NFT Philadelphia Northern Liberties

Northern Liberties

Essentials
Northern Liberties might be getting too hip for its own good--and it doesn't help when people call it "NoLibs." The post-hip yuppie types are moving in and rents are going up up up. Don't let that scare you, though--it's still a great 'hood.

Sundries/Entertainment
Give New Jersey Delaware Avenue--when it comes to beer, we'll take Northern Liberties. The Standard Tap is still the OG for local beer on, well, tap. Visit Yards Brewing Company because the beer is worth it. Elsewhere, Bar Ferdinand is a great date-night spot and venerable Silk City never disappoints.




         


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Gayborhood Watch

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Philly's Rock-and-Roll Five-Spot

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NYC? Fuggetaboutit. Chi-Town? Yawn. LA? So like, totally not. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re looking for the tippy-top of the indie-rock & pop pyramid, it’s all about Philly. From airplay on NPR and college radio to beer-soaked venues nationwide and spots on the upcoming SXSW festival, 2005 has seen our myriad scrappy troubadours gathering steam. And, if I’m not a monkey’s nephew, bigger and better things await in ’06.
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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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On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

The 700
I walk past the 700 club every day after work and just recently decided to give it a try. I don't really know what stopped me from entering before. Maybe it was the soccer playing on the widescreen. Maybe it was the horn rimmed glasses that seemed to elegantly sit upon most all noses at the bar. Maybe it was the laughter pouring out the 7 foot high windows that wrap the corner bar like a posh Rittenhouse restaurant. No, you know what it was? It was that damn affable intellect sitting at the window sill, foot kicked up, leaning back, and reading some stupid looking book by a guy named Jack Kerouac. Something hit me one day, however. I have that same book sitting on my shelf at home. My superfluous resentment of the hipster culture has less basis than their affinity for skinny jeans! That same day, I grabbed my wallet and, er--horn rimmed glasses, and headed out for an evening at the 700 club. Instantly welcomed into the fold, I quickly made friends and they introduced me to the upstairs which blew me away--an entire 2nd floor row home converted into a club that actually played house music, a gem when considering Philly’s obsession with Q102. The 700 club is a place to make friends, read a book, relax, watch the game, and dance for the sole purpose of dancing.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

Spring Garden Market
I like authentic. I like unique. But damn, the one grocery store remotely close to NoLibs has gotta be the most authentic AND difficultly unique in the city. In fact, it will be good if you brush up on your Mandarin before grabbing your shopping list scribbled on a used mailing envelope shard. Spring Garden Street Market is a Chinese-oriented grocery store located on the corner of 3rd and Spring Garden. If you live in NoLibs or even parts of Fish Town, this will be the closest place to get all your kitchen essentials. About the size of any ShopRite or Superfresh, it has everything you could need in regard to type of food. Now brand name is another story. Most all the spices, pastas, cereals, and frozen food are Chinese in origin. Some products have little tags off to the side to help those not blessed with a year or two of high school-mandated Mandarin. In fact, everyone there is friendly enough and will speak broken English with you to help figure what you want and which bottle contains which thing. The market has a big section for produce, meat, and seafood as well. Be adventurous next time you shop, go to the Spring Garden Market.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

The Fire
Damien Rice, My Chemical Romance, OK GO, Maroon 5, John Legend. Try to find any connection between these artists and you are likely to have an aneurism. Well, maybe not those living in NoLibs and frequenting The Fire. The first time I walked into this bar/music venue was freshman year of college. The Fire is best described as a dive, but not in that cool scenester style. It's an honest-to-god dump, but one you could easily fall head over heels in love with. I held my bag tight as I walked down Girard from Temple. It was an open mic night. I grabbed a soda pop--come on guys, I was under-aged and very responsible at the time--and headed into the dimly-lit back room where I heard, for the first time, a guy named Nate singing the blues. Next up was another singer who's voice and sound was reminiscent of Radiohead. He was followed by Physical Illusion, a regular who frequently sings about polar bears. Since that night, I have tried my best to always make it to the Monday Night open-mics. Every night of the week has some sort of performance, but it's always different. You might hear classic rock, beat-boxing, rap, spoken word, instrumental, or even folk. It's hit or miss though. Some nights are amazing, others are completely absent of life. The back room was recently revamped when they closed down for a short time this past year, but the bar would still be considered a dive.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

