NFT Philadelphia Center City West

Center City West

Essentials
Not quite University City and not quite Rittenhouse, Center City West straddles a strange area of Philadelphia. But it also holds some of our best gems: The Mutter Museum and Franklin Institute are two of the most interesting museums in Philly (beware: the Institute's giant heart smells), and you can always take in an indie rock show at the First Unitarian Church.

Sundries/Entertainment
Catch a stand up comedy show at Helium (and don't miss the rousing combination of crazies and legitimately good comics on open mic night), discover how hair care can be kind of scary at See more.

>Julius Scissor, and make sure you're ready for nausea if you take in a not-made-for-IMAX film at the Franklin Institute's IMAX theater.




         


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Mural, Mural on the Wall

By Augustin Kendall
Illadelphia, Filthadelphia, City of Brotherly Love ... whatever Philly is to you, there's a mural for it somewhere. Amidst the spectacular three-story-high or building-long murals that ooze local culture, there are some off-kilter gems you won't find in the official tours. Augustin Kendall brings you an alternative mural tour that will not only satisfy your artistic appetite, but your thirst and sweet tooth cravings as well.
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The City of Brotherly Bargains

By Lisa Franklin
Philadelphia has the reputation of being a cheap city, but it’s still hard to find a bargain. Sure, we’re obese and wear long crewneck sweatshirts, but chi-chi restaurants and boutiques are rebranding our image and forcing out our ingrained frugality. Where to turn when we’re hankering for an inexpensive lunch or a used CD that’s rightfully cheaper than its shiny new twin sister? Gems, finds, and steals exist throughout our fair city. The destinations below will ensure that, at the end of the day, we can enjoy a soft pretzel and a 6-pack of Yuengling without a gaping hole in our collective pocket...
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Freewheeling Philadelphia

By Andy Greenberg
"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best," wrote Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia has little in the way of contours. Even so-called Society Hill and Chestnut Hill hardly offer a climb. But Hemingway's idea applies nonetheless: With your feet spinning below you, the wind rushing past your (helmeted) head and the fear of death by taxi-door in your heart, Philadelphia's bustling landscape suddenly shifts into new focus. After navigating Center City on a bicycle, experiencing the city from the confines of a car is like listening to music underwater. Philadelphia, as much as any city in the world, is best traveled by its bicycle lanes...
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Rosenbach Museum and Library

By Mitchell Maltenfort
“Very young children eat their books, literally devouring their contents. This is one reason for the scarcity of first editions of Alice in Wonderland and other favourites of the nursery.” ASW Rosenbach.
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Black Lung Special

By Caren Beilin
Philly is the last hip city in this generally po-dunk America where you can smoke inside public places. Before the inevitable smoking ban takes effect, celebrate some of Philly's hottest spots to light up and fill your lungs with a black lung special.
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On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Thai Singha House to Go
As an actual house, it's small: in the space that customers have to stand in, you could barely fit a twin bed. But as a mostly grab-and-go joint, this little offshoot of West Philly's Thai Singha House isn't about being welcomed into someone's dining room to sit and stay. (Technically there's a little counter for customers to eat at, but I only recommend sitting there if you enjoy the feeling of strangers constantly brushing up against your back). On the day I visited, I was tired and cranky and hungry, and while I waited for my food I begrudgingly exchanged tight-lipped smiles with strangers as we maneuvered to get past one another. In the end, though, the comfort food was food was worth it: the Pad Thai, with its hot mess of noodles, crisp-fresh vegetables, and fried tofu, was great. It was like someone made a super food of Exactly What I Needed. So yeah, it's a tiny house, but it's got a great kitchen.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Caffeination
Caffeination. I'm not sure if I've ever been more dispassionately unenthusiastic about a coffee shop. It's not that I hate Caffeination--I just can't get myself to feel more than "meh" about it. I even made a list of pros and cons to try to figure out where I stand on the place. Pros: decent steeped tea selection, decent chai, friendly staff, free Wi-Fi, and a nice amount of seats. Cons: lots of signs telling customers what they can't/shouldn't do (don't stay on the internet too long! This table is for groups of three or more!), La Colombe is only a couple of blocks away and tastier, and the green tea latte tastes like someone ran the idea of green tea through a blender with sugar and chalk. After careful consideration, I still shrug. You could do worse.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Mix Brick Oven Pizza
There are certain words you should never use for a name because they invite inevitable comparisons (Oprah take note: "O" turns so easily to "O No!"). Thus it's all too tempting for me to talk about how Mix, the brick-oven pizza joint and bar, has a "weird mix." And true, the atmosphere is a little strange--at one end of the long restaurant is a typical serve-it-up pizza counter, and all the way on the other end is the bar. In between are typical pizza-shop tables and the feeling of a strange, sucking void. Still, the pizza was really good (the slice I got had a nice garlic bite), and it is so rare to be able to just grab a decent slice of pizza and a beer in Philly. So, next time you want a quick bite-and-beer in Center City, uh, "mix it up," and go to Mix. Right.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

