Produced by Karen Smyles
The University City area is comprised of several different neighborhoods that include Spruce Hill, Garden Court, Walnut Hill, Powelton Village and Cedar Park. Each is very unique and has a distinctive characteristic and feel. In the past decade these neighborhoods have changed a bit and arts, culture and entertainment has taken on an even bigger role.
Separated from Center City by the Schuylkill River, this section of West Philadelphia resembles a microcosm of the city itself. Many of its attractions and events, community gardens and parks, restaurants, and offbeat performances, were created to benefit the people who have come to live in the neighborhood. Ask any one about the signature characteristics of the entire area, and they’re sure to mention diversity. There’s even a bit of a bohemian vibe, a trait it’s had since the 60’s.
Undoubtedly, the area is thriving largely due to the two major educational institutions located there: The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. Although, people of all ages are definitely taking advantage of all it has to offer. It’s an area of the city that is making a real effort to bring all kinds of people together by making many of the attractions financially accessible to everyone. There really is something for everyone.
Fishtown: Art and Industry on Frankford Avenue
Produced by Michael O’Reilly
At the corner of Girard Ave and Frankford Ave., if Fishtown were a ship, Johnny Brenda’s would be at the prow, cutting through the city. We talk with co-owner Paul Kimport, an early entrepreneur in Fishtown in 2003, when there was not a lot of art or alternative food on Frankford Avenue. Flash forward a dozen years and Joe Beddia has opened a little pizzeria right next door to Johnny Brenda’s. He quickly developed a reputation in the neighborhood for having some of the freshest pizza around. The culinary world took notice in a big way and in June of 2015 Bon Appetit declared his pizza the best in the entire country – not just Fishtown or Philadelphia but the entire USA . We talk to Beddia and discover that people have really strong feelings about pizza.
We visit with the curator of the now defunct Bambi art gallery, who had exhibited the work of 97 year old Marie Ulmer – a lifelong Fishtown artist, and out of this professional relationship a personal one grew. Candace Karch (sugarbeam on instagram with over 7000 followers) has been featured in the Huffington Post with the pictures she posts of Marie under the project “I can’t stop chasing you”. Drew Leshko has lived in Fishtown for years and makes ultra realistic scaled down re-creations of Fishtown landmarks – some that are no longer there, and some that are just hanging on amid the seemingly daily new construction projects. His work was recently featured in a small show in the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts. The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym was a recent recipient of a Knight Foundation Grant. It is what it sounds like – a place to make sculpture but organized like a gym where you pay a monthly fee for access to equipment you might not otherwise be able to afford or fit into your house.
Just down Frankford Ave from the PSG is House Gallery. And that is also exactly what it sounds like – a rowhouse, occupied by an artist couple, that is both their home as well as a small gallery for the visual and performing arts. At the end of Frankford Avenue, in the shadow of a historic structure that started as a brewery (and is in fact a brewery again as Philadelphia Brewing Company) is Rowhouse Spirits. Much like the one man shop of Pizzeria Beddia at the other end of Frankford, Dean Browne makes some of the finest (and only) “white whiskey” in the country. And like Joe Beddia, got his start brewing beer for PBC. In this segment, we travel up and down Frankford Avenue, the main road around which much happens in Fishtown – both in art and industry – in what is not surprisingly a resurgence in activity for a section of the city that contributed largely to the sense of Philadelphia as the “workshop of the world”. It seems no truer than in Fishtown today, where things and food and art are made, that are by all means useful and innovative in their construction.
East Passyunk Avenue
Produced by Monica Rogozinski
In 2013 East Passyunk Avenue was named top 10 foodie street in America. In the recent years that stretch of the Avenue, a former Lenni Lenape trail that slices diagonally northeast across the city’s grid, has housed eight three-bell restaurants, a number of James Beard Award nominees and finalists, a top-chef, amongst other many accolades. What was once known by it’s cheese steak corner and classic Italian Dining, is now a nationally recognized group of restaurants that expands Philadelphian’s dining experience, bringing new cuisines, sophisticated wine programs, innovative cocktails, and an array of craft beers that, all together, offer endless experiences within a 10-block stretch.
Friday Arts meets with food critic, South Philly native, and Passyunk Avenue’s business owner Adam Erace, at the 83 year old Marra’s Cucina Italiana. He talks about the evolution of the food scene in the area, the old and the new, and introduces each of the brilliant chefs that opened their kitchens and homes to help tell us the story of their successes, which in turn, makes up the success of East Passyunk.
The director of East Passyunk Ave Business Improvement District, Renee Gilinger, now immortalized on the Abruzzo themed mural arts painting on the garden wall of the famous Le Virtu, talks about her efforts to help business owners settle and thrive on the Avenue. The camaraderie between the chefs who themselves are moving to the area with their families, and bringing other chefs to take part of this movement. Renee started The Passeggiata, an event she imported from Italy, and translated to East Passyunk. Every Wednesday at the La Passeggiata, the day starts at the Singing Fountain Farmers Market and moves into the evening creating an atmosphere that attracts people of all ages and from all over the city to a pleasant summer stroll, surrounded by great food, drinks, local artists and unique stores.