By Urban Traveler Lynn Jones – I LOVE Philly! Did I say I love Philly? Let me say it again! “I Love Philly”. Philadelphia is a city that’s not too big and not too small. When I arrived in Philly I had the boldness to utter, “Philly feels a lot like a smaller version of New York,” well every Philadelphian I met whispered, “Do not compare us to NYC, we can hold our own,” and that they did! The hustle and bustle of the city was evident as immediately after hitting the tarmac I could smell pizza and Philly cheese steaks a mile away! The Philly atmosphere is an industrial atmosphere that reeks of former steel mills, football, food, nightlife, culture and American History. Philly is also the town where growing up The Sound of Philly (TSOP) permeated the radio with its smooth sounds from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ featuring Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul’s infidelity ballad “Me and Mrs. Jones”; Lou Rawls in “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine and one of my all time favorite from my 1979 graduation: McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”!
The itinerary hotel accommodations were at the Sonesta Hotel located amidst many of the iconic skyscrapers at the center of Philadelphia’s active business district. The Sonesta also boasts a location near acclaimed restaurants and boutiques, as well as many of the city’s cultural institutions. Since it was May, I thought: If April showers bring May flowers then the May flowers I observed on the first tour in Philly were the oil paintings of Artist Horace Pippin at The Brandywine River Museum: Horace Pippin Exhibit. The Brandywine River Museum: Horace Pippin Exhibit is the first major exhibition of the artist’s works in the country in more than two decades; Horace Pippin: The Way I See It features more than 60 bold, colorful and candid paintings that reflect life in the African-American community and comments on race, religion, war and history. The Brandywine River Museum of Art’s exhibition reveals Pippin as an artist who upheld his own aesthetic sensibility while addressing larger social issues. Horace Pippin (February 22, 1888 – July 6, 1946) was a self-taught African-American painter. The injustice of slavery and American segregation figured prominently in many of his works. Prior to 1917, Pippin variously toiled in a coal yard, in an iron foundry, as a hotel porter and as a used-clothing peddler.
My tour guides, Visit Philly representative Jenea Robinson and journalist Bobbi Booker (staff member of the African American historic newspaper the Philadelphia Tribune, 1884-present) were eager to continue the tour. For lunch we ate at The Oyster House at 1516 Sansom Street. The Osyter House is a restaurant that boasts seafood delectable’s and oysters on the half shell right in front of your eyes on a bevy of cold ice ready to eat! After lunch we headed over to the Art Sanctuary: Barkley L. Hendricks: Oh Snap! Exhibit which is the centerpiece of this year’s Celebration of Black Writing Festival. ‘Barkley L. Hendricks: Oh Snap!’ is an exhibition featuring rarely seen works from contemporary artist and Philadelphia native Barkley Hendricks. On display in the Art Sanctuary gallery, the showcase includes several photographs and portraits that detail the style and energy of an artist bringing Polaroid’s stills to life. Hendricks, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), is known for his pioneering contributions to black portraiture and conceptualism. His best known work takes the form of life-sized painted oil portraits, depicting a proud, dignified presence upon his subjects, most frequently people of color. For more visit artsanctuary.org.
Every evening on the first Friday of each month, its First Fridays in Old City as the streets of Old City fill with art lovers of all kinds who wander among the neighborhood’s 40-plus galleries, most of them open from 5 to 9 p.m. A casual atmosphere encourages art and people watching, eating at Philadelphia’s fantastic restaurants and just plain mingling. There’s diversity both in the crowd and among the galleries, adding flavor to the experience. Most galleries can be found between Front and Third streets, and Market and Vine streets. Topping off the first Friday evening was dinner at The Fat Ham, 3131 Walnut Street, located in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood. The Fat Ham restaurant is tucked away in a brick building storefront displaying bright lights and a maître d’ eagerly waiting to seat you at a quaint table for two. The Fat Ham boasts a pork-centric menu consisting of small bites inspired by southern cuisine, bourbon and whiskey cocktails and the rustic look and feel of a countryside home. Fat Ham’s resident chef is Chef Sbraga’s the winner of Bravo’s seventh season of “Top Chef” and recipient of the “Best Meat Presentation” award and as one of Philadelphia magazine’s “Best Restaurants of 2013.” After enjoying the delicious menu at Fat Ham, the night was young and the entertainment on the itinerary was null, so I contacted Bobbi of the Philadelphia Tribune and bingo, she said, “head on over to Bob & Barbara’s on South St.” Now Philly just became a little more exciting! Bob & Barbara’s is a bar that is open to every Philadelphian keen on listening to jazz, soul and rock-n-roll! I met new friends and was excited that Philly welcomed me with open arms. After a few minutes at the bar, Bobbi whisked me away for a night tour to view the dedicated marker of Billy Holiday and the celebrated City Hall, which is the largest municipal building in the United States.
