A local’s guide to the DNC in Philly

Written by | Travel

Liberty Bell old symbol of American freedom in Independence Mall building in Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Image: f11photo/shutterstock

Pack your bags, Democrats! After a week of watching D-level celebrities, Trump’s family members, and a handful of GOP politicians suffering from Stockholm Syndrome call for your candidate to be summarily imprisoned or worse, it’s time to head to Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton for the presidency. From now until November, it’s your job to make sure she gets elected, or else we may witness the end of America’s “grand experiment” at the hands of a self-absorbed Fanta-faced fascist. No pressure!

No doubt this has kept you awake at night, fending off nightmares of what could happen if you don’t register enough voters, knock on enough doors with glossy fliers, or cajole enough Bernie supporters into submission with hard-hitting Facebook posts and snarky Twitter memes. To help you manage this tremendous stress, I’m pleased to offer travel tips for Philadelphia, my hometown and favorite city in the world.


Philadelphia is known as “the Cradle of Liberty” for being the place where so many key events happened in the American Revolution. Head to Old City to check out the major sites. The Constitution Center has an excellent self-guided walking tour. Highlights include:

  • Independence Hall (5th and Chestnut St.), the old Pennsylvania State House, was where political elites (18th century male versions of Hillary) composed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Be sure to get tickets in advance at the Independence Visitor Center early on the day that you intend to visit Independence Hall. It’s a good place to ponder the fate of the equality that Philly’s favorite son Benjamin Franklin (that’s right!) declared “self-evident.”
  • Across the street, you’ll see a giant glass pavilion that houses the Liberty Bell. Thanks to a Christian zealot from Nebraska striking the bell with a hammer in 2001, you’re no longer allowed to touch it, but you can still get a pretty sweet photo and check out the exhibit on historical depictions of the bell. There’s always a long line for the bell, so if you’re feeling lazy, just admire it through the glass.
  • The Betsy Ross House (3rd and Arch St) is the place where the seamstress/revolutionary supposedly constructed our national banner. You’ll want to enjoy this now, before the Stars and Stripes are replaced with a 5,000-thread count pillowcase depicting Trump’s orange visage and his last name in glittery golden letters.
  • Franklin Court (4th and Market St.) is the location of Benjamin Franklin’s old home. The highlight here is looking down into the excavated privy pit. Just think of Ben sitting on the can, wondering what it would be like to see democracy flushed down the toilet when some real estate tycoon took over the executive branch.
  • The Constitution Center (6th and Arch St.) is an entire museum dedicated to the document that Trump will use as a doormat at his fabulous White House/Executive Branch Casino. The exhibit ends with a giant room of statues of the Founding Fathers, all of whom seem remarkably short, but with standard-sized hands.
  • Christ Church (2nd and Market St) was where many of the Founding Fathers gathered to pray. The adjacent burial ground houses the final resting places of several members of the revolutionary generation, including Benjamin Franklin. Visitors toss pennies on his grave for luck, but since Trump’s proposals would likely collapse the economy, you might want to follow Poor Richard’s advice that a penny saved is twopence dear.

Believe it or not, things have happened in Philadelphia since the late 18th century. Here are some other sites you might want to check out:

