So… You’re Coming to PAX Unplugged

“Why tip someone for a job I’m capable of doing myself? I can deliver food, I can drive a taxi, I can and do cut my own hair. I did, however, tip my urologist. Because I am unable to pulverize my own kidney stones.” – Dwight Schrute – RJ Oliveri

Planning trips is something I enjoy doing for fun. I know that sounds weird, but for whatever reason, I find enjoyment in planning out trips. It also reminds me of the above Dwight quote – why would I pay a travel agent to do something I’m perfectly capable of doing myself? I also agree with Dwight, I can and do cut my own hair – maybe identifying with Dwight isn’t the path I want to go down… I digress, I congratulate you on qualifying for PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia! Getting to this point was no easy feat and you should be incredibly proud of yourself, no matter how you qualified. This article will NOT help you find a hotel as they are all probably booked, but instead will help you find great places to eat that may be under the radar, and if time permits, maybe do some sightseeing.

Food and Drink

Buckle up, this could get lengthy as I am a glutton and a lush. I really enjoy my food, and I might like my beer even more. I consider Philadelphia incredibly walkable – I’ll try to note when an Uber is absolutely necessary, but a lot of this stuff I’ll try and keep within walking distance of the Convention Center. That being said, I am not well-versed on some of the more restrictive lifestyle stuff, so if you are looking for vegan and the like, I’d skip down to the sightseeing portion of this article.

Reading Terminal Market – Directly Across the street from the Convention Center

I practically lived here when my old job’s old building was directly attached to this. If you haven’t been here, I’m not sure how to describe it other than as a collection of everything you’ve ever wanted to eat. I don’t know the exact number, but I’d be willing to bet it has upwards of 50 vendors. It has everything from coffee to Indian food to handmade donuts to BBQ to cajun food. If you don’t find something you like in the Reading Terminal Market then I’m not sure this is the right article for you. Must tries include: Beiler’s Donuts, Hope’s Cookies at the Pennsylvania General Store (better than 4th Street Cookies, IMO), and DiNic’s (roast pork with broccoli rabe rivals a cheesesteak as Philly’s best sandwich – and IMO it’s better than a cheesesteak). You could seriously spend all day in this place if you really tried. I will caution you and say that it is going to be mobbed during PAX, and wait times for food might be inflated – take that into consideration when you’re planning for things in between events, not just at the RTM, but everywhere.  Tom checking in here, get the Brisket with Sharp over at DiNic’s you won’t regret it, also if you enjoy cakes & pies and let’s face it if you don’t then youre reading the wrong article right now cause we love food. In the back of the Terminal is a place called the Flying Monkey. They have the best Whoopie Pies ever, ever.

Chinatown – Directly down the street from the Convention Center

On one side of the Convention Center is the Reading Terminal Market, and on the other side is Chinatown. I won’t go into great detail here, but QT Vietnemese has some of my favorite sandwiches in the city with their Bahn Mi, and Dim Sum Garden is one of the better Dim Sum restaurants in the city. Hop Sing Laundromat is a trendy speakeasy in Chinatown (cash only) where there’s a strictly enforced dress code and no cell phone policy.

Cheesesteaks 

Let’s get this hotly contested topic out of the way now. I don’t like confrontation, so I am of the belief that there is no wrong answer here, if you put meat and cheese on a roll it is hard to go wrong. Yes, some places will send you to the back of the line if you don’t order it the right way (there’s signs directing you) – I prefer whiz wit (cheese wiz, with onions). Pat’s and Geno’s are the two most well-known establishments in the area, you will need an Uber to get there. They’re on Passyunk Ave (pronounced Pashy-unk) and directly across the street from one another, you can do what most first timers do and get one from each and compare. I’m partial to Tony Luke’s on Oregon Ave – you will also need an Uber to get here, they are in South Philly by the sports stadiums, there isn’t a whole lot to do around here unless you wanna go to Ikea. I may sound crazy, and real locals (I live across the bridge in NJ, but worked in Center City Philadelphia for 7 years) might yell at me, but the $5 cheesesteak you get from the food carts parked on nearly every corner of the city are better than a lot of what you’ll get elsewhere – these particular food carts are cash only, so come prepared. Dalessandro’s in Roxborough (Uber) and Ishkabibbles on South St (walkable to me) are also good bets. Get it how you want, just don’t put ketchup on it.  Fun Fact from us South Philly natives “Wiz Wit” means cheese wiz and onions, if you don’t want the onions say “Wiz Witout” if you don’t want cheese wiz, well then you’re wrong, but we won’t hold you to that.

