The other night my boyfriend and I went to dinner at my old local bar. It was the place that I would sometimes eat at two, three even FOUR times a week back when I lived in that neighborhood. I hadn’t been there in awhile, and walking in on Saturday night was like running into an old friend you haven’t talked to in years. This person (this place) KNEW you. It knew just how you liked your vegan meatball sandwich (obviously with the fries and not salad); it knew which beer you wanted to drink with your meal; and it remembered so intimately how badly the combo of seitan and beer would make your stomach feel later that night. But it was worth it.
Being in my old neighborhood and my old bar, which is approximately .75 mile south of where I currently live but might as well be in another state, was nostalgic. And while driving around the old hood it hit me- I have lived in my current house and current neighborhood longer than I lived in my old one. This neighborhood was the first place I lived when I moved to Philadelphia. It was my first taste of city living. It’s where I learned how to take the bus, how to never walk alone to the subway at 6:00 am, where to find parking without driving around for 30 minutes, and how to “get over” the fact that within hours of living in the city, my car was dented. That neighborhood took me from suburban girl to city slicker. It taught me that calling myself “city slicker” is something only someone who formerly lived in the suburbs would say. This neighborhood shaped so much of my adulthood.
And yet I’ve lived HERE longer than I lived THERE.
I live in Fishtown. It’s a neighborhood in Philadelphia that is the absolute best. As of the end of this month, I’ve lived here for 4.5 years, and I lived in my first Philly neighborhood, Northern Liberties, for four years. I have seen this neighborhood absolutely transform in my time here. When I moved in it was cool. But no one knew about it. In between the row homes and nestle among the long-time Fishtown residents were neighborhood bars. Many of them took over the bars and homes where the locals used to go. They served good food, cheap tacos, craft beers and great cocktails to the new locals. I call them “grown up hipsters.” Fishtown is where the kids whose art shows I attended in my 20s moved after they got “real” jobs as art teachers and had kids.
And in the last 4 years, new construction has come into the neighborhood. And renovation projects happened in the old homes from the 1800s (My home was built in 1860). The old Fishtowners, the blue-collar working class, Irish, German, union workers and really big sports fans, started selling their homes and moving north. Fishtown has seen gentrification, only.. the white kind. Fishtown is verym very white. It’s working class. There are Trump signs in many windows. I’ve heard the old lady who lives next door use the N word. People have guns. And yet, it’s so Philly. In between the Trump supporters are signs that say, “Hate has no Home Here,” and my block of 40 or so homes is a mix between grown-up hipsters, old couples who have lived here their entire lives and BIG Philly Sports fans whose voices of glee and of anger you can hear, booming down the street every time there is a Eagles or Flyers game. I love it.
F*ck you Forbes
The biggest change that has happened in the time I’ve lived in Fishtown is that this neighborhood is no longer a secret. This is evidenced by the bars and restaurants and shops and breweries and distilleries popping up everywhere. And by this article in Forbes calling Fishtown “America’s Hottest New Neighborhood” which has directly resulted in home prices literally being close to $100,000 higher than they were when I started casually looking for a house a year ago.
But it’s still the best neighborhood in Philadelphia. And therefore, in the universe. And I don’t like to leave it. Ever. I work from home, and because Whole Foods offers free delivery within 2 hours through Amazon now, I actually never have to leave it.
If you want to visit Philadelphia, start with TN Travels: One Day in Philadelphia, which is a guide I wrote in 2015 and still stand by, for the most part.
But here is my TN Travels: Guide to Fishtown, Philadelphia. Because if you visit, you won’t want to leave.
La Colombe headquarters is in the neighborhood and it in a beautiful building with a GREAT Egg Sandwich (with garlic aioli!) on a crusty roll. But if you want the best coffee, start your day at Reanimator.
Reanimator is my favorite coffee, and their hipster, minimalist coffee shop is the kind of place where the baristas will never learn your name, even when you are literally there every day, sometimes two times a day, and they immediately stopped using plastic straws when it became cool to, even though their paper straws fall over in your iced coffee within the first 5 minutes of drinking. It’s the best Coffee.