  • Bernie supporters tell me that Hillary’s fans love war, empire, and conquest, so if you head down to Penn’s Landing, you can check out the Olympia, Admiral George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay. While you’re there, gaze upon the Columbus Monument, and ask yourself, “How is that still a thing?” Then, take the ferry from the nearby Independence Seaport Museum to Camden, where you can check out the Battleship New Jersey, which saw service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
  • Baseball fans may want to walk across the parking lot from the convention to tour beautiful Citizens Bank Park, home to the Phillies and the #1 mascot in sports, the Phillie Phanatic, at least until Trump’s “deportation force” decides to send him back to the Galapagos for inconsistencies in his immigration paperwork. Sadly, the Fightin’ Phils are out of town during the convention.
  • The University of Pennsylvania, founded by—you guessed it—Benjamin Franklin, is one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world. It might be cathartic to take a stroll through the campus and ask yourself, “How could such an august institution possibly have granted a degree to a person as myopic, confused, small-minded, and small-handed as Donald J. Trump?” While you’re there, Penn houses the wonderful Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (33rd and South St.), as well as Franklin Field, the oldest college football stadium still in operation and the place where FDR accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 1936.
  • Philadelphia is a great city for art lovers. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses some spectacular exhibits, but it’s most famous for that scene with the fictional boxer who is supposedly from Philadelphia, but talks with a strange New York accent. Movie buffs should feel free to charge up the stairs singing “Gonna Fly Now” like an idiot, but I would skip reenacting his full run, unless you’re in the mood for a light 30-mile jog.
  • The Barnes Museum is home to one of the greatest collections of modern art in the world, with more paintings by Cezanne than the entire city of Paris. If you talk with locals about the controversy surrounding this museum, it will be one of the few times you’ll hear the phrase “the art of the steal” at the convention without it being a snarky reference to Trump’s ghost-authored memoir.
  • Folk art fans shouldn’t miss the Magic Gardens, one of the strangest and most wonderful exhibits in the country, developed over a span of decades by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar.
  • Thanks to the Mural Arts Program, Philadelphia has some spectacular murals that are worth seeking out. They offer excellent walking, train, or trolley tours most days of the week. Some of my favorites include “Common Threads” (Broad and Spring Garden St.), Keith Haring’s “We the Youth” (22nd and Federal St.), “A People’s Progression Toward Equality” (8th and Rainstead St.), the trippy “Garden of Delight” (Locust and Sartain St.), and a depiction of the Roots (Broad and South St.). Unreformed Bernie Bros can visit his mural in the Point Breeze neighborhood (22nd and Catharine St). If Trump is on your mind, check out the mural of Frank Rizzo (9th and Montrose St.), the former police commissioner and mayor whose strongman inclinations might sound familiar this election cycle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the most vandalized mural in the city.
  • If Trump’s language in discussing women and people of color isn’t gross enough for you, check out the Mütter Museum, which houses a collection of bizarre medical oddities sure to make you feel queasy, including a wall of eyeballs, a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland, and pieces of the brain of Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield.

Food and Drink

Perhaps your route of escape from the persistent night terrors caused by a possible Trump presidency is to turn to the bottom of a bottle or the end of a hoagie. If so, you’re in the right city.

Philadelphia is the best city for sandwiches in the entire country. The holy trinity of Philly sandwiches includes:

  • The Roast Pork Italian, which in my humble opinion is the king of sandwiches. My favorite can be found at DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch St). Get the roast pork with sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, and long hots. Unlike a protest vote for Jill Stein, you won’t regret it.
  • The Italian Hoagie, which Ed Rendell—the former mayor of the city and governor of the state—once declared the “official sandwich of Philadelphia.” Paesano’s (9th and Kimball St in the Italian Market) is a fairly recent addition to the Philly scene, but their sandwiches are amazing. The Daddy Wad is their version of the Italian hoagie, and I swear by it. Their other sandwiches—including the Arista, their version of the roast pork Italian—are great, as well.
  • And, of course, the cheesesteak. I’m going to ruin some minds here, but the cheesesteak is my least favorite of the three major Philly sandwiches. That being said, John’s Roast Pork in South Philadelphia (Snyder and Weccacoe Ave) makes a delicious cheesesteak (and a terrific roast pork sandwich, if you haven’t tried one yet). Get it with sharp provolone and long hots, if you’d like. It’s the kind of place where middle-class foodies mingle with blue-collar guys on their lunch breaks. If you want to get weird, go to McNally’s and try the Schmitter, the most pleasant path in the world to a coronary.
  • Unless it’s the middle of the night and you need something to sop up alcohol, I can’t strongly recommend going to Pat’s or Geno’s (9th St and Passyunk Ave), the competing old school cheesesteak stands that you see after every commercial break whenever Monday Night Football is in town. If you choose to go that route, though, read the instructions carefully so you don’t get booted to the back of the line. I’d pick Pat’s over Geno’s for three reasons: 1) they have a better claim on the “inventor of the cheesesteak” title; 2) they have amusing billboards, and most importantly; 3) Geno’s is involved in a long-term dispute over the deceased owner’s xenophobia, best illustrated by the charming stickers you’ll see in the window where you order. At any rate, at these stands, I prefer “American wit” or “Provolone wit,” but I know that somewhere there’s a drunk jabroni complaining that I didn’t tell the world to get Whiz. Whatever you do, Democrats, don’t pull a Kerry by ordering it with Swiss.