Monk’s Cafe – 264 S 16th Street (Walkable)

A personal favorite of mine, and often on lists of the best beer bars in the entire country. Philly is tight in terms of space, and this is no exception. The front bar seats maybe ten, and the back bar maybe eight. The mussels are outstanding if you’re looking for food, but you go here for the beer. As of writing this they have Pliny the Elder on tap, and if that means something to you, then this is the place you need to go to. Also one of the only bars in the entire city to have Tired Hands on tap that isn’t the Tired Hands Beer Garden (new this year)… this was a lot more impressive a few years ago, but still somewhat impressive.

Butcher Bar – 2034 Chestnut St (Walkable)

Come here for the meat sweats. This is another place in the city that has Tired Hands on tap, which is my favorite brewery as of right now. If you’re going with a group of people, I recommend the Trough, which needs to be ordered in advance (talking earlier-in-the-day advance). It has just about everything they make, placed on a serving board, and feeds an army. I’ve been here a few times now and haven’t been disappointed. They have an “outside” area in the back with space heaters and a TV, so if they inside is stuffy for you, they definitely have an alternative for you. In terms of specific recommendations, I have had the Boar Ribs and Octopus (two different dishes) and have been impressed with both, and the Bone Marrow as a starter was pretty fantastic.

Bru Craft & Wurst, U-Bahn – 1316 Chestnut St (Walkable)

Whenever I’m having trouble deciding where to go to start the night, or even for a quick bite, I usually just end up landing on Bru. I suppose that means it is one of my favorites in the city, and it makes sense as I’ve yet to have a bad time here. Their beer list is robust, and they focus on German foods if the name didn’t give it away. U-Bahn is below it, and owned by the same people. While I’ve never “officially” been here during normal hours, it seems like a cool place. They let us in to watch the Champions League Final one year with sound, as Bru wasn’t putting the sound on. U-Bahn has drinks and snacks, while Bru has an actual menu. The pretzel is great, as is the Doner Kebab. The Mixed Wurst Plate is also really good. For beer, there are way too many to list, but what’s really cool is the Haus Key. You buy a key for $5 from any bartender and have access to spouts on the wall that pour beer for you. IIRC, they charge by the ounce, but you don’t have to wait for a server or tip, so it’s super convenient! 

Maggiano’s – 1201 Filbert St (Walkable)

This is right next to the Convention Center. I won’t go in depth here, as while I am born and raised on Italian food, I usually go out of my way to avoid it whilst eating out as I can get it anytime I want if I just ask my mom lol. It’s good, the portions are big, I doubt it will be bad. I’ve eaten here a handful of times, and while nothing sticks out to me, I would just choose something else if I had the choice. Personal preference, it’s a fine establishment. 

Christmas Village – Love Park – 15 & Arch St (Walkable)

You’re coming to Philly at a great time as the Christmas Village is one of my favorite things to do during the holidays. Love Park is transformed (pun… well it wasn’t intended at first, but now it is) into a quaint German Christmas village at the same time every year. Merchants flood the park and set up from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Not only is there all kinds of cool food and drinks, but there are a ton of Christmas themed things to buy as well. This falls under both of a place to go to eat, and sightseeing. 

Good Dog Bar – S 15th Street (Walkable)

Another favorite of mine when I struggle to try and find some place new. I first found out about this place via Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives before I worked in the city, but the show didn’t bring it’s usual drove of people there like it does other eateries. Once known for its Duck Pot Pie (which is no longer on the menu as of 3 weeks ago when I last went), it never serves more traditional bar food. The Good Dog Burger is an excellent choice, as is anything brewed by 2SP. This is also a good place to get a City Wide Special, which each bar does differently. Originally a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jim Beam costing $3 total, it has evolved and, unsurprisingly, increased in price. You can get a Yards Brawler (brewed in Philly) and a shot of Keystone Rail Whiskey for $6 here, which all told is still pretty cheap.

Oscar’s Tavern – 1524 Sansom St (Walkable)

The diviest of dive bars. This establishment is cash only, some come prepared. It’s super unassuming from the outside and you might miss it if you’re not particularly looking for it. It’s a place to get a cheap bite to eat and an even cheaper drink. It’s a trip back in time with it’s wood decor and touch tunes machine. This place definitely isn’t for everyone, but for those that like this kind of stuff, it will undoubtedly become one of their favorite bars.

Khyber Pass Pub – 56 S 2nd St (Walkable to me)

As I think I’m done writing this beast, I happen to think of another favorite of mine. I have a lot of favorites. Have I mentioned yet that I REALLY like to eat and drink? This is a southern BBQ place in the sense that it’s what they serve, but I know them more as another good beer bar. The food won’t blow you away by any means, but it’s still a good meal. On their website they boast vegan options, so that’s new to me. They have a rotating tap, and have things like Russian River, KBS, and other goodies on tap. Like I said, more of a beer bar than a food bar to me. This area of the city is called Old City, and I could write another 15 pages on places down here as well. One of my favorite things to do is bar hop, and if you have time, I would implore you to do the same.

