What should I see, do, eat and drink while I'm in Philly?
October 20, 2010 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Going to Philly for my 30th birthday at the beginning of November. What should I see, do, eat and drink while I'm there?

Things that are already on my list are the Mutter Museum and Monks Cafe. Here are my questions:

1. What are some good dive/punk bars and/or bars with a good beer selection?
2. What are the best vegetarian/vegan or ethnic (thai, vietnamese, ethiopian, indian) restaurants? Does anyone make a vegan Philly cheesesteak sandwich?
3. Who has the best coffee in town?
4. Are there any good antique malls?
5. Where is the best area to get a hotel?
6. What will the weather be like at the beginning of November?
7. Anything else that I should see or do? I'm open to just about anything. We'll be driving so anything that's a little further out is acceptable.

posted by MaryDellamorte to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (23 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
1. What are some good dive/punk bars and/or bars with a good beer selection?

Eulogy and Monk's Cafe are great.

2. What are the best vegetarian/vegan or ethnic (thai, vietnamese, ethiopian, indian) restaurants? Does anyone make a vegan Philly cheesesteak sandwich?

Horizons is a bit pricy but excellent. If you're doing any walking around Philadelphia (which might be a bit chilly) you might hit up the Magic Carpet food trucks, which offered a vegan "cheesesteak" when I lived there.

3. Who has the best coffee in town?

La Colombe. And you'll get a chance to see Rittenhouse Square a half-block away.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 PM on October 20, 2010

4. Are there any good antique malls?

The area of Pine Street that is a few blocks east of Broad ("Antique Row") has a number of antique stores.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:50 PM on October 20, 2010

6. What will the weather be like at the beginning of November?

Bundle up. It will be chilly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:51 PM on October 20, 2010

I loved visiting Philly, but I'd only stay downtown, downtown, as the outskirts seemed to have some sort of Mad Max blight going on. (I stayed near Washington Square. I was able to go everywhere on public transport with great ease.)

I liked:
Capagiro gelato
Poe's house
Reading Terminal Market
and generally wandering around all the used book stores, music stores and comic book shops.

I wished I had gone to:
Mutter Museum
El Vez
posted by Gucky at 2:56 PM on October 20, 2010

What are the best vegetarian/vegan or ethnic (thai, vietnamese, ethiopian, indian) restaurants? Does anyone make a vegan Philly cheesesteak sandwich?

For my money, best vegan food in town is Horizons, hands down.

There is really good Vietnamese in the area known as Little Saigon starting around 12th and Washington and heading west for the next five or six blocks. It mingles with the Italian Market, and there are also some good Mexican/Central American joints scattered around that area. My favorite Vietnamese joint in town is in the shopping center at 11th and Washington -- not the relatively schmancy sitdown place on the southern edge of the shopping center, but the place at the top of the ramp on the East side of the plaza where, when you walk in, there is a DVD/karaoke store on your left, a deli counter on your right, and a huuuuge dining room beyond.

For the beer, people are going to direct you to Monk's for a good reason.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2010

1. Dirty Franks' or Bob and Barbara's are two quintessential dive bars in Philly. The Standard Tap has a great beer selection and so does the Belgian Cafe, although that one is more of a restaurant.

2. The best vegan Philly cheesesteak I know of is at Govinda's ToGo vegetarian restaurant. I highly recommend the chicken cheese steak but they also have a peppersteak style cheesesteak for a more traditional experience. I would say that Govinda's is a must visit for a vegetarian. Also really good is Kingdom of Vegetarian for chinese food. Horizons Vegetarian is an upscale vegetarian place that is yummy.

3. I like Mugshots Cafe. It is across the street from the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, which is worth a visit. If you are here early enough in November you might even be able to catch their elaborate Halloween haunted house.

4 & 5 I have no idea.

6. A little bit chilly. 10 to 15 degrees celsius.

7. In addition to Eastern State, if you are into beer the Philadelphia Brewing Company has a free tour with samples. It is a bit out of the way though. If you like the Mutter, the Wagner Free Institute is quirky and full of oddities, but check their hours before you go. I work at the Franklin Institute and I think it is worth a visit, but I'm not terribly impartial. You should walk under City Hall and check out the stonework. I assume you know about Old City with Independence Hall and the Constitution Center. Who doesn't want to see the Liberty Bell, right? If you are here on Friday the 5th, Philly does First Friday throughout Old City where the art galleries have open houses and the businesses have sidewalk sales until around 9 pm.
posted by keeo at 3:05 PM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding and thirding Monk's Cafe... enjoy!
posted by braemar at 3:17 PM on October 20, 2010

Monk's is great but isn't exactly a punk/dive bar, though it does have a good beer selection. Tattooed Mom fits the punk requirement pretty well. Bob & Barbara's is a classic dive.

