Written By: John Mendelsohn
Philadelphia is one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in America. It’s also a great city in which to celebrate a half-marathon finish.
When W. C. Fields quipped, “I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday,” audiences tittered dutifully because it was common knowledge that the namesake of America’s best-selling cream cheese was Dullsville. The fact, though, is that, once having finished the ING Philadelphia Distance Run, you’ll find lots of reasons to be glad you’re there.
Enjoy a soft pretzel from the Philly Pretzel Factory. Wash it down with a Victory Brewing Company Hop Devil (voted Champion American Beer at a recent Great British Beer Festival) or their Prima Pilsner, about which both Men’s Journal and the New York Times have rhapsodized. Or head over to the Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant, situated right on the mouth of the Manayunk Canal. Revel in glorious views of the Schuylkill River while swilling one (or several!) of the half-dozen varieties always on tap, all brewed in-hyouse.
Wary of brewpubs with Indian names? Head for the periphery of the Penn campus, and there try the White Dog Café, whose house beer, the hilariously named Leg Lifter Lager, goes well with roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears, for instance. Or there’s Monk’s, with its remarkable Beer Bible and delicious mussels.
The city’s most famous culinarily, of course, for its cheesesteak. There are those who will tell you that Jim’s Steaks on South Street has the best in town, and others who, believing that Jim desecrates his sandwiches by putting Cheez Whiz rather than real cheese on them, will give the former knuckle sandwiches. Most locals agree that Geno’s, near Little Italy, is darned tasty.
But you’re going to want to do more than just feed your face. You’re going to want, for instance, to view a remarkable collection of gynecological devices that practitioners of enhanced interrogation techniques might have used on female suspected terrorists. The Mutter Museum houses some of the American Northeast’s most troubling medical oddities. There are exhibits of giant and midget skeletons, drawers full of unlikely things folks have swallowed, cyclops fetuses in formaldehyde, and a jaw-droppingly enlarged human colon. You might want to visit before, rather than after, your roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears or cheesesteak.
The less perverse are sure to prefer the Reading Terminal Market, widely considered one of the best farmers market from sea to shining sea. Here no fewer than 86 merchants offer fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, and clothing, not to mention hard-to-find ethnic foods. You’ll have to stay until the following Wednesday, though, if you want to buy fresh cheese from an actual Pennsylvania Dutch cheesemaker, as who does not?
The most enduring achievement of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, the Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most expensive building in America, the home away from home of Al Capone, and the hoosegow to whose standard of excellence jails the world over aspired. If you can stay several weeks, you may enjoy the pre-Halloween haunted house. If not, you may, if incarceration turns you on, enjoy the place’s notable museum.
Higher-browed than all that? The Rodin Museum, on the Parkway is second only to the Rodin Museum in Paris for the number of sculptures by the famed French artist, and the home of The Thinker, the second most celebrated sculpture in all the world, not to mention busts of Mahler, Balzac, Shaw, Victor Hugo, and Mike Schmidt.
On South Street, approximately Philly’s equivalent of San Francisco’s Haight Street or New York’s Greenwich Village, the people-watching can be as pleasurable as the window-shopping; behold the most prolifically pierced and tattooed persons in all of Pennsylvania, or buy with-it duds at a variety of boutiques whose salespersons will sneer at you when you enter for being less hip than they. If you get a bit peckish or dry in the process, find consolation in the knowledge that there are 75 restaurants and 35 bars/clubs nearby.
Only joking about Mike Schmidt, by the way.
Sure that your hometown’s NFL team will go down in flames if you don’t watch their game? It only seems as though every TV in town is required by municipal ordinance to be tuned to the Philadelphia Eagles game; watch your own heroes at the gigantic Dave & Buster’s entertainment center, which offers no fewer than three bars, game rooms, a full service restaurant, and pool tables for halftime, when you have no intention of enduring Terry Bradshaw’s lovable numbskull shtick yet again.
Find “Gonna Fly Now” on your iPod and dash up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a la Sylvester Stallone in 23 of the 31 Rocky movies. Once having reached the top, savor the view of Eakins Oval, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Philadelphia City Hall, and then, back at the bottom of the stairs, pose by the bronze statue of the bighearted lunkhead.
Or be really tedious and do all the usual stuff. See Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. See the Liberty Bell. Request free samples at the US Mint; they love that one! See the home of Betsey Ross, whom we revere for having sewed the prototypical American flag even though we’re basing our reverence on her grandson’s having said it was she who did it, and he wasn’t exactly an uninterested party, what with royalties and what-have-you. Alternatively, try to peek in the living rooms of Elfreth’s Alley. The locals will pretend to be annoyed, but if they didn’t secretly enjoy attention, why would they have chosen America’s oldest residential street?