Last month, my cousin Dan graduated from his culinary arts program in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to his graduation or the subsequent shindig. I felt bad about that, seeing as how he worked very hard to get his diploma, and how he and his branch of the family tree always hauled ass across the tri-state area for any of my academic accomplishments. Thanks to Christopher Columbus and the lay-about work ethic of show business, I had a three-day weekend to burn earlier this month, and I decided to spend part of it with my Jersey relatives in America’s revolutionary center, having some belated celebrations.
As a native near-New Yorker, equipped with all the appropriate municipal snobbery that comes with that, I have to say that I never really thought of Philadelphia as having any claims to fame beyond its neat historical sites and self-flagellating sports fans. I wasn’t surprised that there was a culinary school for my cousin to attend there. It’s a major cosmopolitan city, after all. What I was surprised by was the variety of food you can find in Philly, and the obvious love its citizens have for food.
For proof of this, go no further than the Reading Terminal Market. Formerly a busy train station, the Reading Terminal Market is now a permanent indoor marketplace, where you can order cuts of red meat while daintily enjoying your crepes, or have a gyro while browsing the fresh organic veggies. This rollicking food orgy is a complete overload on your senses, what with all the sights, smells, and crowds. This is where I first met the rellies upon arriving in Philly, and in the near hour we spent gliding up and down the narrow aisles on trails of our own gluttonous drool, I don’t think we saw half of what the Reading Terminal Market has to offer. If you like to eat (and if you don’t, we should probably stop associating with each other), this place has to go on your bucket list. I endorse it, and so does my cousin, the chef.
(For the record, I purchased a large turkey sandwich with cranberry, stuffing, and horseradish sauce. Essentially, it was Thanksgiving dinner on whole wheat bread. Oh, and I got a side of creamed spinach. Just because it was there.)
Another thing I take inordinate pride in as a city-dweller is not having a car. I walk everywhere. When I have to, I use mass transit; but I enjoy walking around, especially in places I haven’t been before.
The center city portion of Philadelphia is very pedestrian-friendly. From Reading Terminal Market, we walked north to my cousin’s apartment, then meandered back into the thick of things along Walnut and Market Streets. By the end of the day, we had covered about five miles. Hardly an adventuring record, but still a nice taste of the neighborhood.
While the sidewalks on these main thoroughfares can’t compare to those along the wide avenues of Manhattan, Philly wasn’t crowded that weekend, which made our explorations easier. I also have to applaud those residents of Philadelphia who were present for understanding that in a thriving metropolis, it is never permissible to do the mall crawl. Thank you, my friends on the northeast corridor, for knowing how to use your legs properly.
It was a gorgeous day and a holiday weekend, so there was plenty to see as we wandered. Somewhere between Rittenhouse Square and Independence Hall, we found ourselves walking through a street fair. We couldn’t figure out what the purpose of the festivities were, until one of my cousins remarked that he had seen ads for the upcoming Philadelphia OutFest. Confirming his assumption, my aunt and I spotted a sign inviting everyone to return the next day for the “Homo Ho Down”.
City of Brotherly Love, indeed.
Though my aunt and uncle have long been the family sommeliers, Chef Dan has nosed in, pun intended, with his new-found professional knowledge of libations. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, my palette only has two settings: good and bad. That’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the many glasses of wine and beer that were consumed throughout the day. My relations only drink the best! Most of our drinks were had at the famous Monk’s Cafe, where my cousin has been honing his culinary skills. This should be a definite stop for the serious foodies who visit The Honestly Blog. I was still full from lunch, but I wish I’d had room to sample stuff on the Monk’s menu.
After our pit stop at Monk’s, my aunt and uncle headed home, and left us young bucks to revel in the city for the night. My other cousin, Tom, was playing with his band at a bar with the hilarious name Kung Fu Necktie. We drove to the bar, given that he had an entire drum set carefully packed away in his four-door sedan. Kung Fu Necktie is in a corner of northern Philadelphia that is eerily similar to 161st Street in the Bronx, what with the overhead train tracks and drivers’ complete disregard for traffic laws. I helped Tom unpack the car, which meant I got to add this evening to the scant list of times I’ve been able to say to someone in a position of authority, “I’m with the band.”
Tom and his guys were performing in the upstairs venue at Kung Fu Necktie, which alternately made me feel like I was in a frat house or the canteen at sleep-away camp. There was a pool table and some video games, but also lots of beat-up furniture, bros, and, of course, beer. The fact that the first band sang a special kind of full-throated “no one understands me” metal just amplified the sensation that I had time traveled into someone’s basement.
I went down to the main bar to wait until Tom’s band was on. I got to catch up with one of my college friends who now calls Philly her home, as she was kind enough to journey out to this particular corner of town for a visit. More beer was had, and even before Tom’s band went on, the dancing had begun. Kung Fu Necktie isn’t particularly conducive to dancing, especially not in the smaller upstairs area, but Lauren and I had our fun nonetheless.
Tom’s band sounded great, even through the ear plugs he correctly insisted we wear. They cleared out for the fourth and final act. More beers were had. There was a bit more dancing, and some amusing photographs were taken (none of which were really suitable for publication here). By 1:00, the drums and Yours Truly were both safely loaded into Tom’s car, and by the time the car was in drive, I was fast asleep. What do you want from me? It was a long day, I’ve never had a high tolerance for alcohol, and like most babies, I find the motion and hum of an automobile to be incredibly soothing.
I returned home the following morning, once again surprised at just how much adventure I had been able to cram in to a measly twelve hours. Congratulations again to Dan, and thanks to him and the rest of the fam for showing me a good time in Philadelphia. You see, readers? There is life beyond New York!