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Thursday, September 3, 2015


September City Beat 2015


    When we visited Pittsburgh recently we found the restaurant world there to our liking. Popular are pubs with the kind of bar food you’d find at Standard Tap in Northern Liberties, only you won’t find breaded smelt — the most awful dish in the western hemisphere –– in the “steel city.” In Pittsburgh, as in Center City, popular restaurants mean long lines at places that do not take reservations. At one French eatery the lines were so long patrons lingered outside with drinks or sat at the bar until called. Our wait was so long the bartender offered a heartfelt apology.  “I don’t know why people aren’t moving. They got their checks but they won’t go home.”  The obsessive sitters didn’t care that other people had been waiting for more than an hour. We made the suggestion that the restaurant adopt a policy that customers not occupy a table for more than two and a half hours. One upscale Korean restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood already has this policy in place:  Please do not allow your dining experience to exceed two and one half hours was printed on the back of the menu although the service was so slow we came to see the time limit as a game in reverse psychology. The food at the French eatery with the long wait was mediocre, while the no-name, walk-in lunchtime Pittsburgh pubs we visited provided extraordinary dining experiences.


Photojournalist Neil Benson has been working in the city since 1970. His photographs have appeared in The Drummer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Rolling Stone, Time, People and The New York Times. The opening of his current show at The History Museum attracted about 100 people. Benson talked about the early days of his career, when The Drummer paid him ten dollars a snap. He said that when he photographed Mike Schmidt of the Phillies, Schmidt rolled on the floor and pretended to make love to his baseball bat while repeating the line, This is what you want; I’m giving you what you want. From the thousands of negatives, contact sheets and photos that Besnon donated to the museum, about 140 images were selected for the exhibit. Faces on the wall include: Judge Lisa Richette at the typewriter; Mayor Rizzo and Queen Elizabeth; a young Anne d’Harnoncourt in an antebellum style dress chatting with two Social Register types who had no idea that the woman in front of them would become one of the museum’s greatest directors. We liked the photo of KYW-TV’s award winning 1970s news team just before Jessica Savitch’s went national but we’re sorry that Benson didn’t have his camera handy to capture PMA’s Joseph J. Rishel and Kathleen Foster, who were among those present.      

We hung out with beefy parking valet types at the opening party for Luxe Valet, an on demand valet parking service. The event took place at Benjamin’s Desk (BD), or the former offices of Philadelphia Weekly. BD doesn’t have the best vibe in the city. Maybe it’s the utilitarian rectangular shaped room that recalls a Cub Scout Den or a Lion’s Club hunting lodge sans mounted Cecil heads, but something’s amiss here. Mayor Nutter joined the happy beer and white wine drinking crowd that munched on Italian hoagies and soft pretzels. Though we didn’t recognize a single face, at least we figured out that the reason why parking valet guys don’t make eye contact is because they’re trained to look for moving vehicles. 

 The Dell Music Center packs them in. With 600 lawn seats and 5,284 reserved seats you wouldn’t think there’d be much of a tailgating spillover. At Historic Strawberry Mansion, the city’s largest historic house museum (looking good after a recent 2 million dollar restoration) when there’s a Dell concert it means the museum gets trashed. Cars drive and park illegally all over the museum’s lawn, leaving trenches from tires, injured shrubs and violated flowerbeds. After an August 6th concert a car backed into a fire hydrant, upending and un- rooting it.  Other tailgaters set up grills and tents along the edges of the museum’s lawn. The lawn becomes the ‘go to’ deposit spot for human defacation, garbage, feces stained napkins, beer bottles, diapers, chicken bones and Styrofoam food containers.  The museum has made several complaints to the Mayor and to Susan Slawson, First Deputy Commissioner of Recreation and Programs, but to no avail. We think the city should at least send out cleaning crews and hire parking enforcers on the night of the big concerts. 

  An end-of-summer Friends of the Avenue of the Arts event took place in Macy’s Greek Hall where we chatted with FAA’s Tim Moore and met two Manhattan transplants who are finding Center City to their liking. Philadelphia is less expensive, and there are seldom lines at restaurants. It is a city overflowing with arts and culture. These ex New Yorkers love the Barnes, especially the coffee in the Barnes café and say they don’t miss overcrowded Manhattan at all. The Avenue of the Arts was named one of America’s “Great Streets” by the American Panning Association in 2008.