Liberties
"Let's name our bar Liberties." "uh...why?" "...because irony is so much sweeter when it actually makes sense!" I can only imagine this was the dialog exchanged upon the inception of Liberties bar in the heart of Northern Liberties. Still, a rose by another name will prick you just as deep. i.e. the name don't matter. As a matter of fact, your mom was right. What really matters is what's inside, and what's inside Liberties is great. A classic Victorian bar; quiet on the nights you need to relax and full of excitement on the nights you need to have some fun. You won't find that uniquely tasting Belgian beer at Liberties, but you will find all the standard taps you see anywhere else in the city. What compliments this place is its food; good prices and great eats. The quesadilla is especially good as it is baked, not fried, easily tricking any health junkie that it's actually good for you! The bar hosts a few consistently good and always pleasing musicians throughout the week, quizzo, and big performances on the second floor. Oh, I can't forget the one golden aspect--unlike many places in No. Libs, you won't find hipsters or soccer playing here.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

China House
When it comes to fast food Chinese, it's pretty hard to go wrong--throw some fried chicken together with rice and some variant of Asian-inspired sauce. In spite of this, China House finds it hard to get even this simple recipe right. Over-produced, lightly-flavored chicken from the Chinese food lunch truck next to Drexel University tastes better. I have tried on multiple occasions several different cuisines at the China House--my attempts always thwarted in the end. Still, every couple of weeks, I idiotically return with an empty stomach, hoping to find a meal that will leave me pleasantly satiated. However, the chicken always has that weird, "Is this meat or fat," consistency. Mind you, I'm not cynical when it comes to take-out Chinese food. A lot of cheap restaurants in Philly really can make a magnificently tasty sesame chicken, but this place always leaves me disappointed. However, it stands to be the closest typical Chinese restaurant to No. Libs. Without a zipcar, you won't find much else. It is also right next to the closest Laundry Mat to No. Libs. and can supply a quick bite while you are drying your unmentionables. I can think of only two redeeming qualities of the China House--the owner's joyful children running around and the beef on a stick. Looking for much more than that?  Get the beef on the stick and then grab a taxi and head to Chinatown.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

2nd Street Pizza
Every time I have walked into 2nd Street Pizza, they have recognized my face. I swear they have some sort of futuristic body or brain scanning device...or, maybe they're just Google-savvy. Either way, the people working here are incredibly nice and friendly. It's a good addition to No. Libs as a standard pizza shop. Keep in mind, however, it's no Pizza Rustica. They serve all the normal chow you can expect at any pizza place with the same fundamental taste and quick service. The restaurant, however, just doesn't do it for me. The front section is big with plenty of space, but not worth it or comfortable enough to eat in. They do have a wide screen TV to keep you entertained if you decide to kick back at their tables. The one critique I have about pizza itself is the crust; no crispy flavor here. It's the only pizza shop I have ever eaten at where I throw away the crust every time. Also, 2nd Street Pizza, being the pizza shop of No Libs, will cost you a few bucks more. 2nd Street Pizza seems to have everything going for it; located in a perfect place, serving rich food with a wide smile, but geez, time to get a real dining room!



