Feeling the Love for Philadelphia

Article & Photos by Rika Dockery

Philadelphia often conjures up images of Rocky Balboa on the Art Museum steps, Philly cheese steaks, and the cracked Liberty Bell, Many consider Philadelphia a vibrant city filled with art and culture, well-known universities, sports team (I can’t root for the Philly Flyers and stay a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fun), and great restaurants found in distinct neighborhoods.

All these city benefits are available to tourists too. Whether living in or traveling to this city, you’ll find restaurant and entertainment prices less than its Big Apple neighbor. Though I had traveled to Philadelphia several times before, this was my first trip as a tourist seeking a vacation rental. I wanted a city experience where I

could walk to restaurants, bars and shops. Since I was driving, I decided to bring my puppy Maggie along for the adventure, which narrowed my vacation rental search.

Fishtown, considered by many as the “hottest” Philadelphia neighborhood, quickly rose to the top of my search. I settled on a three-story, 2000 square-foot home built in 1875 that was completely renovated recently as part of a widespread gentrification this area has experienced over the past ten years.

When the owners relocated to Chicago due to a job change, they converted their urban family home into one that sleeps up to 12, has ample street parking, and is walkable to the main restaurant/business corridor and the elevated train—“the El” to locals. Just around the corner from the gym where Rocky trained, this “urban safe” neighborhood is bustling with young professionals, families and lots of scaffolding.

As part of my welcome email, my homeowner included a list of area bars, restaurants and shops with descriptions for each. For my first evening meal, my son, who lives in the city, met me to walk to a Fishtown restaurant that was one of the owner’s recommendations. Murph’s is an Irish bar with amazing Italian food and this combination had us wondering. But our meals (I had Manicotti stuffed with lobster, scallops and shrimp in a tomato cream sauce) were delicioso!

Running with the Big Dogs
To provide Maggie with a vacation of her own, I enrolled her in the local doggy daycare so that I could explore the city without leaving her all alone in the house. Just around the corner from my VR home is Park Bench, where up to 30-40 dogs a day enjoy playing together.

One of Park Bench’s features is their daily Instagram story page. I followed along and saw videos and stills that featured Maggie and her new city friends. Owner Nathan was right— Maggie was worn out by the day’s activities, and she could hardly keep her eyes open once we returned to our home away from home.

Full of vacation energy and ready to explore on my first full day, I walked to La Colombe Coffee Roasters for a cup of coffee (even though coffee and supplies were furnished at the house). This is the flagship restaurant for this Philadelphia company with cafes in five cities but it still has a locals’ vibe.

For lunch I tried one of the recommended spots, Soup Kitchen Cafe, open 9-9 daily. I enjoyed a creamy tomato basil soup paired with a deliciously gooey grilled cheese sandwich—made-from-scratch and perfect for cold March day.

After a warm, filling lunch, I strolled down Frankford Ave, the main commercial street, and popped in and outof boutique stores. Like many shops in the area, thrift store Urban Exchange Project has reasonably priced clothes…that are oh so colorful. In fact “colorful” aptly describes Fishtown, from its murals, to its young, hip, residents.

I found a just-right present at Vestige, featuring a mix of vintage and handmade items by local designers, and enjoyed visiting the other neighborhood boutiques.

You Can Drink Like a Fish in Fishtown
Though new homes, restaurants and businesses are popping up all over Fishtown, one of the old staples is the Fishtown Tavern. Escaping the cold and wet snow, I curiously poked my head in, sat at the bar and ordered a six-dollar Hot Toddy. While I warmed up, the friendly

bartender gave me the history of the bar and area. There were many bars and restaurants to explore close to home but Graham also wanted to show me some of his favorites in the city. So, on my second day, Graham met me after work and we took an Uber to South Street to Tattooed Mom, celebrating 21 years as an artsy, eclectic restaurant with ample vegetarian/vegan dishes.

While we waited for their touted tots—they have five kinds each of fries and tater tots—we played with the goodies on the table, like Dum Dum suckers and thekind of toys you’d typically find in a gum ball machine. After we ate, we were invited to explore the upstairs space. Filled from floor to ceiling with colorful graffiti, stickers, posters and artwork, the Tattooed Mom Bar has earned it its reputation as a street art museum.

Graham’s next surprise was Bob and Barbara’s. Locals (and tourists in the know) flock to this circa 1969 dive bar for “The Special”— a three dollar Pabst Blue Ribbon with a shot of Jim Beam. While certainly inexpensive, it is a cash-only bar. If you’re in town on a Thursday night, you can catch their famous drag show. The unofficial PBR Museum didn’t disappoint.

We ended our dive-bar themed tour at Dirty Frank’s– another long standing (1933!), cash-only bar with its own museum, or “Off the Wall Gallery”. With paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and circulating artwork hanging on the walls, Dirty Frank’s an unexpected venue for art receptions, but a go-to for a good ol’ bar with a decent beer selection.

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness
When planning my short four day vacation, I knew I’d avoid some of the most visited attraction as I’d seen many on prior visits. Though I skipped, I still recommend a visit to Independence Hall (where Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed); Reading Terminal Market (variety of food vendors); the LOVE sculpture; and the trail at Boathouse Row (along the Schuylkill—pronounced SKOOkill—River).

