, old school hip-hop parties, cartoon reboots, grunge fashion, army pants, vinyl records, and the Friends craze ever present, why not celebrate like it’s Y2K?
The ’90s were the era when grunge was born; punk rock got a resurgence; indie music fests took off; personal style was nonconformist; music was insanely good, angsty, dance-worthy, and impactful (Nirvana, Beastie Boys, Tupac, N.W.A., Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, and so many more); and the teens and twentysomethings finally felt like their voices were being heard.
By Stephanie Wilson, Editor in Chief
1. Primary Focus A New Hampshire law requires the Granite State to be the first presidential primary in the nation. This election cycle, that goes down on February 11, after which my home state becomes irrelevant for another four years.
2. Leap of Faith While the calendar year is 365 days, it takes the Earth 365.24 days to orbit the sun. Every four years, we add an extra day to the month of February because without it, the calendar would be misaligned with the seasons by 25 days after just 100 years.
3. Born This Way The odds of being a “leapling”—a person born on a leap day—is 1 in 1,461.
4. Right On On February 29, some places celebrate Bachelor’s Day or Sadie Hawkins Day—both a nod to the old Irish tradition that gave women the right to propose marriage to a man on leap day. If he declined, he was required by law to pay a penalty, often in the form of gloves so she could hide the shame of her bare ring finger.
5. Modern Love Since we’re not all Irish, but we are all feminists (because we all believe in the equality of the sexes, of course), any of us can propose to whomever our heart desires whenever we want. Except Valentine’s Day. There’s no law prohibiting it but, sweetie, pay-as-you-go forced romance is anything but romantic.
6. PETA Violation The origins of the canned-love holiday are as cruel as a red rose delivery in February is clichéd. According to NPR, V-day traces back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a brutal fete during which naked men sacrificed dogs and goats—and whipped women with the animal hides. Stop, in the name of love.
Food Hall Fever
The nationwide trend (finally) takes off in Philly.
Philadelphia’s arguably home to America’s first food hall, 126-year-old Reading Terminal Market, but the city has been slow to join the modern iteration of this trend. Recent years have seen the launch of three food halls in Philadelphia, bringing you bitty-sized shops from favorite local eateries and new hot spots.
A sad food court no more, this 1895 commodities exchange building has been reborn as an artisan food hall serving the Independence Hall area. Try globally inspired eats from 30 vendors, cocktails from Bluebird Distilling, or find your way out of the 1980s at the on-site escape room. Our can’t-miss foods are Prescription Chicken’s hearty soups, TaKorean’s Korean tacos, and Mighty Melt’s inventive grilled cheese sandwiches. 111 S. Independence Mall East / theboursephilly.com
Feeding students, faculty, and visitors to the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, this hall has communal seating for 175 and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Vendors include falafel favorite Goldie, DK Sushi of Double Knot fame, and a third location for hummus-centric Dizengoff. Don’t miss Dizengoff’s new sweet treat, frozen labneh. It’s an upgrade to traditional frozen yogurt topped with strawberry shortcake or chocolate peanut. 3401 Walnut St. / shopsatpenn.com/franklins-table
Find Asian street eats in this day-to-late-night eatery in Chinatown. From Korean to Cambodian cuisine, you’ll find 12 diverse food vendors plus cocktails and upstairs karaoke rooms. Taste Kurry Korner’s unique Southeast Asian curries and rolled ice cream from Ice NY. 1016-18 Race St. / chinatownsq.com
Humans have used color to express ideas and emotion for thousands of years, according to color specialist and trend forecaster Leatrice Eisman. As executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, Eisman is the world’s leading authority on the topic of color, authoring many books on the subject. In The Complete Color Harmony, Eisman describes how even the most subtle nuances in color can result in shades that excite or calm, pacify or energize, and even suggest strength or vulnerability. “They can nurture you with their warmth, soothe you with their quiet coolness, and heighten your awareness of the world around you. Color enriches our universe and our perception of it,” she writes.
According to her research, we all respond to color at a very visceral level, associating specific hues with another time or place. “Color invariably conveys moods that attach themselves to human feelings or reactions,” she notes. “Part of our psychic development, color is tied to our emotions as well as our intellect. Every color has meaning that we either inherently sense or have learned by association and/or conditioning, which enables us to recognize the messages and meanings delivered.”
