A Weekend in Fishtown, Philadelphia

 

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Fishtown is a small neighborhood northeast of center city.  When I first moved into Fishtown in 2008, it was considered an up-and-coming neighborhood.  During my visit this past weekend, I would say Fishtown has arrived. Walking down the main drag, I spotted dozens of new shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants.  I could not believe the hoards of young people walking around enjoying the sunshine in what was once a semi-desolate, working class neighborhood. There were only a handful of bars and pizza shops, one good cafe, and a single thrift store. I loved the neighborhood because it was removed from the hustle and bustle of center city, sheltered from the crime stats of Kensington, and small enough that I ran into friends on a weekly basis.  It felt like my little neighborhood and while I sensed a bit of pushback from the families that lived in Fishtown their whole lives, I still felt welcome and secure.

Fast forward eight years and the whole landscape of Fishtown has shifted.  It’s clear that short-term yearly rentals are more common in the community. You can see new housing popping up everywhere to accommodate students and hoards of younger crowds that are flocking to Fishtown to settle.  With the crowds comes the coffee shops, restaurants, yoga studios, community spaces and art galleries.  No longer are there abandoned lots waiting to be bought, instead there is a taco stand or a vegan ice cream shop filling the once vacant space.  Spending 24-48 hours in Fishtown would have been in enough in 2008, but now you’d need a week to really see and taste all it has to offer.  Instead of overwhelming you with every bit of goodness, I’ll let you in on my favorite gems, and you can explore the rest as you see fit.

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Coffee

Rocket Cat – an old favorite coffee shop with alternative charm.  Rocket Cat has a variety of brews and bits to get you going in the morning.  It also acts as a community bulletin board with event posters lining the windows and a huge table of fliers and postcards with the current month’s happenings. If you’re looking for an authentic Fishtown event to attend during your visit, stop in at Rocket Cat and look for the hand drawn and designed postcards and fliers, they’re bound to be produced by a funky group of artists living in one of the many art co-ops in the neighborhood.

La Colombe – is a gorgeous cafe and eatery space on Frankford Ave. The architecture and interior design is enough to warrant a quick stop.  La Colombe also has lattes and coffee on tap, which seems strange and it is, but they’re amazing! Ask for a little sample if you’re not sold. I recommend the Pure Black mixed with the Draft Latte.

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Grub

Honey’s Sit & Eat – reminds me of a slightly health conscious southern kitchen.  Fresh OJ is a must and if you’re having trouble deciding on a meal, choose their 2 egg breakfast bargain. It’s more than enough especially if you choose the biscuit and grits. The tofu scramble is another favorite.

Memphis Taproom – has always been a favorite.  The menu was pretty similar to what it was when I lived in Fishtown, but that’s because every single item is amazing. I highly recommend the smoked coconut club. I was a veg for five years and this is the ONLY vegetarian pub sandwich I had that had satisfied every sandwich craving.  I used to miss meat filled sandwiches so much until I discovered the coconut club – try it and tell me that crunchy smokey coconut doesn’t taste exactly like bacon, I dare you.

Pizza Brain – is the place for pizza in Fishtown.  All the others are typical, not-too-exciting pizza take out places, but Pizza Brain is a gourmet pizza eating experience.  Most of the varieties are sold only by the pie, but there are a handful of pizza by the slice options.  The slices are huge and one is more than enough, besides you have to save room for Little Babies ice cream, which is right next door.

Johnny Brenda’s – JB’s is a bumping bar, pool room, and music space at night, but during the day they serve up creative pub dishes. My favorite is the roasted beets salad with warm goat cheese, but I’ve never disliked anything I’ve ordered from Johnny Brenda’s so order it all!

Dos Segundos – This is technically Northern Liberties – another neighborhood that was ‘up-and-coming’ when I lived in the city. It’s packed with middle and upperclass professionals and an amazing strip of restaurants and bars. Dos Segundos has reasonably priced Mexican food and the best margaritas in the city. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever ordered, but the tacos are top notch if you’re looking for something yummy on the cheap!

El Camino Real – Also technically in Northern Libs, El Camino Real has prime people watching outdoor seating and an interesting Tex-mex style menu.  There’s a great mix of meat and veggie-centric meals.  The chili and mac and cheese are amazing starters or together they make a whole meal. Sharing the seitan wings will please even the pickiest meat eaters. If you’re a vegetarian surely get the sweet potato and cactus burrito.

Drinks

Frankford Hall – is a nice wide open space perfect for large get-togethers or a quick drink after work with a pal.  It’s a legit beer garden with dozens of full sized outdoor tables as well as games to keep you busy.  The food, booze and vibe rings true to what I’ve experienced in Germany – I highly recommend it.

Cook & Shaker – is a little out of the way depending on where you’re staying in Fishtown, but the beer list and fresh, creative cocktails can’t be beat. Cook & Shaker is a perfect stop for happy hour although the ‘One in a melon’ cocktail will have you staying long after.

Murph’s – is a neighborhood bar. I’m sure the locals are pissed about the shift in patrons, but this will always be a favorite bar of mine – maybe it’s because they were lax on IDing back in the day.

Treats

Little Babies – is the bomb.com. Every single flavor is delicious and true to life. What do I mean by that? I sampled Ranch and wanted to vomit at how accurate it tasted. I had a mouthful of cold salad dressing in my mouth. WTF. Well done Little Babies! I obviously didn’t order that flavor, but you know I’m all about that balsamic banana! Little Babies is great because they offer up vegan ice creams that taste amazing and have the texture of regular ice cream.

Things to Do & See

Take a walk down Frankford ave where you’ll wander by a couple parks and small community gardens.  There’s a great mix of boutique shops, independently owned clothing stores and artist studios and galleries as well. Girard Ave east of Front Street also has a great row of shops and consignment stores that are worth wandering into. Look at the fliers in the neighborhood for live events. There’s plenty of art, music and movement in Fishtown.

Keep in mind: Even though the neighborhood has arrived, it’s still Philadelphia, so keep your city wits about you. If you’re staying in Fishtown, but you want to pop over to northern Libs, it’s perfectly safe to walk during the day, but once night falls, I’d bike briskly or hop in an uber to avoid any complications.

There you have it. Visit Fishtown if you’re looking to glimpse into the every day life of young Philadelphians trying to survive in the city without paying heaps and heaps for rent.  If I moved back to Philadelphia tomorrow, you could bet I’d rent in Fishtown.

All the photos in this post were taken by the lovely Aussie, Jai Morton. Jai and I met in a bar in Thailand, became penpals and then road trip buddies. Here’s Jai’s take on Fishtown.
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