Instead I scheduled a “Museum Day” that wound up being cancelled due to a nor’easter snowfall that closed schools and businesses. My favorite hidden gem in Philadelphia is the Magic Gardens because I love its colorful mosaics. I’d also previously been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Wednesday’s hours last until 8:45 and its “pay as you wish.” The Barnes Foundation was highly recommended and I’m sorry I missed it but now I have another reason to return to the area.

Graham’s workplace closed too, so he stayed with me and we met his friends at the bars and restaurants that remained open. We started our morning with brunch at Front Street Café. As we sipped our Bloody Marys and munched on our tasty meals, we watched it snow on the newly expanded outside patio (opened April 2018). This place is great for families or just to get a cup of coffee or grab a drink at their full bar.

We jumped on the El and for $2.50 rode to the 13th Street stop near Midtown Village, or as locals call it, the Gayborhood. Another neighborhood with a turnaround story, you’ll find many top notch bars and restaurants here, also near Philadelphia’s theatre district. We started at Double Knot, a serious coffee bar and café. Their lower floor restaurant opens at 5 p.m. and is known for its Sushi, Robata, and specialty Saki’s. During our brief stop at the café, we enjoyed the Coffee by Elixr that they are known for.

Just across the street was our next stop, Charlie Was A Sinner, famous for their vegan meals and classic preprohibition era hand crafted cocktails, open 4-2 daily.

With a menu that changes quarterly, the chefs and bartenders incorporate fresh ingredients showcasing locally grown produce.

The blue/green walls adorned with artwork and crystal chandeliers give an overall bohemian vibe that attracts a growing number of tourists. It’s easy to understand why this is one of the best date spots in Philly. I was offered a sample of their hand made cocktails. First, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” a Cachaça based cocktail infused with blackberry lemon agave.

One taste and I was transported to a Brazilian beach— heaven indeed. Next I tried “Lucky in Love” a snap pea, basil infused Gin Gimlet (I suggested they rename it “Splendor in the Grass” based on the images these flavors conjured in my mind). The final Sazerac “Bullseye” cocktail was equally as tasty and unique, made with roasted farro infused bourbon, Miletti Amaro and absinthe.

If I wouldn’t have had made dinner reservations, I would have stayed to try any number of tantalizingmenu options. But I literally only had to walk next door  to Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro—another top date night option. Open 4-2 Monday through Friday and Noon-2 Saturday and Sunday, this restaurant has a French café ambiance though surprisingly friendly and welcoming.

With up to 70 wines being offered by the glass, this is a “teaching bar” where you can experiment without committing to an entire bottle. Here you can sample wines from all over the world – which is what I did. My

flight included wine types unfamiliar to me but rich and flavorful. I like being a wine student! Though there were many tempting dishes on the menu like Coq Au Vin and Burger Lyonnais, we chose the Charcuterie & Cheese Plates – which were more than filling and also a sample of tastes and textures.

After another wonderful meal, we headed back to my vacation rental then walked to Philadelphia Brewing Company, founded in 2007 and located in the neighboring Kensington neighborhood. Graham’s friends joined us again and I loved introducing these 20-somethings to a cool craft brewery.

I was treated to a brewery tour (they offer tours on Saturdays) and enjoyed learning about the history of this brewery, built over 125 years ago. And in keeping with a recurring theme of unofficial museums, I learned that the large upstairs hall that once upon a time was the stable for

delivery horses, was now considered the Beer Museum of Philadelphia. Depending on when you visit, you can also enjoy game night, yoga, quizzo night, or live music.

For the Love of Food
For my last night in the city, I wanted to take my son out to celebrate his new job so I let him pick the restaurant. He requested Zahav and luckily I was able to make a reservation for two at five o’clock. It was my first time in an Israeli restaurant, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

But I didn’t imagine our dining experience to be one of the best I can ever remember, lasting three hours. Ordering the Taste of Zahav, or Tayim, we enjoyed Salatim (six daily vegetable salads) and hummus with Laffa bread.

We savored our small plates and grilled lamb. Our friendly waiter explained each dish and brought out wines to pair as we ate. If you also want to experience a multi-course dinner that satisfies all five senses, I recommend making reservations in advance and calling for a possible early/late seating.

My short city experience to Philadelphia confirmed that their reputation for “brotherly love” still holds true. I found most everyone to be friendly and welcoming. And it was fun to both expose my son to some wonderful places where he can take a date, and to spend a couple unexpected days with him courtesy of a snowstorm.

Whatever the season, my Fishtown vacation rental would make a great home base.

If you’re staying in Philly, this is a great family friendly home minutes from Center City. Click here for more information and book your stay.

 

Rika Wolf Dockery was bitten by the travel bug at an early age. Her passion is still travel and she’s visited all fifty United States and forty-two countries on four continents. With a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Indiana University, she recently retired from her career as a college fund raiser to manage her three vacation rental properties in the greater St. Louis area. Connect with Rika at Timberwolf Vacation Rentals or on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest @TimberwolfVacationRentals.

 

 

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