Seconding La Colombe for the coffee.

Go to the Mutter Museum, definitely! Philadelphia's Art Museum has a strong collection, too, and The Constitution Center is worth a visit.

Oh, and this is the perfect time of year to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary.

On preview I see someone mentioned the Philadelphia Brewing Company. Yards (of which the PBC is an offshoot) also offers tours on Saturdays.

Happy birthday -- have fun!
posted by bethist at 3:18 PM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing Bob and Barbara's as a charming little dive. (John Hodgman concurs.) Just about any bar will have a decent selection, as Philly really is a beer town. In my area, I like Grace Tavern (good house-made veggie burger too), Sidecar (my veg SO really likes the mushroom dip), and Resurrection Ale House. For pure, unending variety, Eulogy. For brewed on-site greatness, Dock Street.

Horizons is really brilliant vegan food. They got a 27 in the most recent Zagat for good reason. (I'm going on Saturday and am psyched, despite enjoying the odd burger.) I also just had New Harmony last night, which is great as well. Skip El Vez and Morimoto-- both are good, but overpriced.

Go to the Barnes Museum while it's still in Merion. Seconding Mutter Museum if you like that sort of thing.

Anywhere you can get a hotel will be fine. I personally wouldn't stay between 5th and 13th, Spruce to Market; not the nicest area. Rittenhouse or Old City, maybe even in West Philly/U. City around Penn, would be my choice.
posted by supercres at 3:31 PM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

None of these are divey, but Standard Tap, Royal Tavern, Devil's Den, Grace Tavern, Belgian Cafe, Local 44, and Memphis Taproom are all great affordable bars with good vegan food in different parts of the city.

Govinda's 2 Go on Broad & South makes a good veg chicken cheesesteak. P.O.P.E. and Monk's also have seitan sandwiches that can be made without cheese. But don't limit yourself to cheesesteak -- the vegan hoagie at South Philly Tap Room is awesome, as is the tempeh club at Royal Tavern.

There are several all-vegan places in Chinatown that are good -- Singapore and New Harmony are my favorites. Rangoon is a Burmese place there that's not all-veg but has a lot of options, and I like it better than the other two. Harmony is THE place for a fancy vegan dinner -- the food is great.

Best coffee in town is Ultimo, hands down. Spruce Street Espresso is also great. They both serve Counter Culture. Bodhi opened recently and serves Stumptown, and it's good, but I like the other two better for now. La Colombe is overrated, IMO. Nobody in town serves Intelligentsia to my knowledge, though that should change soon.

Antiquarian's Delight is awesome, and antique row is on Pine between 9th and 11th.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by cl at 3:32 PM on October 20, 2010

Tria usually has an amazing beer selection but is the polar opposite of punk. The Rittenhouse Square area has some neat boutique hotels, and you can sometimes find deals on hotels.com or the like.
posted by thermogenesis at 3:37 PM on October 20, 2010

Can you go punch my ex boyfriend in the nose for me?

But seriously. Vegetarian (and I believe also vegan) cheesesteaks could be found at koch's deli I in west philly. My favourite thing about that town: bob & barbaras, the green line cafe, the philadelphia art museum is stunning. And independence hall!
posted by custard heart at 3:38 PM on October 20, 2010

Oh, also: I would avoid Old City (east of 5th, South St to Arch St) on Friday and Saturday nights. The atmosphere is... not great. A little douchey; crowded and loud and (no offense, Jerseyites) Jerseyish. In the way you might think. (This is right outside of Eulogy.)

On weekends, the much more low-key spots tend to be outside of Center City-- Northern Liberties for the hipsterly inclined, West Philly for the collegey, and, well... Grad Hospital is my neighborhood so I can't think of anything bad to say about it.
posted by supercres at 3:49 PM on October 20, 2010

Grar, sorry. East Passyunk is a very cool little area too. POPE has been mentioned, but the Cantina is good too. SPTR isn't really close to there, but it's in that direction and also quite good.
posted by supercres at 3:56 PM on October 20, 2010

It's been awhile since I lived in Philadelphia so I'll only answer the unanswered question (although I did love La Columbe, even if it was overated, but that was back in the day when long time regulars smoked inside and stayed there all day playing chess and French hipsters worked the counter. Yes, it's great that it's non-smoking but after the switch the vibe totally changed and it became less of a neighborhood place. In addition to great coffee they had kick ass almond croissants).

Anyway regarding #4, part of Pine Street in Center City is (or was) called Antique Row. I thought that it was just a lot of overpriced tat. It's a nice street so it wouldn't hurt you to stroll down and check out a few stores, but I wouldn't hold out hope of finding a well-priced treasure.
posted by kaybdc at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2010

I cant believe that you're going to Philly to celebrate your birthday, and no one has recommended Rays Happy Birthday Bar to you yet. It is divey and ridiculous, and they have karaoke on Friday nights.
posted by Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

D'oh, almost forgot about some of your other questions!