The Armory
There's something so inherently bitchin' about Philly Roller Derby. Even at its cheesiest, the sport has a sort of teflon coating that keeps it from jumping the shark (or nuking the fridge, or putting the motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking plane, or what-you-will). I think it's just how awesome the girls are--tough, assured, and flaunting it. It used to be that I just pined to see the roller girls--since they had their bouts outside of city limits, though, hauling my car-less ass to them was too much trouble. But this year, the bruise-covered ladies finally started playing in Center City at the 23rd Street Armory. Their regular season is almost over--which means the armory bouts are almost over with it--but there's one more double header on May 2nd. Go. Drink beer. Watch the awesomeness.



Posted By:  Allison Lowrey
Photo:  Allison Lowrey

The Bards
Finding the perfect Rittenhouse watering hole to celebrate the workweek's end is a challenge when you're not a stiletto-wearing, martini-sipping kinda gal. Trendy dance clubs and power shot spots are aplenty, but pubs seem harder to come by. Sure, Irish Pub is fine for a casual night out, but it's usually frat-party packed--so you wind up spending the evening frantically racking your brain for ways to get the bartender's attention and apologizing for being in the way as people try to squeeze past you. Alfa is okay if you want to vamp it up and go somewhere trendy--just be sure to go on pay day... or else you might be caught off guard by a stroke-inducing bar tab. For the typical Friday night, when you just want to kick back with friends and have a few beers, Bards is the way to go. The jukebox isn't mind-blowing, but there are plenty of tables, lots of bar stools, and there's always a game of darts going on. The food is delish--the fries and curry sauce are a must--and there are plenty of beers on tap. What better way to wind down and start your weekend?




Posted By:  Abby Baker
Photo:  Abby Baker

Darling's Coffeehouse & Famous Cheesecakes
Have you ever wondered what makes Philly cheesecake different from other cheesecake? Me neither. However, if you're a cheesecake-lover, then listen up. According to Darling's, Philly-style cake is "lighter in color and creamier in texture than NY-style cheesecake." I was skeptical. That is, until I tried a slice of the "Perfect Pumpkin" cheesecake. Creamy--check. Light--check. Perfect--double check. This stuff was so delicious I almost forgot I was eating cheesecake. Of course, if you're not feeling festive, there are many other flavors of this stuff that will put you in a food coma, including the "Banana's Foster," which won "Best of Philly" in 2006. Yeah, take that New York. (Ed: No problem, PA)



Posted By:  Allison Lowrey
Photo:  Allison Lowrey

Tinto
I am not an adventurous eater. Merely typing the word "squid" makes me gag a little. I envision the starting form of my food--like a humble wild bunny gently grazing on dew-kissed grass in the early morning or a slimy octopus surging forward to suction cup something with its gangly arms--and if the picture in my mind is vivid enough, I simply won't be able to bring myself to eat the final product. For some reason, this did not hold true at Tinto. At the much lauded wine bar, I was the Indiana Jones of food consumption. Duck? Who cares that I loved my old pet mallard, Harold, and vowed to never eat his kind? Scrumptious! Turtle? Bring it! Figs? Not a fan of the Newton variety, but what the hell? The plates may be small, but you'll eat a lot and you'll be entertained every step of the way. It's not cheap and it's certainly not an everyday spot, to be sure, but there's no better place to celebrate a special occasion.