It’s with all this in mind that she and a team of experts choose the Pantone Color of the Year, which the institute has named annually for more than two decades, gaining more attention and having more impact with each passing declaration. So this year, expect to see a lot of blue. The 2020 Pantone Color of the Year is known as Classic Blue.
Describing the shade as “evocative of the nighttime sky,” Eisman explains the choice: “We are living in a time that requires trust and faith It is this kind of constancy and confidence that is expressed by Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on.”
She contends that Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious, expand our thinking, open the flow of communication. Her comments are rooted in color theory, which says that a good part of the emotions that colors evoke is tied to natural phenomena. Classic Blue is the color of outer space (look beyond), of the celestial sky (look beyond), of the deep ocean (open the flow).
One of the earliest formal explorations of color theory came from German poet and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His 1820 book Theory of Colours explored the psychological impact of colors on mood and emotion. Yellow, Goethe wrote, is the color nearest the light, yet when applied to dull, coarse surfaces, it is no longer filled with its signature energy. “By a slight and scarcely perceptible change, the beautiful impression of fire and gold is transformed into one not undeserving the epithet foul; and the colour of honour and joy reversed to that of ignominy and aversion.”
Of red: “All that we have said of yellow is applicable here, in a higher degree.” Goethe’s theories continue to intrigue, possibly because of the lyrical prose rather than its scientific facts.
Today, it’s generally accepted that shades of blue are associated with steady dependability, calm, and serenity. Yellow evokes the color of the sun, associated with warmth and joy. Green connects with nature, health, and revival. White stands for simplicity; black for sophistication.
A 1970s study on the body’s physiological responses to colors revealed that warm hues (red, orange, yellow—the colors of the sun) aroused people troubled with depression and increased muscle tone or blood pressure in hypertensive folks. Cool colors (green, blue, violet) elicited the reverse, but the important finding was that all colors produced clinically tangible results.
It’s not woo-woo science; humans have been using color as medicine, a practice known as chromotherapy, since ancient Egypt. In fact, chromotherapy is as tested a practice as any other alternative medicine—Ayurveda, acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, reflexology. While it is widely accepted that color affects one’s health—physically, mentally, emotionally—more studies are needed to determine the full scope of impact as well as its potential to help heal.
This isn’t a new theory, either. In the late 1800s, rays of color/light were shown to affect the blood stream. Later research found color to be “a complete therapeutic system for 123 major illnesses,” according to a critical analysis of chromotherapy published in 2005 by Oxford University Press. Today, bright white, full-spectrum light is being used in the treatment of cancers, seasonal affective disorder, anorexia, bulimia, insomnia, jet lag, alcohol and drug addiction, and more. Blue light is used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis. Red light helps with cancer and constipation. And that’s just the beginning.
On the Bright Side
When your physical landscape is devoid of bright, vibrant hues, your emotional one is affected as well. That’s where color therapy comes in. It has a deep effect on physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of our lives, and it comes in many forms: light sessions that include color wheels. Colored crystal lights. Breathing in colors through meditation. Infrared saunas with chromotherapy add-ons.
There are actually many ways of adjusting the color in your life, and not all of them require a trip to see a specialist. Unlike trying to self-administer acupuncture (don’t do that), techniques can be as simple as putting on colorful attire or getting some bright throw pillows or plants. You can never have too many plants. And you should eat more plants, too, filling your plate with healthful fruits, vegetables, and spices from every part of the spectrum.
If a lack of sunlight has you feeling a lack of joy, paint your home or office—warm, vibrant yellows and oranges showcase excitement and warmth; browns and neutrals decidedly do not. Choose wisely. Painting not an option? Consider temporary wallpaper or hanging large artworks. On a budget? Head to the thrift shop and repurpose an old canvas by painting it white and then adding whatever hues you are vibing with this winter. If it doesn’t turn out well, cover it up with more white paint and start again.
Have fun with it, consider it art therapy.
There are also an array of therapeutic options popping up as add-ons, as wellness studios, spas, and alternative medicine practices incorporate chromotherapy treatments into their offerings. Many infrared saunas are starting to offer chromotherapy benefits, and the combination of the full-light spectrum and the heat effectively tricks the brain into thinking it spent a full day basking in the sun, causing it to release those sweet endorphins that flood your body when the warm rays of spring hit your face when you step outside. It feels good and really, that is everything. Color is everything.