Yes, this could be you tonight! The haircut, the smile, the Pilsner, the $1 tacos. As usual we encourage formal attire… and cash only. pic.twitter.com/ttHDrOqMm1
— locopez (@locopeztacos) October 24, 2018
Loco Pez has California-styled tacos ranging from $2.50 – $3.75, plus options for vegans and vegetarians. Their Tortilla soup has been my favorite as of late, and you have to follow them on Twitter to find out when their Dollar Taco Night is. It’s usually once a week, and usually not announced until late afternoon. But all Tacos are $1.
Dollar Taco night gets crazy busy, so I prefer going for Happy hour between 5-7 when you can score a boozy margarita for $4 and nachos for $4. Sub “Black Beans Diablo” for the refried beans and add meat (or get a veggie meat + Real meat on the side if you’re sharing!) and call it a meal!
My favorite cocktail bar is WM Mulherin’s Sons. They were named one of the hottest restaurants in American the first year the opened, but supposedly there was some sexual harassment issues and a bunch of the team was thrown out. Sexual harassment was good for the menu, though, because I don’t think their food has been as good since, but they still make a mean brick oven pizza plus cocktails to die for. Tell the bartender what you like and let them make you something special.
This place has gotten so annoyingly busy that there is sometimes a waitlist for a BAR seat. If they tell you there’s a wait, roll your eyes and get real annoyed. All of us locals do too.
My favorite wine bar is Fishtown Social. It’s a family-owned, local feeling place with interesting wines, a small snack menu and a wine shop in the back. Doing Happy Hour they give you truffled popcorn! Plus they have good deals on Wine Flights and occasionally have Buck-a shuck oysters!
It wouldn’t be an east coast city without a great bagel shop. I love Philly Style Bagels, but usually end up craving them on a Tuesday, when they’re not opened. But if you do happen to have a craving Wednesday through Sunday, you have to try them out. I love a simple everything-bagel with cream cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. Warning: The line is long on the weekends.
BONUS: My favorite egg sandwich is at Milkcrate Cafe. I get the “Bagella Fitzgerald” and add a fried egg and Tempeh Bacon. It’s so messy. It’s perfect. It’s named after Ella Fitzgerald.
I told you I don’t even have to leave the neighborhood now that Whole Foods delivers, but I actually rarely need to order from Whole Foods ever since Riverwards Produce opened. This independent, organic-friendly produce market has almost everything I need, plus things that most grown-up hipsters stock their cabinets with. (Like Harissa paste, Arrow Root Powder and Artichokes).
Fun fact about the guy in this photo: This is the owner, Vince, and he always asks me what I’m cooking. I like Vince.
Fancy Night Out
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Suraya will be the next restaurant to make the “Best Of” list in the country (if it hasn’t already). It’s a Lebanese restaurant that is GORGEOUS and has a great cocktail bar and wine list. Their back patio is incredible and makes you feel like you’re in a hip restaurant in a desert city in the Middle East. Their menu has ingredients, spices and flavors I’ve never heard of, and the only place that has better hummus its the best restaurant I’ve ever been to, Zahav, and you have to leave the neighborhood for that, which we’ve established I never do.
Fishtown (and neighboring Old Kensington) has something like six distilleries.
My favorite is New Liberty. I’ve actually never been there but I love their whiskey Kinsey. That’s almost the same.
- Vestige for home things and hippy gifts
- Field for plants and pottery
- Minnow Lane for organic goods for infants and toddlers
- Jinxed for quirky home products, furniture and other used items.
We don’t have many, but the one great one we have is ON The water. They are building multi million dollar condos next door to Penn Treaty Park. So while now it’s a big empty field with a few benches off the Delaware River, they’re already holding events, limited-time beer gardens and doing enough to know that this park is going to be one of the best in the city in no time.
The rest of Fishtown
I haven’t even mentioned my favorite casual eateries: Cedar Point (Great old fashioneds), Memphis Taproom, Kraftwork to name a few. Plus Etka is my favorite Indian in the city. Stock has to die for mushroom pHo when you’re feeling sick. There’s a new cider place called Kurant if cider (and fancy hot dogs) is your thing. We also have beer gardens and TONS of places to avoid on Friday and Saturday nights when the suburban kids descend.
There’s a Fishtown Flea that pops up every few months, they close down the main drag (Frankford ave) often for beer gardens and events, and Fishtown, Philadelphia is the best neighborhood. If I haven’t convinced you yet, you’ll just have to print out this guide* and come visit.
Let me know if you do! There’s a new raw bar opening this winter we can check out!
*Please do not print this article.