I don't know what your price range for hotels is, but The Latham is very nice, and located by Rittenhouse Square.

If you go to Antique Row, get a cup of coffee from The Last Drop coffee house, it's located at the corner of 13th and Pine.
posted by Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2010

1. Punk/dive and good beer selection can sometimes be mutually exclusive... Philly IS one helluva beer town, though. I'd hit Monk's or Eulogy for the frou-frou stuff and good selection, then Dirty Frank's or McGlinchey's for the dirty awesomeness.

2. Vegan: as mentioned, Chinatown has two awesome vegan Chinese places... Kingdom Vegetarian and New Harmony. Both similar, both excellent. Indian: Tiffin is FANTASTIC. Vietnames: Vientiane Cafe (in University City) is tiny but awesome; the pad kee mao can be had with tofu and is to die for.

5. I'd do Center City... that way, you're within walking/bussing/subway-ing distance from a LOT of stuff.

7. My standard Philly answer: you MUST hit the Reading Terminal Market; it's an indoor farmer's market that's been there forever and is wonderful. The AIA Store is right around the block and is a MECCA for unique, quirky gift items. If you feel like taking a day trip, Atlantic City is deserted and spooky and kind of awesome in the late fall/winter, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:02 PM on October 20, 2010

nth Capogiro gelato, Monk's (but try to avoid peak times bc they get hrs-long-wait-BUSY), reading terminal (Bassett's ice cream, Termini brothers' cannoli, apple dumpling with heavy cream from the Dutch Eating place)

I would like to point out that strict vegetarians might not have many options at some of the vietnamese places (especially the pho places where all the broth is meat based).

For coffee, I suggest Ray's Cafe in Chinatown for their entertaining siphon coffee (it goes WHOOOOOOSH steamy steamy steam drip drip drip drip drip etc) but not for food (the food is ok but I think there are better places in Chinatown).

I've been to the vegan Chinese places but would say that they are ok, but I think they are nowhere near as awesome as many other meat serving restaurants in the city. I would recommend getting delicious vegetarian things from non vegan restaurants (we have a lot of excellent byos- eg meme, melograno, mercato, matyson to name a few).

nonfood- I like the Rodin museum bc it's small and contained and has one of the gates of Hell.
posted by tangaroo at 8:45 PM on October 20, 2010

the outskirts seemed to have some sort of Mad Max blight going on.

Sorry, I have to strongly disagree. If you only stay downtown you are missing most of the charm of Philadelphia (West, South, and Northwest have a plethora of fabulous things)- and there are many, many areas that are not "blighted". Philly is the city of neighborhoods, with lots of nice ones. Even more run-down neighborhoods usually have fascinating things to see (hisotical architecture, murals).
posted by bearette at 9:01 PM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. If you go to Eastern State, consider Belgian Café instead of Monk's: it's a few blocks from ESP and is owned by the same guys, the beer selection is almost as large, and you'll (almost) never have a wait. Much more relaxed, too.

2. Horizons, as mentioned before. Lots of restaurants have good veg selections, though, and Sabrina's has a mean veggie cheesesteak. Try Pizzeria Stella for some terrific vegetarian pies.

3. Ultimo, for sure. Most coffee places in Philly suck: much more sceney than good coffee (includes La Colombe, Old City, Last Drop, Mugshots). Ultimo is great, Spruce St. has good coffee but terrible service, Lovers & Madmen in West Philly is good. Bodhi is just down the block from Stella, mentioned above.

5. Anywhere in Center City, really. There are some really cute B'n'B's in Old City (Thomas Bond House) and Wash West/Gayborhood (Alexander Inn).

6. Cold, but variable and not that bad. Could be sunny and 70's, or raining and 40's. Check the 10-day just before coming. I remember an 85-degree Halloween a few years ago.

7. Eastern State Penitentiary, and the Barnes Foundation, for sure (it's amazing, the top floors are closing in January in advance of the move to Philly, and the arboretum will be gorgeous with fall color when you're here). Call now for tickets, the next few weeks are filling quickly.
posted by The Michael The at 4:33 AM on October 21, 2010

the top floors

Oops, I meant the "rooms on the second floor are closing." The Barnes only has two stories.

posted by The Michael The at 5:51 AM on October 21, 2010

2. What are the best vegetarian/vegan or ethnic (thai, vietnamese, ethiopian, indian) restaurants?

Abyssinia in West Philly for Ethiopian.
posted by lunachic at 8:20 PM on October 21, 2010

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