Friday, 11 p.m. The Garage’s roll-up doors are wide-open, and crowds spill onto the patios and sidewalks along Girard Avenue. Across the street, twentysomethings line up for Joe’s cheesesteaks and Weckerly’s ice cream sandwiches. It doesn’t matter that winter temperatures dip below freezing; on weekends, droves of people from New Jersey and all over Philly come by train, car, and Uber to the hopping Riverwards neighborhood of Fishtown.
Named in the 1800s for its booming shad fishing industry, Fishtown became a manufacturing sector filled with shipyards, lumber, and textiles when the fish ran out. Eventually, Fishtown fell into blight, surviving as a working-class neighborhood full of dilapidated warehouses, shuttered storefronts, and frequent drug abuse. In the early 2000s, the narrative began to change. Bisected by the El’s Market-Frankford line, the epicenter of Fishtown’s action is where its rebirth began: the corner of Frankford and Girard Avenue. Here a neighborhood bar named Johnny Brenda’s changed ownership in 2003 and put this crossroads on the map. Others followed, drawn by vacant buildings and cheap rent.
But it was Frankford Hall, Stephen Starr’s indoor-outdoor beer garden, that brought Center City crowds in 2011. Eight years later, Fishtown has become a destination in its own right—instead of an afterthought to the nearby and already successful Northern Liberties. And as its restaurants and bars receive awards and rave reviews, the change keeps coming, with new rowhomes and restaurants rising by the day.
However, Fishtown’s success comes with a cost: rising real estate prices, new businesses replacing old favorites, and the tearing down of many structures to make room for progress. Fishtown residents have begun to wonder if they’ll lose the neighborhood they’ve come to love. But Fishtown is different. In a time when America’s suburbs all start to look the same, its residents have fought to preserve its character even as corporations seek to cash in.
Fishtown is located in Northeast Philly’s Riverwards along the Delaware River, but where exactly it starts and ends is unclear. The parameters set by the nonprofit Fishtown Neighbors Association say Fishtown runs “from the Delaware River to Laurel Street, Laurel Street to Front Street, Front Street to Norris Street, Norris Street to Trenton Avenue, Trenton Avenue to Frankford Avenue, Frankford Avenue to York Street, and York Street to the Delaware River.” Easily accessible by the El’s Market-Frankford Line, it’s less than a 10-minute ride to Center City and walkable to Northern Liberties and Old City.
A Neighborhood’s Evolution
Seventeen years after Johnny Brenda’s kickstarted Fishtown’s rebirth, the bar still anchors the neighborhood with delicious eats, an upstairs concert venue, and Citywide Specials (Philly’s beloved beer-and-a-shot combo).
When we first moved to Fishtown six years ago, Frankford Avenue was a bit of a dark, dead, not-so-safe walking zone between Frankford Hall and the opposite end’s Pizza Brain. But when La Colombe opened its flagship roastery, it pushed the progress of the street on with Heffe Tacos, Kensington Quarters, and Philly Style Bagels opening soon after, and row after rowhome rising along its corridor.
Now-vibrant Frankford Ave. is home to Suraya, an all-day Lebanese café and restaurant that critics (and regular folks) agree is Philly’s best, along with other faves such as Cheu Noodle Bar and izakaya bar Nunu. On the adjacent alley, Pizzeria Beddia (long a two-man operation that sold just 40 pies a day) has returned with a new 120-seat, sit-down space, making some of America’s best pizzas that are now paired with wine, soft-serve, and salads.
And while much has been torn down in the name of new construction, other historic sites and classic businesses remain. When the long-vacant Ajax Metal Company was converted into Philadelphia Distilling’s gin lounge and an East Coast Fillmore concert venue, preservationists cheered. Evil Genius Beer Company found an abandoned auto mechanic shop on Front Street and remodeled it into an ’80s-themed beer bar—repurposing some of the old auto body equipment into a chandelier.
Neighborhood haunts like Murph’s, an Irish bar with a basement chef, still serve up some of the area’s best Italian, and classic dives such as El Bar and Fishtown Tavern continue to thrive. But swanky establishments have found an audience in Fishtown too. Wood-fired pizzas and handmade pasta star at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, an Italian eatery in a long-abandoned whiskey bottling shop, and 20-course, sake-paired meals (that cost as much as an airline flight) are served at Hiroki, a neighboring Japanese omakase restaurant. You can sip cheap happy hour Old Fashioneds at Fette Sau or chic craft cocktails next door at R&D. All coexist, catering to the different Fishtowners who can’t get enough of this evolving neighborhood.