The other staple food item you’re probably looking forward to is a soft pretzel. If you haven’t been to Philly, you may think you’ve had reasonable pretzels in your life, but you’re dead wrong. Our pretzels are in figure-8 shapes, they come in strips, and they don’t taste like they were made out of day-old pancake batter. You’ll see Philly Pretzel Factory stands everywhere in town, and they’re OK, but if you want the real deal, visit Center City Pretzel Co. (8th St and Washington Ave). They’re open from midnight to noon, though after 11 AM you might be out of luck.

If you’re looking for a break from the endless stream of sandwiches and pretzels, here are some additional suggestions:

  • The Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch St) is a great place to grab lunch. In addition to DiNic’s roast pork sandwiches, don’t miss the moose tracks ice cream at Bassetts or the donuts at Beiler’s.
  • Barbuzzo (13th and Sansom St) features Mediterranean small plates, pasta, and pizza. The salted caramel budino is my favorite dessert on the planet. A waiter once told me that he sometimes knocked back two or three per shift, and that didn’t seem unreasonable. The Open House Store across the street is a nice place to shop for souvenirs.
  • The Franklin Fountain (Front St and Market St) is an ice cream parlor staffed by mustachioed hipsters who serve old-timey concoctions like phosphates and egg creams. The sundaes are epic. Hillary supporters should try the Franklin Mint, which is sure to make them realize just how sweet connections to Wall Street can be. Hungry Bernie supporters should try the Mount Vesuvius, because it’s YUGE!
  • Yard’s Brewing Co. (Delaware Ave, near the Spring Garden stop on the El) has a collection of beers bound to please history nerds. Their “Ales of the Revolution” include beers brewed according to recipes found in the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s Tavern Spruce is my favorite, brewed with spruce tips instead of hops, which were prone to shortages in the colonies.
  • Bon Appétit Magazine recently declared Philly’s Pizzeria Beddia (Girard and Shackamaxon St) to be home to the greatest pizza in the country. If you’re too busy fighting Trumpism to wait several hours in line for one of the forty amazing pizzas they make per night, check out the sauce-on-top square at Santucci’s (10th and Christian St), the giant slices at Lorenzo & Sons (3rd and South St), the pizza museum at Pizza Brain (Frankford Ave and Dauphin St), the New York-style Gennaro’s Tomato Pie (11th and Tasker St), or the call ahead old-school tomato pie brilliance of Tacconelli’s (Somerset and Almond St).
  • Hillary is known to enjoy a good beer, so I hope she gets a chance to visit Monk’s Café (16th and Spruce St), one of the essential beer bars in the world. The bar’s specialty is Belgian beer and food, but you’ll find dozens of beers from around the globe on tap, many of which you can’t find elsewhere in the US. Grab a glass of beer from Tired Hands, a brewery from nearby Ardmore that specializes in funky saisons and IPAs.
  • Isgro’s (10th and Christian St) is the place to go for cookies, pastries, cakes, and cannolis. Don’t miss the lemon ricotta cookies. Unlike a Trump presidency, they have the Pope’s seal of approval.
  • Federal Donuts (16th and Sansom St in Center City, with other locations around town) combines two of the greatest things in the world: donuts and fried chicken. This may sound excessive, but this is America. Embrace the excess. If you come for breakfast, resist the glitz of the fancy donuts and get the hot fresh ones instead. If you order chicken, the chili garlic glaze is spicy and pungent, exactly as you’ll want it. Plus, it comes with a honey donut. ‘Mur’ca.
  • Perhaps you’ve been spending too much time on YouTube, mesmerized by clips of Trump repeatedly saying the word “China.” The only cure: noodles at Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House (10th and Race St) or Han Dynasty, a local chain that specializes in Sichuan food. Let the spices burn that authoritarian vulgarian from your mind.
  • Dirty Franks (13th and Pine St) is a strange and wonderful place. It’s a dive bar filled with art that has been around since the 1930s. Its exterior walls are covered with a bizarre mural of famous “Franks,” including Zappa, Sinatra, FDR, Benjamin Franklin, Aretha Franklin, Frankenstein, and a hot dog. I don’t really know how they’d deal with a horde of well-heeled Democratic staffers invading the premises, so maybe you shouldn’t go. Maybe it’s just enough for you to know that a place like this still exists in our country, and it’s part of what makes Philadelphia a great fucking town.

So good luck, Democrats! Take in the history! Eat like John Kasich in the final weeks of his losing campaign! Drink like you’re attending George Washington’s farewell party at the end of the Constitutional Convention! And please don’t screw up this election. We’re all counting on you.

Last modified: July 25, 2016