These places are just some of my personal favorites, and looking back on it, they are all relatively walkable sans the cheesesteak places. If you are looking for something specific, I encourage you to reach out to me and I am sure I can at least try and point you in the right direction. 

Sightseeing

While I haven’t formally went out saw the sights in quite a while, I still know enough about them to be somewhat dangerous. I can’t tell you the ins and outs like I can with the food, but I guess that means you can really tell where my priorities are. I like to be fed, and well fed at that. One thing I will absolutely recommend against is standing in line to see the Liberty Bell. It is a big bell with a crack in it, and there is nothing more to it. Additionally, if you walk behind the exhibit from the outside you can see the bell in its entirety for free.

Tom advises against getting on a duckboat at all, and I wholeheartedly agree. For the unaware, a duckboat is a bus/boat that is able to drive on land and float on water, much like a… you guessed it… duck. It takes you around the city, and usually the people that aren’t on the boat will make fun of you for being on it.

Technically, Reading Terminal Market is an attraction so I will double-down and say you definitely need to check it out. They do have shops and stuff, in addition to food. I would definitely make sure you have room in your luggage to bring stuff home, just in case. I would advise against bringing the deli meats home though, as I would wager to guess they would spoil before you get home.

The Art Museum is a good time, and has a lot of really cool stuff in it. If you happen to get in on Wednesday, the price of admission is pay what you want – otherwise admission is generally $25.This is also where the Rocky Steps are. Joe called “dibs” on the Rocky Steps, so we’ll see if he will fill in any information.

Independence Hall is probably the main “to-do” if sightseeing interests you. Philadelphia, afterall, is the birthplace of our country. You will need a timed entry ticket to tour Independence Hall, but this is something I would recommend doing. 

We already covered the Christmas Village earlier, but I will again double down on that here in order to make my paper meet the word requirements that Brian has set out for me. I don’t remember if they move the Love Statue when the Christmas Village is happening, but if they don’t, this would be the place to find it. If they do move it, well, then I’m not quite sure where it would be. 

Across the street from Christmas Village is City Hall and Dilworth Park. The Village has started to spill over there as well, and in addition they have an ice skating rink set up in the winter months. You’re able to tour City Hall as well if that’s your thing. They offer two different tours, the Tower Tour where it takes you to the top of the building (tickets required) and the Interior Tour, though the latter is only offered once a day and is two hours long.

Again, you all (we say “yous” here) are coming at the perfect time because the holidays are really cool here. Boathouse Row will be lit up and is something I definitely recommend checking out. You can see it from Kelly Drive and it is a short walk from the Art Museum. It’s just boathouses that are lit up with Christmas lights, but it’s honestly pretty neat to look at.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is actually filmed in LA. So if you’re looking for the bar that the gang owns, it’s not here. Rob and his wife own a pub in Old City called Mac’s Tavern, though I’ve never been myself. I think they shot a single scene in Philly that I can remember, and if you really want to see the place, it’s a pawn/electronic shop on Market St by the Marshall’s and CVS – 11th and Market or so. I think it’s called Wiz Kids in the show, but I am not sure of it’s real name.

Brian jumping in for a second here. If you have a free night, I’m a big fan of the “weird history” tours offered by a local company called Grim Philly. They advertise themselves as offering “ghost tours,” but every one of their tours that I’ve been on has been superior to any other ghost tour I’ve been on. The company was started by a local history professor, and all the tour guides are either fellow professors or grad students. They’ll take you around different spots in Old Philly and explore some of the dark and macabre history behind our nation’s first capitol.

I realize this is a lot less in depth than the food portion, but again, priorities. Visitphilly.com is a wonderful resource for finding things to do. My general rule of thumb for visiting other cities is that if I wouldn’t do it in my city, I wouldn’t do it while visiting someplace else either. By that, I generally mean the stupid touristy stuff like the duckboats and the hop on/hop off buses. I generally have no couth when it comes to almost anything else, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot that I wouldn’t do. Have fun, go wild, enjoy our city. Go Birds.

Side note: as Brian mentioned in the Facebook post on Wednesday, I am looking to set something up for us to all convene at and hang out for the night. The tricky part is nailing down everyone’s schedule. I am not sure when people are coming in, getting in, and will be settled. The lush in me says Thursday night would be ideal to hold this since we have all day Friday to prepare for Saturday and Sunday, but the realist in me says there are still people that need to qualify on Friday, and possibly holding it the night before when they’re preparing is not fair to them. I am not sure the best way to do this, so if you read this, and want to drop a comment on the Facebook post where this is posted and let us know when you get in then that would help greatly in planning. By planning something, all I really mean is that I will call up a place and let them know a group of crazy Transformers fanatics will be showing up around a certain time, and please make sure they have room for us. Other than that, we can’t wait to meet some of you guys for the first time, and to see some old and new friends again!

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