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

Northern Liberties Tattoo Shop
“Give me Liberties Tattoos, or Give me Death!” All shall promulgate the word of our American forefathers from corner to corner of our fare city. Well, I'm not positive these were the exact words of Patrick Henry, but I'll run with it. At the very least, I'll be proclaiming Northern Liberties Tattoo Shop to be a place where I can make my covet for freedom a permanent mark across my chest. The shop is new to No. Libs, but in no way has new artists. The couple of guys who do the ink are well experienced and have spent years in the south street scene designing, inking, and running a pretty standard tattoo shop. It's a great atmosphere. The artists are friendly and very open to helping you design exactly what you want--even on short notice. As a nascent shop, they seem to always remember their work and your face if you walk past the store. It's probably one of the last pieces of the puzzle for No. Libs, filling the tattoo niche on the 2nd Street main strip. Hosting Steve ESPO Powers in February to tattoo his famous "love letter art work," it won't be long before No. Libs Tattoo Shop proves itself in the Philly tattoo scene.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

Palm Tree Market
Forget that last spice? Let's hit up the Palm Tree. It's Northern Liberties' answer to a 7-11 or a WAWA. However, you won't get that deliciously sweaty conglomerate of meat they call the "hotdog" which has been slowly cooking in its own greasy juices all day. Instead, think of Palm Tree as an upscale quick stop--minus the witty jersey lingo spit out by the immortalized clerk, Randal. It's the place to grab a gourmet panini, some fresh produce, or that last exquisite ingredient for your foie gras. Thus far, it's the only convenient place in No Libs to grab what you need for dinner, lunch, or breakfast. Comparable to a small grocery store, the prices are a little higher than a Shop Rite but it won't have you grabbing the 25 to Walmart just to save a buck. The store itself has that city charm with its wooden floors that tend to creak and clonk under your shoes. Their deli makes a great sandwich and everyone is very personable. Still, expect to drop a few more quarters than usual, but in return, you get kindliness, convenience, and a store to call your own.



Posted By:  Nathan Fried
Photo:  Nathan Fried

Arbol Café
That's Arbol Cafe in a nutshell, or a coffee bean, or a yerba mate leaf (depending on what you throw over your gums on a regular basis). I would love to say something cynical about the place and make all the hipsters in No. Libs eager to visit purely out of their innate appeal for that which is unappealing, but I’ll leave my caustic remarks for another virus-like inception of Marathon Grill. Arbol Café, however, is a great place to eat, drink, and study. The outside garden has taken over an entire corner of 2nd Street. When spring hits, it becomes a refuge for free Wi-Fi seekers by day and a music venue by night. The owner makes the food himself while his wife takes your order. Don't expect your meal to be out in Geno's time though. This is a taste of Paraguay, relax a little. It's the only place in Philly that gets south American mate right. You can order a pot, cup, or gourd of it, and if the artistically authentic gourd stuffed with leaves and pierced with a bomba interests you, you can add it to your bill. Screw Cheers, I'm grabbing some mate at Arbol Café where they know my name in English and Spanish.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

