Tony Bourdain's Philadelphia: 21-26 October 2019

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Note: There will be no cheese steak eaten during the course of this report.


Lodgings: Tony stayed at The Four Seasons, which is where I wanted to stay. Instead we stayed at an Airbnb loft in the aptly named Loft District, just north of Chinatown. Easily walkable to Independence Hall, with an easier price ($110/night, inclusive of tax).


Drinks: Philly is a hard drinking town with no shortage of economical bars and available booze. Be forewarned, if you travel in Tony and my footsteps you will see drunk people ( . . . everywhere).

  • Dirty Frank’s: Sitting at the bar at one of the most famous dive bars in Philly, I observed two young lovers having a drink over there, a woman breathing oxygen while drinking a martini over here, a stop motion video of a shopping cart shown on the wall, Wagon Train on the tube (it actually had tubes), the last Ms. Pac-Man in the world in the corner, and $2 cans of beer. Hey, is that Ansel Adams drinking a shot of whiskey? You get the idea. Note: While Dirty Frank's takes mid-day drinking seriously, it does not take American Express (or Visa).

  • Stateside: Tony had some 20 Year Old Pappy Van Winkle. I’ve heard about this stuff but have never actually seen a bottle, let alone tasted it. Well guess what, during my visit they didn’t have any (it is the unicorn of bourbon). I decided to go with a $5 Old Fashioned. I know what you're thinking, how can you get an adequate Old Fashioned for a fiver? They use Heaven Hill bourbon which is a good fighting brand offering and could have worked out except for the fact they made it with cracked ice. Recommend when you go, you have one if it’s many top shelf bourbons with only one rock (like Tony). Pair it with a Lobster & Shrimp Deviled Egg with Saffron, Bacon, and Pickled Mustard Seed (like me).

  • Bob & Barbara's Lounge: Some twenty five years ago, this place was the originator of one of the better culinary traditions I have ever come across, “The Citywide Special”, a shot of Jim Beam and a PBR, all for just $4. Does it get any better than that?! If you really want to understand what makes Philly, Philly, then you need to have one.

Eats:

  • American Sardine Bar (look for the biggest can of sardines you've ever seen): There is more than just sardines on the menu, but man up and try one. Recommend you get the Sardine Sandwich (canned sardines, boiled egg, black pepper and onion on a thinly sliced hoagie roll) as an appetizer and then . . . fresh sardines and bang bang broccoli. Sardines come four ways, but if I were you, I’d go with plancha and/or grilled. My wife filleted hers, but re-man up and just take a bite and think about all that heart healthy Omerga-3 fatty acid (and roughage). An AAR Must Eat.

-This is a neighborhood bar with an extensive list of beer and a friendly clientele. Chris (a regular) welcomed us with a free round and an interesting conversation about neighborhood gentrification. He mentioned that some locals wanted to change the name of the neighborhood: Point Breeze. I commiserated, as I used to live in a place called Shady Acres.

-There's a hardcore jukebox that I'm sure met with Tony's approval. Go with The Clash (The Magnificent Seven) or The Ramones (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg).

- I used the Broad Street Subway to get here. Tony stated "public transport is pretty decent", but from what I saw the subway was slow and filthy (and I'm from New York). Give it a try anyway, as taking the subway can help you understand any city a little bit better.

- Ubered home, as Lyft was more expensive. Spoke with Moshe, the driver, about Israel. He recommended a visit to Haifa and I dazzled him with my Hebrew (khesh-bone-be-vak-shah and shalom).

  • Zahav: Hebrew for gold (which is what this place mints). Advance reservations needed otherwise you’ll wait for an hour (we spent the time waiting nearby in The Olde Bar) and still be seated at a very busy bar. First of all it’s loud (and I’m old) and filled with posers. Like all trendy restaurants it serves small plates. We had three: The best god damn hummus I’ve ever eaten (don’t know if I can go back to Sabra), Houlimi cheese (with phyllo dough ”fur“, two slices of baked apple, and honey walnut pomegranate sauce, it was all too much, sometimes less is more) and some Lamb Merguez which was good. I wouldn’t go again, but the wife would.

  • Federal Donuts: owned by the same guy who owns Zahav. After eating an Old Fashioned donut that was minutes old, I wasn't sure if I would be able to go to Dunkin' Donuts again, but I had a coupon for a free donut so . . .

Sights:

  • Science History Institute: Tony visited the Mutter Museum which contains a collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. He paid particular attention to the mega-colon (it’s exactly as it sounds) and a human skull ravaged by syphilis. I decided to give it the go-by and instead visit something very different, but yet similar, the Science History Institute. If you're a science geek or in the biz, then this place could be for you, otherwise . . . though there were two interesting exhibits:

- A Cashless World: We think of credit cards as a rather modern invention. I remember friends whose high school job was working in a call center validating credit card numbers prior to sale. But actually the first credit cards were fobs used by department store customers to buy on credit in the early 1900's.

- Alchemy Art: A number of paintings from the 1600 - 1700s of alchemists in action. While I actually didn't find any of the paintings all that interesting, it made me think of a quote from Christopher Hitchens "Religion ends where philosophy begins, just as alchemy ends where chemistry begins, and astrology ends where astronomy begins." Not sure if Hitchens is correct though, as this display highlighted the fact that alchemy helped develop many of the techniques and equipment vital to chemistry, but history has shown that it's erroneous and fanciful aspects are no longer with us. The same cannot be said of religion or astrology.

  • Edgar Allan Poe House: Tony didn't visit, but he should have as they're both kindred spirits: literate, melancholy, with an affinity for the dark side of life and a good drink. If you go, make sure you watch the video and take the ranger guided tour (Ranger Steve did an outstanding job). There is some mint growing in the backyard, take some (ask first) at the conclusion of the tour. Then listen to "Annabel Lee" while having a Mint Julip.

- I also visited so I could tell this story about visiting the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore many years ago: So the wife and I are in Charm City and decide to visit the Edgar Allan Poe House. When we arrived in the vicinity, we noted that we were having trouble locating the exact address and that we were in injun country. After circling the block for the third time, we reluctantly asked for directions, I mentioned to my wife something about the locals thinking we were trying to score some drugs. She asked a couple young gentlemen "Do you know where the Poe House is?". As soon as she said it, I had to stop myself from laughing (and hope they didn't find it funny). They didn't know, so we never went. Years later while watching The Wire, there was a very familiar scene, I turned to my wife and said "I need to start writing this shit down!".

  • Benjamin Franklin's Privy: Tony didn't visit this place either, but I think he would have enjoyed the scatological aspect. Franklin's house was located a few blocks east of Independence Hall and the site prominently marks the locations of at least three privies. My idea is to put these "locations" back in service. What could be more inspiring than dropping a deuce in Ben Franklin's Privy?

Misc:

Dirty Frank's (and a regular)

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