You get the feeling that decades ago, Fishtown wasn’t a place for much commotion.
Named for the shad fishing industry established by German immigrants along this stretch of the Delaware River (later, Fishtown was also home to Irish and Polish immigrants), it's a Philadelphia neighborhood that was defined by the working-class.
Today, Fishtown beats a bit louder: Thanks to a mushrooming food scene, soft-openings are ubiquitous, and soundproofing is necessary amidst a clutch of live music venues. The boisterous and creative working class has made this pocket their cultural home for years.
A few neighborhoods northeast from Philadelphia’s central grid-system (after which other cities, like Chicago, modeled their own), Fishtown is literally "off-grid" yet only a few subway stops from the historic sector. While its exact geography is nebulous—Fishtown’s perimeter is frequently debated—it’s certainly worth exploring.
If you step into La Colombe Coffee Roasters’s flagship without the option to work remotely, you’ll think to yourself: If only I had the option to work remotely. While La Colombe has planted national roots, the 11,000-square-foot space is a reminder of its homegrown story. Plus, it’s an elaborate intersection of sorts: Exposed timber beams meet polished marble counters; designers scribble while friends chat; coffee beans roast while sugar cane distills (yes, La Colombe crafts rum, too). It’s worth the short trek to Fishtown just for La Colombe—and even just to try out their draft latte (note: you must try their draft latte), or to share a cast-iron cinnamon roll only made at the flagship.
On the same block as La Colombe, you’ll find exactly what you’ve been looking for, or perhaps, something you haven’t. Jinxed, a chockablock shop with vintage finds, is worth a meander. Maybe you’ll spot that Herman Miller shell chair that you couldn’t find on eBay and if not that, then at least one novelty to consider, especially smaller items like a smiley, skunk-shaped planter, or this doe one.
At Green Aisle Grocery, it feels like you stepped inside the owners’ personal pantry—in other words, this shop is tiny. Two brothers, Adam and Andrew Erace, started Green Aisle Grocery as an extension of their family’s love of food, cooking, and provenance, stocking the shop with a few favorites. Raw milks and cheeses, as well as fresh breads and small-batch preserves (their house-made raw pistachio butter is chief among them), make the easiest excuse for a picnic.
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Assuming you’re in the market for that picnic, Penn Treaty Park is the best place to sprawl. While it may not have the glitz of downtown’s Rittenhouse Square, it has the Delaware River. Plus, if you’re keen on history, the legend goes that it was in this place that William Penn—Pennsylvania’s founder—signed the peace treaty with the local Lenape tribe that allowed Philadelphia to, well, exist. Today, the park is less business and more leisure. Local crowds partake in kite-flying, dog-walking, hammock-swaying, and sometimes a Fishtown pastime: river-fishing.
Truthfully, if you visit Philadelphia and skip a meal in Fishtown, you’ve missed the action; the fulcrum to its late blossom is certainly food and drink. You need only look at one place, Pizzeria Beddia, to understand: This unassuming spot, which serves just 40 pies a day by way of the owner’s home-schooled approach, draws two-hour waits. Inflamed by an ironclad review marking it the best pizza in America (thanks, Bon Appétit), the lines aren’t going anywhere fast.
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One of newest places—coincidently, also (partly) a pizza joint—is Wm. Mulherin’s Sons. With the finesse of a restaurant you might find downtown, the space hasn’t lost a shred of its heritage and a nineteenth century whisky blending and bottling factory are somehow eased into its warm demeanor; folksy, hand-painted murals by Stacey Rozich, an artist based in L.A., add to the cozy and convivial approach, and the entire space is outlined in wood paneling. The wood-fired pizzas are all good (a special nod to the Spicy Jawn), though you shouldn’t overlook their house-made pastas; pappardelle, touched up with just spring garlic, asparagus, and Parmesan, is simply essential.
Of course, Fishtown’s consummately casual vibe is best enjoyed at spots like Loco Pez, a proper dive that’s respectively old-school. They serve kitschy tacos (many are vegan, and some are brazenly served in a hard shell) with bright margaritas to an anything-goes crowd. With equal quirk, another hip stop called Pizza Brain has wild ideas; known for its hodgepodge of toppings (honey goat cheese and bleu cheese brisket, for example), it also houses the world’s first pizza museum, certifiable as the largest collection of pizza-memorabilia around.
And because it wouldn’t be a neighborhood without a local ice cream shop serving whack-a-mole flavors like cucumber dill and black pepper pecan (relax, there’s also speculoos), Little Baby’s churns a special variety that’s best made locally: Philadelphia-style. This simply means, well, that it’s simpler. With no egg in the recipe, certain flavors express themselves just a little bit clearer—vanilla never tasted so vanilla.
And if you’re truly ice cream crazed, plan a trip to Fishtown after the opening of Weckerly’s Ice Cream, scheduled for later this year. The wife and husband makers embrace the egg in their French-style custards, which, delicious straight up, are even better sandwiched and have been popping up in local shops for years. Fingers crossed that their first, inevitably charming, brick-and-mortar opens before summer. The couple rotates recipes seasonally, and we have our eye on the heirloom blueberry custard and handmade cardamom grahams. (If you get to Fishtown before the shop opens, you’re still in luck: Green Aisle Grocery happens to have Weckerly’s stocked.)
A night in Fishtown wouldn’t sound quite right without dropping by one of its live music spots. The Fillmore Philadelphia tends to pull big (but not too big) names to the music hall, located in an an abandoned factory, while Johnny Brenda’s, a longtime Fishtown staple, welcomes even smaller names who are likely on their way to big things.
Have you been a long fan of Fishtown? Or have you gone on a recent visit? Tell us your recs in the comments below!