Parlour prides itself on traveling the world but what about cities in America? This Labor Day weekend, here’s a look at Philadelphia, the gem of Pennsylvania beyond The Roots, Jill Scott and Meek Mill—and yes, locals are still sensitive about that. We hit the streets over the summer during two festivals to find the best and brightest shopping, arts and eating spots so if you’re visiting the city for the Made in America concert or want to get out of town without leaving the country, here’s how a guide to Philly, Parlour-style.
Philly’s Independence for Style
No time spent in Philly will be complete without exploring its many indie boutiques for everything from homewares to vintage threads. While major-label loving ladies will be at home on the city’s two high streets of Walnut and Chesnut where H&M, Ubiq and West Elm reign, those looking for more unique finds should head to Old City. Parlour hit the district for an afternoon of vintage and contemporary fashion hunting amongst Philly’s historical backdrop.
Start on the corner of North 3rd and Market and start to work your way up towards Race St. On the way you will find cool vintage clothing, furniture, and locally made soaps and candles at Scout Salvage. Walk a few more steps and you will discover Briar Vintage, one of the country’s leading vintage mens boutiques. Though it caters to the fellas, their collection of period buttons, handkerchiefs and jackets make for some great modern unisex finds. Shop manager David will give you the history of just about everything and how to piece them together.
Stop into Philadelphia Independents and take home some goods that reflect the city’s unique character, phrases and neighborhoods, all made by hand. Further down you’ll pass local favorites like Sugarcube and Vagabond but no N. 3rd stroll is complete without a peek into Lost & Found. As one of the earliest boutiques in the area, owners Sandy and Jenny have created a space that’s uniquely cozy with notable and indie designers at friendly prices.
A Look Into The Past
After spending an early afternoon in Old City, take a history break by visiting the African American Museum in Philadelphia. While we were there, we caught the Legendary: Inside The House Ballroom Scene exhibition in August. Photographer Gerard Gaskin spent over twenty years photographing balls, ballroom culture and the legendary names of Philly, New York City, Richmond and Washington, D.C. and amassed a visual history that will take you inside this stylish, familial LGBTQ subculture beyond the glamour and lights. It was wonderful, the museum has a few new works on display and we trust they are just as in-depth.
South Street Star Gazing
While you could easily spend an entire day browsing Philly’s famed South Street, the real style stars emerge at dusk. After hitting up some local faves like Bus Stop Boutique for shoes, Retrospect for more curated vintage finds and the Abysinnia Culture Shop for afrocentric accessories, grab an outdoor seat at Percy Street BBQ while sipping a mint julep to watch Philly’s young stars converge to see and be seen on the strip, all dressed to impress.
Culture Collision at Odunde
Outside of the brick-and-mortar shops, there is one event that has a little something for everyone, the Odunde Festival, annual Philly institution each June. Being the largest and one of the oldest African and African-American culture festivals in the United States, one should plan a full day to experience Odunde properly. Early arrival means first dibs on vendors from around the world and during our stroll, we discovered indie brands and boutiques like FwdFlow, Futa By Chama and Nubian Hueman among numerous stalls filled with bangles, beads, wooden sculptures for home and plenty of food. Bring a large tote and the serious shopper should be prepared for multiple trips to the car or a secure place to store purchases. Aside from the musical performances that conclude each festival, the highlight of the day is the morning processional and spiritual offering to the Yoruba and Santeria goddess Oshun at the nearby Schuylkill River which officially opens the day’s festivities. Bring fruit, flowers and an open spirit for this all-inclusive celebration of culture—and again, a really big tote bag!
Artsy Humor at Blackstar Film Fest and Mouth-Watering Food
In August, we attended the Blackstar Film Festival with two goals, to see the BAddDDD Sonia Sanchez documentary and eat as much as possible sans cheesesteaks—because you already know about Geno’s Steaks! Starting our weekend trip at Sabrina’s Cafe on N. 34th street for breakfast, we ordered the Mexican scramble and tasted their black bean grits, which we recommend. Walking off our delicious meal, we crisscrossed the city, through the campuses of University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University to the International House of Philadelphia, where the festival was held.
The first day was spent catching emotional and hilarious short films like Black Card (where a woman gives up her man because she’s done too many “white” things to keep her status), Mulignans (several black men on a Brooklyn stoop act like racist Italians but against white gentrifiers Brooklyn) and The Adventures of Jamel (Jamel travels back in time to historic moments like the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and convinces them to breakdance instead of kill one another). Outside of the theater, we shopped in the mini afrocentric marketplace for earrings and cute personalized cards touting “Everything’s Gonna Be Okra” because we’re old black ladies. A few hours later, we watched BAddDDD Sonia Sanchez and learned that not only was she one of the great poets and black arts leaders of our time alongside Amiri Baraka, she was also a college professor who fought for cultural studies programs at schools like San Francisco State. Professor Sanchez was in attendance and as amazing in person as she was on screen.
In the evening, we walked over to Distrito, one of chef Jose Garces’ many restaurants in Philadelphia. We first met Garces’ at an absolutely splendid curated dinner during the Barbados Food, Wine and Rum Festival awhile back where he made a sancocho soup so good, we wanted to lick the bowl. Checking out Distrito was a treat and it did not disappoint. The restaurant is family-style and the stand out dish was the spicy corn bread. It was so popular, they ran out; make sure to order as many as you think you’ll want upfront to avoid disappointment. Later that night, we checked out The Fat Ham, a black-owned neo-soul restaurant run by Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga.
We weren’t hungry so we indulged in their American whiskey program thanks to an incredibly knowledgeable barkeep who suggested Angel’s Envy, a whiskey aged in rum barrels with a slightly sweet finish. We wanted to try out the nightlife and hit Relish and the infamous Palmers but were tired and full to do anything but roll ourselves back to our hotel.
So if you’re wondering what to do this Labor Day weekend or are focusing on American cities as the next phase of your travels, add Philadelphia to your list of weekend getaways. The City of Brotherly Love doesn’t disappoint!
ps. If you’re looking for great travel snacks, check out the numerous WaWa convenience stores where you can get old-timey bites like individually wrapped boiled eggs.