Posted By:  Abby Baker
Photo:  Abby Baker

Friday Saturday Sunday
Even better than the weekend itself is a restaurant that's all about those three little days that most people live for. Contrary to its name, this quaint gem is open every day of the week, but only for dinner. No matter which day you decide to go, you will never be disappointed. The family-like atmosphere is beyond welcoming and while the food might not be mom's home-cookin', it sure tastes like it be. The menu crows that its bottles of wine are only ten dollars above cost-price, which isn't bad, but why do I want to pay $26 for a bottle of wine that I know costs $16? In this case, honesty is not the best policy--I don't like knowing how much I'm being ripped off. But, I do like the weekend. Too bad they all aren't this good.



Posted By:  Abby Baker
Photo:  Abby Baker

Brown Betty Petite
No, she's not Betty Crocker--she's better. Brown Betty Petite (yes, this boutique is named after a real woman) is exactly what every chocolate-lover could wish for: an entire bakery filled with every kind of cupcake imaginable. For $3 a pop, you won't be sorry, as these cakes could quite easily be re-named "Better-Than-Sex-Cakes." Instead, creative names such as "Hattie Don't Play" (chocolate butter cream frosting and fudge), and "Jean's Road Trip" (red velvet--need I say more?) will have you salivating while you meander the goodies inside the glass case. When it comes to cupcakes, Betty definitely doesn't play. And yes, this is the baby Brown Betty variant of the main Betty bakery in Northern Liberties. Got all that?



Posted By:  Abby Baker
Photo:  Abby Baker

Schuylkill Banks
If you can pronounce "Schuylkill," then you've lived in Philadelphia long enough to know that this "tow-path" is home to many runners, bikers, walkers, roller-bladers and yes, even the occasional weirdo. Nothing beats a refreshing jog along the riverbank, with stunning views of the city, no traffic (unless you count motorized scooters), and horrid smells. Ah yes, "that smell." As regulars of the Schuylkill will tell you, this ghastly smell will come out of nowhere and halt you dead in your tracks. Sometimes it will last for a brief period; sometimes it will linger for miles. What is this smell? Being that you're next to the Schuylkill, it could be anything from sewage to road kill. However, don't let this stop you from enjoying your afternoon jaunt. But if you do figure out what the smell is, please let me know.



Posted By:  Abby Baker
Photo:  Abby Baker

Good Karma Café
Karma. Usually it's a good thing. However, at The Good Karma Café, mediocrity can define the coffee that is served. Despite that, I can't stop walking the 15 blocks to this little sanctuary. There is always an abundance of outdoor seating, which is highly desired by city-goers who live in the noisier areas. Inside Good Karma, the music isn't scary or weird like some coffee shops--they actually play songs you know the words to (and songs that have words). But perhaps the best thing about this place is the bathroom. Very modern and chic, this restroom will make you feel like you're in a lavish hotel, and honestly, we all know we'll never be able to afford to stay in one of those. So while coffee might just be average, the ambiance definitely keeps Good Karma's customers comin' round. Mediocrity never felt so good.



