The People's Guide is Curbed Philly's tour of neighborhoods, led by our most loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Have a piece to say? We'll be happy to hand over the megaphone. This time around, we welcome long-time resident Chris Grant, editor in chief for Polygon, to tell us everything he knows about Fishtown, winner of the Curbed Cup 2016.
How long have you lived in Fishtown?
We bought our first place 10 years ago in February which, typing it out, feels impossible. We bought the building on Frankford Avenue that now houses the amazing Philadelphia Record Exchange and spent about three years rehabbing it and another five living in it. We bought another spot on a quieter street a few years back and love it.
Tell us something we don't know about Fishtown:
Did you know that Frankford Avenue used to be known as the King’s Highway, one of the oldest and most important roads in American history? There’s a new documentary about it which you can learn about here.
Local customs of note:
As much as I’d like to share the traditional “drinking Arctic Splash and leaving the container on the sidewalk” custom, I think it’s been outmoded by a new one: Waiting in lines.
Waiting in line outside of Philly Style Bagels; waiting in line outside Frankford Hall on a Friday night (what are you even doing?); waiting in line for barbecue at Fette Sau; waiting in line for coffee at La Colombe; waiting in line for happy hour at Loco Pez; waiting in (a virtual) line for a table at Wm. Mulherin's Sons.
Waiting in line, it’s what’s to do in Fishtown!
Do you need a car to get around?
Longer answer: Fishtown is conveniently located right alongside the El (a.k.a. the Market-Frankford subway line) with two stops at Girard and Berks. We have trolley and bus routes, it’s bikeable ... but that hasn’t stopped parking from being one of the neighborhood’s chief issues with the newfound popularity. Since the city no longer requires parking (!) the question has become less of an impediment to development, even if it’s no less common.
Good for kids?
As a new(ish) father, I feel I’m qualified to answer: Yes!
I’m not sure if it’s confirmation bias, but it feels like there’s been something of a baby boom in Fishtown. There are tons of great resources for parents in Fishtown, but a notable one is the By My Side neighborhood parenting group, which meets in the back of the Atonement Church on Montgomery. The playgroup meeting asks for a $5 donation and, in exchange, you’ll get free coffee and a great, nurturing atmosphere for your kiddo(s).
New to the neighborhood (insert argument over Fishtown boundaries here) is PlayArts, under the El on Front Street. This massive space, inside an old bathhouse, is not only a great spot to bring your kid(s), but it’s got a nice self-serve coffee area so you can sit and look out over the room while your progeny does whatever down below.
What's the neighborhood housing stock like?
Unlike Northern Liberties to the south, Fishtown is … well, full of housing. Since IANAR, I decided to ask a realtor. So here’s my good pal, and Fishtown local realtor, Dave Sunderland:
“Fishtown housing runs the gamut. You have 2,500-square-foot new construction homes with two-car parking, 3-plus baths (why does anyone need that many bathrooms?), three bedrooms, and roof decks that now go upwards of $650K. Meanwhile, down the street you’ll find a 900-square-foot 2-bed, 1-bath for $200-$250K. And then of course there is everything in between.”
As much as I enjoy a Philly Style bagel in Palmer Park on the weekends, I’m going to have to give this one to Penn Treaty Park. Bringing a grill and a cooler, throwing down a blanket and letting the dog chase sticks or letting the kids fly kites or letting the adults have a grass nap, all in front of a gorgeous view of the river and the Ben Franklin Bridge … it’s tough to beat.
In the 10 years I’ve been here, I’ve taken A LOT of trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. Hundreds. And so it’s with that knowledge that I share this secret that I only learned when they renovated the front: There’s a hardware store in Fishtown.
It’s on York Street right near Aramingo, and it’s called Kredell’s. The space is huge, the staff is very helpful, and for a lot of quick trips, Kredell’s will have what you need. Sure, it won’t have everything, but it’s a lot closer than Home Depot and you can always call!
Inflate the bubble or burst it: What's not-so-swell about your "perfect" neighborhood?
There are a lot of things that I personally get upset about, but something I think everyone can agree on is the intersection of Front and Girard which remains a grim blighted area. Unfortunately, it’s the front door to Fishtown for anyone visiting on the El.
This question often prompts mean answers about people in pajama pants, or maybe it’s tight jeans now. But perhaps it’s time we consider who on Earth is buying these massive $600K houses and parking expensive European crossover vehicles in the garages.
Most common sight?
Okay, now I get to say it: Arctic Splash containers. Everywhere. Please put them in the trash.
Hidden gems in Fishtown:
There are lots of not-so-hidden gems in Fishtown nowadays, so here are some that you may not be familiar with if you’re not from these parts (in alphabetical order)
Furfari’s Pretzels: Do yourself a favor and get a pretzel, fresh, from Furfari’s.
Ida Mae’s: Forget lines for brunch, Ida Mae’s is a warm, homey spot on Norris St. just a block off Frankford. I recommend the veggie tofu scramble.
Lloyd Whiskey Bar: Not just a great spot to go if there are no tables elsewhere, but a great spot itself. Fun fact: Lloyd is housed in an unassuming spot formerly occupied by Kitchen Nightmares’ entrant, Hot Potato Cafe.
Penn Treaty Museum: This unassuming building, just outside Penn Treaty Park, “celebrates the 1682 Treaty of Friendship made between the original stewards of the land and William Penn under the branches of an elm tree at Shackamaxon.”
Ulises: True, it just opened a few months ago, but as Philly’s first indie arts bookstore it’s certainly worth a shoutout here. Even as Fishtown booms, let’s not forget that shops like Ulises are what attracted so many of us here in the first place.
Sulimay’s Barber Shop: A Fishtown tradition. Talk to just about anyone who lives here and they’ve been to Sulimay’s. I’m balding, so buzzers at home is good enough for me, but if I had hair to cut I’d get it cut here.
The final word on Fishtown:
I love it. It’s my home. It’s where my friends live, and where my family lives. It’s full of families, many of whom have lived here for generations, but it’s also full of newcomers, many new to Philly itself. My friends know how religious I can be about Philly, but the truth is it’s not perfect. But nobody in Philadelphia is here because they want perfection.