by Tara Nurin - 221 Reviews - 105 List
How does Center City spell neighborhood transformation? These days, it's M-I-D-T-O-W-N V-I-L-L-A-G-E, heretofore known to generations of Philadelphians--before some shrewd marketing so-and-so came along--as The Gayborhood. Until about five years ago, when Stephen Starr and the Marcie Turney/Valerie Safran power duo opened up shop (and shop, and shop, and shop) on the blocks surrounding the now-bursting intersection of 13th and Sansom, this stretch was inhabited primarily by gay men and the establishments that cater to them, plus a seedy element that lingered in the doorways of countless abandoned storefronts. Today, there's nary a boarded-up building to be found in between the ever-expanding universe of celebrity-chef-owned restaurants, cutesy gift shops (including Open House, left), and myriad wine bars that appeal to wallets of all sexual persuasions. (Photo by Tara Nurin)
Updated: January 22, 2010
This 2009 endeavor opened by the entrepreneurial couple of the neighborhood serves as a one-stop shop for the Valentine's Day lover who wants to put a spin on an old tradition. The boutique features artisanal chocolates home spun by Turney, plus cut fresh flowers, colorful garden supplies and handbags and hats that might appeal to a lady-who-gardens. But no typical flowers and chocolate beseech for romance is this: everything is made by individual craftspeople instead of corporations, and the chocolates are fashioned predominantly from local ingredients and contain non-traditional fillings like avocado.
There's nothing at this gift shop that you couldn't buy for the person who has everything, as nothing here is mass-produced for sale at a chain store. From a line of Philly-pride bags, mugs and onesies designed and sewn by artists who live right in the neighborhood, to jewelry, candles, dishware, stationery and household ephemera, merchandise is bright, cheerful, fun, often hyper-local and always cooler than standard mall ware.
Shrunken to a carry-out-only location when its owners transformed its sit-down cafe into the Indian restaurant known as Bindi, this boutique grocery sells soups, sandwiches and coffees to take on the run. No generic quickie-mart is this, however, as its food products hover in the same layer of atmospheric quality as its sister gourmet store- and restaurant-counterparts.
The restaurant that introduced the concept of BYOT (bring-your-own tequila) to Philly is still mixing up surprising flavors of fresh-squeezed margarita mixes for throngs of nouveau-Mexican-seeking foodies. One of the first mainstream restaurants to open in The Gayborhood, this intimate and noisy exposed-brick bistro remains a darling to diners all over the region.
Big and splashy is how Stephen Starr made his name and this American take on a Mexican restaurant helped seal that reputation. Lighting up the neighborhood with neon, the restaurant opened by former Starr employee Jose Garces still draws wow-factor-seeking diners and drinkers for lunch, happy hour and weekend nights.
The glowing two-dimensional forest that partially defines the interior of TV-chef Michael Schulson's first Philly restaurant offers patrons a refuge from the bustle outside his doors. This Asian small-plater works its edgy yet comfortable atmosphere, where servers wearing jeans carry up-to-the-minute cocktails and variations on Asian noodles, seafood and satay to tables of expectant scenesters.
While some would argue its location in the Wash West quarter, Amis? gold pedigree nearly guarantees diners will fight to claim it. The Marc Vetri trattoria, although more casual and cheaper than his two other famous dining rooms, draws a parallel loyalty from Vetri acolytes. This industrial-chic small-plates bistro has an open kitchen, a bar that takes up almost a quarter of the restaurant and an ebullient chatter that floats within the crowd.
Opened by an alum of Vetri and Brasserie Perrier, this corner wine and pizza bar feels like a place where all of the employees might know your name. Dishes are written on a blackboard and professional bartenders try to expose you to new wines that are similar to your old familiars. Plus, close-knit tables and a communal table in back help turn strangers into new friends.
Cozy yet sophisticated, this darkly lit nook was among the first in the modern wine bar era in Philadelphia. Designed to show off wine and food pairings to perfection, the bar that boasts 60 wines by the glass and 20 by the bottle pours thematic wine flights that span nations and varietals.
Pushing the limits of Midtown Village's geographic borders is the temple to all things fermented. Wine, beer and cheese are chosen with expertise from all over the world and presented in an informative, delicate manner. Jazz music, learned servers and fine stemware add to the sophisticated yet unpretentious ambiance.
Inarguably one of the city's arbiters of fashion cool, this boutique pays homage to all things Sailor Jerry, the man who brought the art of Japanese tattooing to Western culture back before even, well, sailors tattooed themselves. His artwork graces T-shirts, playing cards, and ashtrays, while more plainly adorned dresses and jackets likewise appeal to Philly's current generation of tattoo crowd.
The finest stationery, journals, pens and cards can be purchased at this second location of the popular Antique Row papery. Bright and welcoming, this retailer can get you set up in a career in ghost-letter writing or just onto a new phase of birthday card-sending panache.
Only the most natural, health-minded and eco-aware bath and body products are sold here, and then, only in carefully produced and designed packaging. Soaps, lotions, hair care items and candles are developed by a local pair in small batches with minimal preservatives. The owners also run participatory workshops on making natural soaps and creams using their proprietary ingredients, which can also make for a unique bachelorette party.