LOL

Posted By:  Allison Lowrey
Photo:  Allison Lowrey

Philadelphia Comedy Academy
Why did the chicken cross the road? Certainly not to attend the Philadelphia Comedy Academy. Let's face it: If you've got the urge to get onstage and perform stand up comedy, you're anything but a chicken. Most people cringe at the thought of public speaking, but if you've got big cajones, a big ego, or a big funny bone, the Philadelphia Comedy Academy is looking for you! Brad Trackman, who has toured nationally, teaches the classes, which involve three group sessions, a private consultation, and a graduation performance. Helium Comedy Club hosts all three classes and graduation ceremony, where each student puts on a five-minute act for a live audience. Whether you're wet behind the ears and shaking like a nervous Chihuahua when you set foot on stage or a semi-pro, the Philadelphia Comedy Academy will help you refine the art of joke-telling. The performance I attended featured a range of comics from a doe-eyed kid who was still in high school to a smooth operator who has toured clubs in New York City. If you're too scared to get on stage, at least go check out one of the graduation performance--just don't heckle!



Posted By:  Rebecca Troutman
Photo:  Rebecca Troutman

Falafel Truck
The so-called "Falafel Nazi" is a real person. His name is Kostadinos, and he makes the best falafel in Philadelphia. He also berates people ("One sandwich per person!") from his food truck, particularly the snappily dressed business folk. "I give you four or three sandwiches and then she wants five or two sandwiches," he points down the snaking line, explaining the inequity of making more sandwiches for one group while we wait down the street. So here's what you need to know to order, and order well: You've got the choice of a sandwich (in pita) or a platter (on a bed of greens with pita on top). If you want it vegetarian, say so, because his falafel comes with marinated chicken from a real charcoal grill. The rest is up to Kostadinos as he loads on the fixins and special sauces that are this falafel's hallmark. Highly, highly recommended.



Posted By:  Rebecca Troutman
Photo:  Brian Ash

Ants Pants Café
Once upon a last weekend, I had a special guest in town from Brooklyn. This of course made me the unofficial guide to the Soul of Philadelphia and How It Bountifully Kicks Park Slope Ass—and a vital player in my best show turned out to be an ant. Ants Pants Café, Australian in inspiration, is tiny little brunch spot painted all in yellow at 22nd and South with some of the most delicious food at the most reasonable prices in the city (they also have courtyard seating if you’re feeling particularly in love with the day’s weather). As we seated ourselves at the counter, and a throng of cooks prepared our egg sandwiches, a tiny ant made its way across our place settings. Upon reporting this to the waitress, she quipped, “The irony is not lost on me,” before turning away to grab an armful of plates. And it was the best brunch ever.



Posted By:  Michelle Sipics
Photo:  none

Doobies is the absolute epitome of the corner bar in Philadelphia: it's a no-frills pub with no sign outside, dim lighting inside, and a helluva jukebox. Well, ok, there is one problem: you don't actually enter through the corner door. The entrance is on the side of the building. But aside from that, this place gets our vote for the best corner bar in the city, and perhaps the best bar, period. Drinks are cheap, the beer selection is decent, the tunes are fantastic (we admit that we are a sucker for David Bowie, of which the jukebox offers plenty), and the waitstaff is both friendly and weird enough to always make things fun. But probably the best thing about Doobies is the atmosphere. Yeah, it's dark, and it's smoky—though maybe not, post-smoking ban—but it's the kind of place where the TV is on, but no one's watching because they're too busy actually talking to each other. Ok, they're probably drunk and the conversation might not make much sense, but at least there's some real human interaction taking place. C'mon, how many of those reality shows make sense anyway?



Posted By:  Michelle Sipics
Photo:  Michelle Sipics

Erawan Thai Cuisine
There's typical Thai takeout, and then there's Erawan. This is "best of the best" material we're talking about, here. It's not the cheapest, but man, is it worth it. You can dine in, but we suggest delivery or takeout, so that you can enjoy your meal at home and make repeated contented sighs without disturbing other diners. Located just north of Walnut Street on 23rd, Erawan is within a block of several bus and trolley routes, making it the perfect takeout place even for folks without cars. The dishes are gigantic, so you'll get at least two meals out of them unless you're absolutely ravenous. Our favorites are the Erawan Noodles (but beware, they're spicy!), the appetizer sampler (lots of everything), the "Wonderful Crispy" (mostly for the name, but it tastes good too) and for those who prefer the tried and true dish when experimenting with foreign cuisine, the Pad Thai. But it's a pretty fair bet that whatever you try, it'll be good. So call in your order and enjoy it til it's gone. It'll probably take you a couple of meals.



