I’d always heard terrible things about Philadelphia. Residents and visitors alike would complain about the grime and crime. “It’s dirty.” “It’s dangerous.” “Only go there if you’re working with Urban Outfitters (who’s based there).” I never saw a reason to visit, even though we’ve been selling The Hundreds to Philly pretty much since we started: First, at Jinxed (which, is now an antique shop), then UBIQ and WTHN, Abacus, which eventually morphed into Ps and Qs. By the time our plane touched down, I expected the doors to open on an urban jungle of blue-collar hell. Boy, was I wrong.
Philadelphia not only discounted my expectations, but made a fan out of me. I found myself muttering aloud, every 5 minutes, “Man, Philly is cool!” Sure, my standards had been set low and the clouds opened up on our time in the city, but between the friendly community, the food, the hustle and bustle of a miniature New York, and its rich history, Philadelphia fast became one of my favorite destinations on the planet.
There are certain things that you eat when you’re here, and I’m not talking about Philadelphia cream cheese: water ice, soft pretzels, and of course, cheesesteaks.
Back home (or anywhere else, for that matter), cheesesteaks are garbage. You’ve probably got this impression in your mind of gummy steak, rinsed in oily cheese, smashed between a stale roll.
But, there’s a reason why the 6th largest American city has become synonymous with this sandwich. Plus, everyone’s got their own predilection. We begin at the cheesesteak crossroads: Pat’s vs. Geno’s.
There’s a long-running feud between these two establishments that square off against each other on the same street. Geno’s had fat and fluffy bread, but it was the worst cheesesteak we sank our teeth into the entire week.
Plus, they’re outwardly racist and ignorant, so F*&CK those guys.
I gotta hand it over to Pat’s instead.
A much more palatable roll, and the meat was chopped better. It was a bit sweeter, tiny bit saltier, and properly introduced us to how a cheesesteak is done.
After I Snapchatted Pat’s v. Geno’s, the locals were up in arms. How could I fall victim to a tourist trap? Who did I think I was, Guy Fieri?
Ishkabibbles!, they cried. No, Phillip’s! Dalessandros!!
But, one name rose above the rest: JIM’s, on South Street. So, we manned up, and took a Jim’s steak to the neck. And, the verdict??
….I’d say it’s still a close tie with Pat’s.
Although…when you wrap the sandwich in a Lorenzo’s slice aka the Philly Burrito aka the South Street Challenge, all bets are off.
I know every city and town on Earth right now has a burgeoning food scene, because of some reality show winning chef who invented a bone marrow kale salad topped with bacon-infused, gluten free donuts , but hear me out…
Philadelphia’s food scene is on FIRE. Of course, we can start with La Colombe’s coffee:
then head over to Reading Terminal Market, which is like LA’s Grand Central, but done more authentically, with higher caliber foods, and double the selection. Ben and I had a 9-course meal that started with a hot dog dipped in honey mustard sauce, to Beck’s friend mac-n-cheese, to Beiler’s donuts.
And then there’s the art.
Have you watched The Art of the Steal, the documentary on Albert Barnes’ world famous art collection (that was eventually stolen by the city)? Well, you should. And then, fly to Philly and visit Barnes’ collection of 4,000 objects, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, and 46 Picassos.
I came for the Modiglianis.
Jeanne Hébuterne (1919). This was Modigliani’s wife. You’ve gotta read her Wikipedia...
Later in the day, we stopped by Philadelphia’s renowned Magic Gardens.
Over half a block, local artist Isaiah Zagar, began tiling the space out of cement, bicycle spokes, bottles, ceramic shards and other knick-knacks in the 1960s. He enlisted the help of anyone who was down to volunteer along the way. When I asked him what was his favorite part, he pointed to a crudely-drawn sketch on the wall, and said, “That’s a pussy.”
Isaiah said most people who visit the Magic Gardens are girls between the ages of 18 and 24 (which, I am seeing in a lot of trendy museums right now – for the Instagram photoshoot opportunities).
Also, lots of guys like Ben.
Down the rabbit hole.
A true G.
Oh, right. Why are we in Philadelphia in the first place?
We were invited to speak to the community by a longtime partner of ours, Ps and Qs. The event sold out in hours, and turned out to be one of our best lectures to date.
There’s a lot of talk right now about the death of retail and wholesale. Most new brands starting up are cutting out the middleman and going direct through e-commerce. It makes a lot of sense, but then you are subtracting one monumental piece of the equation: access to local communities. Many of the attendees on this night came up to me afterwards and said they only learned of The Hundreds through shop owner Ky. As one of their own, and someone they looked up to, they trusted Ky to know what’s up. In a way, he assumed an ambassador role, and his shop laid the bridge between us all the way out in California and Philadelphia. Years later, we can still draw an audience like this, and it’s all a testament to real relationships.
Some touristy stuff. Ben and I raced each other up the Rocky steps. Ben won!
Random – to have worn these on this day.
Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’ll say it: Watch Philadelphia.
Visit here. Move here. There’s something magical happening, and it’s not just in Isaiah’s garden.
The alpha and omega.