PYT
I've never learned how to play poker and craps is a complete mystery to me, but I have a soft spot for the lesser gambling arts. Slot machines? Embarrassingly enough, I really like 'em. Roulette? Never played it, but I like the idea of a vaguely social game left almost completely to chance. And bingo? Oh, bingo. That hallmark game of elementary schools and the elderly that makes you a slave to random numbers. But unlike, say, the Powerball, where you get your numbers and are done, bingo is a good lover, caring and slow, keeping you in suspense. The Piazza started hosting bingo games outside last summer, and recently PYT put the Wednesday-night number-calling in its back room for the colder months Yeah, the girl who ran it when I went made a lot of mediocre sex jokes, and yeah, a PBR and shot of whiskey was $5 (is it still a "Philly special" if it's not so, er, special?), but dammit, this was fun. It's free, and players can win food and drinks from PYT. I can think of worse ways to spend a Wednesday night. Like losing all my money at poker.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Standard Tap
Like with espresso and bad news, I prefer my holiday cheer to come in a small, concentrated dose. One listen-through of Neil Diamond's Christmas album is all I can stand for Christmas music (and really, I just like listening to his velvet-man voice), one holiday party has me set for the whole year, and while I enjoy hanging ornaments, I'm really glad that I only do it once annually. (I'm also really glad that I'm not part of some crazy family where, if you hang the ornaments and they aren't quite right, a taskmaster parent yells "No!" and makes you hang them again.) But this year, the Standard Tap provided my favorite dose of holiday cheer: a glass of spiced-rum eggnog, sipped by the Tap's upstairs fire on a cold day. It was such a nice moment--not overtly holiday-themed, but celebratory and shared with a good friend. If all of the holiday season was like this, "the most wonderful time of the year" would be, actually, well, wonderful.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Cornerstone Market & Produce
Recently I took a class that kept me away from home on Sunday evenings for eight weeks in a row. The first Sunday I was home again, my boyfriend informed me that in my absence he had developed a Sunday routine, and he was going to teach me how to enjoy Sundays in the new style. He told me that this included a beer-filled trip to the Foodery and a good dose of mindless TV, but that the whole evening begins with a sandwich from the Cornerstone Market. I was a little surprised--I had always viewed Cornerstone with a suspicious eye. Oh, it's cute, and it has a nice selection of gourmet groceries, but I feel like gourmet corner stores like that exist primarily to carve a deep gouge in my wallet the moment I'm too lazy to walk the extra 10 minutes to an actual supermarket. But oh, the sandwiches. The sandwiches are so worth it. Like this guy here: he's mozzarella, tomato, pesto and artichokes served on fluffy multigrain bread. The Italian hoagie comes with basil leaves criss-crossing the top. Guys, listen: get a Cornerstone sandwich. They've made Sunday my favorite day of the week.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Vino Restaurant & Lounge
Allow me to present the Olive Garden of Northern Liberties--a restaurant for people who are scared of restaurants. It's the only reason I can think of to explain why people would go to a mediocre restaurant marooned in a sea of delicious ones. Of course, the service I received when I visited didn't help. When I asked the waiter about a particular wine, he replied by describing the differences between reds and whites (if you didn't know, whites are lighter!). The guy might've just been nervous..but come on, the place is named Vino. Meg, say something positive. Okay: even though I would never tout the Olive Garden chain as a paragon of culinary excellence, they know how to make food taste good, if overly buttery. Similarly, my pizza at Vino was good--it was the special, with duck. But I rarely order meat, and I was disappointed that the delicious duck was overpowered by pungent (if delicious) cheese. Look: if you want to eat at the Olive Garden, go ahead. But if you want to go to a wine bar in Northern Liberties, wait for a table across the street at Bar Ferdinand.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Jerusalem
Despite the name of the store--Jerusalem--I always just assumed that this was just another mini mart. I mean, when I passed by on the street and looked in the window, all I saw was Vitamin Water. But internet-people, I am (occasionally) humble, and this is why I can admit something to you: I WAS WRONG. I recently discovered that if I looked above that Vitamin Water window, there was a big sign proclaiming the store to have Middle Eastern food (I can also admit that I am occasionally dense). So I went in to Jerusalem with my dinner already half-prepared, and it took all of my will power to not throw out my existing food and replace it with reasonably priced hummus, feta, and a jar of olives larger than my head. Because, really, is there anyone in the world that wouldn't consider eating their head-weight in olives for dinner? If there is, I don't want to meet that person.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Swallow
It's a sad thing when a restaurant gets a good amount of blog buzz for reinventing itself, decides to sell comfort food at a decent price, and still has a hard time getting people into its seats. But when my friend and I visited Swallow on a recent (and albeit rainy) evening, we were the only folks in there. The new concept of the place is this: macaroni and cheese in all its glorious, filling forms. You can make your own mixture with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, and herbs, or pick one of the combinations that the chef recommends. Sure, you have to make sure that everyone you're going out to eat with wants mac 'n' cheese as their main meal, but after you jump that hurdle, the food is warm and filling and satisfying. Is it worth visiting? Yes. Will people actually go there? We'll see.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