Alma de Cuba “hot” cocktails
After an exhilarating night, Saturday morning I geared up for the villainous and legendary Eastern State Penitentiary tour. Eastern State Penitentiary introduced Americans to a new form of housing criminals and solitary confinement. Well known criminals Al Capone and Willie Sutton were among the 75,000 inmates who spent time at Eastern State Penitentiary. Day, evening and haunted tours, along with exhibitions and special events round out the daily schedule of Eastern State Penitentiary, located at 2100 Fairmount Avenue (www.easternstate.org). The tour is a depiction of a prison that no longer has inmates but has the history of violent criminals and is surrounded by an active neighborhood. Upon leaving Eastern State Penitentiary, vendors had set up shop around the prisons to form a makeshift flea market selling wares to the tourist. As I mentioned earlier, the smell of pizza permeated the air, and no sooner then I turned the corner to catch the Phlash bus (a quick, inexpensive and easy connection to Philadelphia’s must-see attractions), I politely snuck in a pizza restaurant that was standing room only! I ordered a slice of “white pizza” and quickly devoured every morsel! Did I say I love Philly? I Love Philly! No sooner than I gobbled the last piece I walked out the door and behold was a friend that I had been meaning to contact. Did I say I love Philly? I love Philly! The Phalsh bus was relativity on time and the bus drivers didn’t hesitate to assist with directions and locations. As the clock ticked for dinner, I prepared myself for Alma de Cuba, meaning “The Soul of Cuba”. Alma de Cuba offers modern Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. Entering Alma de Cuba, you step back in time to Havana, Cuba. The atmosphere and ambiance is a total wow factor. The leather seats and chairs are separated with tiny tables with just enough room for your drinks and dining. Upstairs is a full dining area with comfortable seating for family and friends waiting to dine on the Alma de Cuba, magnificent Cuban flavored food. After introducing myself to the staff, the head chef came out and greeted me with a smile. Chef took over and proudly selected my appetizer and entrée and specialty cocktails. The cocktails were hot and I mean literally hot! The waitress suggested the Picante Pina infused with Sauza Silver, fresh pineapple, lime juice and jalapeno! The entrée was a dish of chicken and fresh fished layered with vegetables and rice. Did I say I love Phillly? I love Philly! Leaving Alma de Cuba, I was refreshed as I walked back to the Sonesta window shopping through windows of the well known shops and stores on Walnut Street.
It’s Sunday morning and I’ve been rejuvenated! I begin my check out process which included a light breakfast in The Sonesta Hotel Art Bar. My last minute Sunday morning tour was a stroll through downtown with my tour guide and fellow journalist Philadelphia Tribune reporter Bobbi Booker. Bobbi met me in the lobby of the Sonesta and we were ready to roll! Our first stop was to the City of Brotherly Love’s best-known landmark: LOVE itself — the Robert Indiana sculpture in John F. Kennedy Plaza, northwest of City Hall. Installed in 1976, LOVE was briefly snatched away in 1978, but popular demand brought it back where it belongs. Did I say? I love Philly? I love Philly! Next on the walking tour was the The Liberty Bell at 526 Market Street. The line was too long so we viewed the bell through the glass which keeps tourist at bay. We conveniently walked to the Independence Hall, and revisited City Hall which bares the statue of city founder William Penn atop it, it was the tallest habitable building in the world from 1894 to 1908. Today, it is the state’s 16th-tallest building. The final destination was Philly’s African American Museum of Art featuring: Badass Art Man Danny Simmons Exhibit. The Badass Art Man Danny Simmons Exhibit features selected works from the Danny Simmons Collection (brother of Russell and Run Simmons) featuring art works and poetry, as well as items from his personal collection (think Beauford Delaney, James Van Der Zee, Mickalene Thomas, Sol Sax, Derrick Adams and Kara Walker). This exhibit makes you thing outside of the box and provides insight into African American, comic books, profound African artwork and a history on private art collection. For more visit www.aampmuseum.org.
Philly also culturally delves into mural arts and prides itself on individual artist painting murals throughout the city. One of these murals is the WEB DuBois Mural, located at 6th and South Streets. Other historic Philly landmarks include Mother Bethel AME Church, 416 S. 6th Street, President’s House, 6th and Market Streets, Ben Franklin Museum, 317 Market Street, Christ Church, 2nd and Church Streets, Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street and Elfreth’s Alley, 126 Elfreth’s Alley. Did I say I love Philly? I love Philly! You will too! For more on Philly visit www.visitphilly.com, ask for Jenea Robinson and tell her, Lynn sent you! Because what? “She loves Philly”.