(image courtesy of Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation)
For visitors staying in Center City Philadelphia during the Convention, SEPTA’s Broad Street Line (aka “the subway” to us locals) is a great way to get down to the Wells Fargo Center, just 11 minutes from the City Hall Station to the end of the line at AT&T Station.
But do that every time and you risk missing out on one of Philadelphia’s best stretches of restaurants, shops and cool little gathering spots: East Passyunk Avenue. So here’s a suggested detour that will give you a chance to shop and dine your way through a neighborhood whose name comes from the Lenape word for “in the valley” and where our Native American predecessors were searching for their own meals hundreds of years ago.
Board the Broad Street Line at City Hall and take it three stops to the Ellsworth-Federal Station. When you emerge look find City Hall to the north and face the other way walk a couple blocks south to Wharton Street and take a left. You’ll go five blocks taking you past Columbus Square Park until the lights of what we locals affectionately call “Cheesesteak Vegas” beckon you toward where 9th St, Wharton St. and E. Passyunk Avenue come together at the intersection of shredded beef, cheese and long lines of tourists. Along with Pat’s and Geno’s you’ll find a relative newcomer called Garage, so named for repurposing an old auto body shop into a bar where you can sharpen up your Skee-Ball skillz (also invented in Philadelphia, btw).
If you’ve given yourself plenty of time you can turn north up 9th Street to stroll the Italian Market – required Rocky reference. Continuing south, take East Passyunk Avenue past the Passyunk Gardens on your right where the volunteers who operate the garden might be convinced to part with some leafy greens to help balance out the cheesesteak you just had. Continue to Dickinson Street (see that Acme supermarket? Used to be Moyamensing Prison, home to the country’s first serial killer!) where the main stretch of bars, restaurants and shops begins at the Pub on Passyunk East (aka The P.O.P.E.) if you’re looking for a beer or B2 if you need a caffeine full up before continuing.
As you continue down East Passyunk the eclectic Urban Jungle peddles its city-backyard-friendly plants and landscaping design across the street from my personal favorite breakfast spot Black ‘n Brew.
A few more steps and you’re at the heart of the neighborhood – The Singing Fountain of East Passyunk Avenue (pictured above), so named for music drifting from the speakers positioned around this iconic neighborhood gathering spot. Sit. Relax. Watch the dogs, strollers and people go by as you listen to some of the neighborhood elders talk about the Phillies. This is South Philly. Standing on the Fountain plaza you can turn 360 degrees and see by no less than six different, award-winning restaurant choices and that’s before you even venture the remaining four blocks along the Avenue past about a dozen more covering just about every type of cuisine you could ask for. (Maybe you should stay another week!)
Dotted in and among these great restaurant choices are a range of shops offering custom-made bags, baby and toddler gifts, The Italian Tailor of South Philly, beautiful handmade goods, gourmet and artisanal local foods, records, comic books, craft beer by the bottle, and, what the heck, scooters.
The great part about how East Passyunk Ave cuts diagonally through Philadelphia’s famous north-south/east-west street grid is how it creates triangles like the ones occupied by Pat’s Steaks and the Singing Fountain. The third triangle is a more low-key, recently renovated resting spot where East Passyunk crosses Mifflin Street – another good people watching opportunity. (And you’re only about a block away from one of the best banh mi sandwiches in the city.)
The last leg of the trip gives you a few more choices including your ice cream dessert (we have “gelato” too if you want to get fancy) before putting you back on Broad Street where you make a left to go south and the Snyder Avenue subway stop is one block away.
Full of good food and drink, laden with gifts and having gotten to meet some of the locals you head back down to the subway to continue your trip to that evening’s Convention activities.
Then again… you could always choose to turn around and walk back up the other side of East Passyunk Avenue…
Dan Pohlig is a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan born in Philadelphia and proud resident of the Passyunk Square neighborhood. All establishments mentioned here have been patronized by Dan and found to be excellent but even he hasn’t tried EVERYTHING on the Avenue. For a more complete list of the many fine restaurants, cafes, pubs, taverns, and eateries in an around East Passyunk Avenue check out Visit Philadelphia’s much more complete—and objective—guide.