Farther down Frankford, axe throwing, arts and crafts workshops, breweries, fitness studios, and mommy and me fitness boutiques have gentrified the region—with lauded bar Martha elevating this neighborhood’s food and drink offerings. And even though it seems like every vacant shop and empty lot is taken, the area is still developing at breakneck pace. This month, the new Corridor Contemporary art gallery opened on Frankford, and Fabrika, a long-awaited cabaret-style dinner theater, is hot on its heels.
But a community is growing here too. Charity events like the Chili Cookoff gather neighbors together and raise funds for the Fishtown Neighbors Association, and residents pitch in to pick up trash at cleanups fueled by free pizza and beer. Fishtown Beer Runners, the area’s running club, has made the neighborhood nationally recognized as it’s grown the club across the country and even launched the filmed-in-Fishtown movie, Beer Runners.
The Next Brooklyn?
Philadelphia has already been nicknamed Manhattan’s sixth borough as tides of New Yorkers move south. And where do many of them land? Fishtown. Seeking a Williamsburg-type experience, many Brooklynites resettle in this neighborhood where a couple can still afford a home. As accolades pour in, foodie walking tours and unfamiliar faces become more common sights. The media is catching on too. Forbes named it “America’s Best Neighborhood” in 2019, Condé Nast Traveler called it “Philadelphia’s best neighborhood” in 2017, and the Wall Street Journal even noted that its historically affordable housing market is fast rising.
With the honors come corporations looking for a slice of the success, but the neighborhood residents and business owners remain committed to maintaining its hyperlocal focus—while continuing to improve the area. You’ll find nary a Chipotle, Walmart, or big-box retailer on Frankford Ave., with unique, home-run establishments ranging from fancy restaurants to old dive bars filling the block. And even as its popularity soars, there are only two hotels: the Lokal Hotel, with six apartment-style rooms, and Mulherin’s Hotel, which has just four suites, leaving visitors to ride in on the train or book an Airbnb and experience Fishtown like a local.
Culture over Corporations
But corporate giants are closing in, much to the dismay of Fishtownies. I grew up in Salt Lake City in the ’90s, and we once boasted a hip, Fishtown-esque neighborhood called Sugarhouse, which was packed with consignment stores, coffee shops, and unique boutiques. But as the buzz grew, the wrecking balls came, bringing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Barnes & Noble to fill new shopping centers. As a Fishtown resident, I’m grateful the community believes in growth and change, but not at the risk of losing its Riverwards soul.
When Starbucks came knocking with hopes of opening a “local-centric” store in a new building on Frankford Ave., the neighbors fought back. Starbucks had to present its concept to the Fishtown Neighbors Association—thanks to the Central Delaware Zoning Overlap, which mandates that restaurants and nightclubs meet with communities to make sure proposed businesses fit into the context of the area. Despite plans to cover the place in fish murals and host local events, the neighborhood wasn’t having it. The Fishtown Neighbors Association voted overwhelmingly (12 for, 40 against) in opposition to the proposal, a win for those set on protecting the corridor’s character by keeping corporations out. The coffee chain was denied a special exception under the Central Delaware Zoning Overlay and is expected to appeal the decision. But for now, the neighbors hold sway, keeping La Colombe and neighboring Steap and Grind as the block’s prevailing coffee shops.
Sure, there’s no Target in Fishtown and no Starbucks to over-caffeinate us, but we don’t need it. Fishtown isn’t perfect. But it’s ours. A hipster haven filled with makers, moms, and regular folks dreaming and creating only-in-Philly businesses that survive and thrive.
And when you think you need that Frappuccino, swap it with La Colombe’s draft latte from its Frankford flagship. While you’re at it, grab a Philly Style salt bagel topped with homemade cream cheese—just don’t ask them to toast it.
Just beyond the city’s art museums and skyscrapers, find Philadelphia’s most wild place—Wissahickon Valley. Once the hunting and fishing ground of the Lenni Lenape people, it became a site of mills and inns in the 1800s—some which stand preserved today.
This Valentine’s Day, explore the lower valley on a guided morning walking tour with master naturalist Kris Soffa. See the creek, “Lover’s Leap” rocky outcropping, and Forbidden Drive—an old gravel turnpike-turned-pedestrian route. Dress in layers, bring a snack, and plan to walk 2.5 miles roundtrip. Online registration required (fow.org).
Following the hike, continue on Forbidden Drive to see relics of the milling era and Philadelphia’s only remaining covered bridge. Originally built in 1737, it’s the only covered bridge still standing within a major city in the United States.