The Piazza at Schmidt's
Before we start delving into individual shops and restaurants, let's just talk about the new Piazza at Schmidt's as its own entity. I walk by the ol' Piazza almost every day, and even though there's been construction happening for months, it feels like the whole thing suddenly sprung out of nowhere, like a child that pops out of the womb already 18 and ready to date. And just as I feel creepy admitting that a just-born 18-year-old could be attractive, I feel a little weird admitting that the Piazza looks neat. There's the big open area, the giant TV, and the new bar from the Good Dog folks. But, on the other hand, there's also the guys protesting Vino, the bar named PYT that promises (SURPIZE) 80's music and (most likely) a terribly annoying clientele, and all of these stores that I can only assume were offered cheap rent, because really, who is opening a store in this economy that has a 5:1 glass-vase-to-clothing ratio? To sum up the Piazza: one day I saw a man walk out of it wearing a lab coat and holding a teddy bear. Like the Piazza itself, this made me excited, disturbed, and hopeful.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

El Camino Real
El Camino Real, you confuse me. At lunch, you've been harsh. You've given me disinterested waitstaff and a seitan sandwich that wasn't worth whatever salt went into it some little bits of wheat-meat and cabbage shoved between massive pieces of Texas toast. I literally thought you were one of the worst new restaurants I had been to in a while. But like a spurned lover who tries to win back her beau, you seduced me at night. You liquored me up with pitchers of whiskey-spiked lemonade and hilarious pink cans of champagne, then presented me with supple tortillas and smoky salsa. Oh, it was good. But I'll tell you right now, El Camino Real--I am not getting exclusive with you. I am going to keep seeing other Mexican restaurants, because, baby, like and trust are two different things.



Posted By:  Jane Pirone
Photo:  Jane Pirone

Tequila Sunrise Records
Store owner, Anthony, is patient, great and Encyclopedia Brown when it comes to music--letting us spin quite a few records before we could make up our minds. We didn't let him down though, and made some good purchases--I picked up Ben Frost's Theory of Machines. My favorite thing about the place: the pink slips attached to each album (nope, nothing got fired), just snippets of reviews and descriptions to help you make your choice and discover something new.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

River Ward Restaurant Week
Even though we had a beautiful hot streak in April, the rain of the last few days has me trapped in winter mode. For me, winter mode consists of three basic elements: wondering if I should put on long underwear in the morning (thankfully, no), eating a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast (hell yes), and not wanting to venture far from my house to eat and drink. Which is why, as a dweller of the Fishtownish area, I am very pleased to note that it's River Ward Restaurant Week! That means that twelve restaurants in Fishtown, Kensington, and Port Richmond are offering up awesome fixed-price menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from the perfectly Polish New Wave Cafe to the seafood savvy of Bistro Juliana to Ida Mae's brunching best. The event only goes through May 6, so if you're still in winter mode and you're not living in the River Ward area, break out of your slump and go. And, PS, if you went to Shadfest late in the day last weekend like I did and discovered that there were NO SHAD LEFT, Johnny Brenda's restaurant week special is shad-oriented. YES.



Posted By:  Meg Favreau
Photo:  Meg Favreau

Otolith
When purchasing fish to cook, there's a lot to consider. Does your fish have good amounts of OMEGA-3 fatty acids? Could your fish possibly be poisoned with mercury? And, oh yeah, is your fish contributing to THE DEATH OF ALL THE OCEANS? Some scientists have reported that our oceans could be fished dry in forty years if commercial fishing keeps up at current rates. Enter: Otolith. This spot, nestled in the old Lou's Crab Shack building on Girard, hocks sustainable frozen seafood, including prawns, cod, scallops, salmon, and more. I can't tell you that Otolith is cheap: making sure your seafood is sustainable can add $10 or more per pound to the price. But I can tell you that Otolith is doing something good, and I recommend shopping there.




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