Posted By:  Michelle Sipics
Photo:  Michelle Sipics

It's surprisingly quiet inside the cozy harbor of this little gem, despite the traffic whizzing by outside. The Walnut Bridge Coffee House is easy to miss, with only a small flag marking its location. The drinks are reasonably priced, as are the various baked goods, and everything is pretty tasty—but our top recommendation is to try one of the "house specialty" chocolate drinks, hands down. Made with Belgian chocolate, any one of these drinks will make you feel like you're taking a little sip of heaven. Top off your visit with some homemade goodies or grab a sandwich. And before you head back out of the quiet into the noisiness of center city, take a stroll past the wall of the coffee house that doubles as a gift shop, where greeting cards, wrapping paper, and various coffee- and chocolate-related items are available.



Posted By:  Caren Beilin
Photo:  Caren Beilin

The Franklin Institute
Time to bitch. Back in the day, the Imax at the Franklin Institute was something else. I’m talking fourth grade, 1992—Clinton elected, we could all relax (so our parents told us) and take in a sweeping view of the arctic on a mild October day—the first field trip of Fall. What my classmates never knew about me though, those Octobers, was that I enjoyed the pre-film about Philadelphia the most. The camera lunged through little brick and ivy neighborhoods, zoomed across the night sky, and fell with Fall leaves. It was an orgiastic Imax eye-trick that dorkily swelled my heart. There’s a new Philadelphia film up now, which I saw while checking out Galapagos (which is a thrown together piece of shit) and it is so nauseatingly post-9/11. It comprises of a bunch of people—who I doubt are even from here—defining what “freedom” means to them. And there are flags. It looks made by the federal government, and not us. Take out the Ben Franklin guy and what you’ve got is a cross between a Homeland Security promotional video, and something they might show at the INS. Goodbye youth, goodbye Clinton , and goodbye Imax.



Posted By:  Sara McGovern
Photo:  Sara McGovern

Trader Joe's
A little known fact about me: Despite my penchant for clothing that costs more than annual salary of some, I’m cheap. And I actually do care about things like the environment, pesticides, and what I put into my body. Enter Trader Joe’s. The answer to every problem I just named. Trader Joe’s is the grocery store that puts Whole Foods and all other grocery stores to shame. Shame. Not only are they very eco-friendly (to a tree hugging, almost annoying degree) with recycled bags and recycled plastic, they’re affordable. I’ve been shopping at TJ’s for years, and don’t think I’ve ever spent over twenty dollars at once. And as a bonus, a lot of there stuff is all natural and organic. If that’s not your cup of chai, they also have plenty of non-organic options, just without the preservatives that are most likely killing us all. Go with Trader Joe. I dare you. And that’s a challenge.



Posted By:  Sara McGovern
Photo:  Sara McGovern

Moore College of Art & Design
We all have a pretentious, indulgent side. The part of us that secretly yearns for one of a kind, hand crafted jewelry, handbags, and art. If you ever find yourself in a position to indulge that tucked away materialistic, snobby “no, this did not come from a commercial retailer, thank you very much” side of yourself, I know just the place to do it. The Art Shop at Moore College of Art and Design. This cute little store, conveniently located right off the Ben Franklin Pkwy, features a variety of artsy things (think jewelry, bags, scarves, sculptures, paper products, and actual paintings) created by students and alumni. So, if you’re in the market for the original works of the next Picasso, here’s your place. Of course, if you can’t currently finance Picasso, it makes a nice stop on an afternoon. Plus, there’s always that attitude you have license to adopt when the Martha Stewart wanna be across the hall tells you she baked cookies today. Simply stare at her and say, “Hm. Well, I was browsing the upcoming artists at Moore’s Art Shop. But cookies sound nice.”




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