Listen, I get it. You think of Philly, and you think of Rocky. The “wooder”s and“youse guys”s and“jawn”s — all of the weird little quirks of our distinct accent. But where did that come from? Why do we sound like this?
Well, if you visit or live in Bella Vista, you’ll get it.
We may be known as the home of the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin, but that isn’t even the beginning of what we have to show and tell. The (somehow) little known fact is that we are home to one of the biggest and oldest open-air markets in the country: the Italian Market. The true home of the “wooder”s and “youse guys”s and “jawn”s; the true home of the Italian-American vernacular.
The 9th Street Italian Market was opened in South Philadelphia (in the neighborhood that is now known as Bella Vista) in the late 1800s by, you guessed it, Italian immigrants. They came here with their prosciutto and their pizza and their freaky-fresh produce ready to teach Americans how to eat, and eat well. What started out as a tiny market exploded like the title character of the 1958 horror classic, The Blob. When these immigrants first settled in South Philly, South Philly didn’t even really exist yet. At this point in time, William Penn’s Philadelphia didn’t go past South Street, so the 9th Street Market got there before 9th Street did.
Today, the market isn’t just Italian, it’s now a combination of Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, and a plethora of other cultures. It’s as much a melting pot as the rest of the city, and everyone is welcome.
MURALS + STREET ART
Bird Feed – It’s been a few months since we obliterated the Patriots in the Superbowl and claimed our victory, but Philly is nowhere near being over it. This has been proved single-handedly by the new mural on the 800 block of Bainbridge Street — a giant eagle clutching a very defeated-looking Tom Brady in his claws. (For those of you who don’t speak football: Tom Brady is the bad guy.) This mural, appropriately dubbed, “Bird Feed,” was done by none other than municipal treasure Meg Saligman (the same Meg Saligman who did the giant “Common Threads” mural on Broad and Spring Garden, which you can read about in my article about life in Fairmount.)
Different Paths, One Market – We assume that, in their nature, murals belong on walls, but artists Michelle Angela Ortiz and Tony Rocco decided that they can be anywhere. Ortiz and Rocco created this multi-mural piece on vinyl awnings, which are now used as shelter for the outdoor markets in the Italian Market. These murals shows the faces of immigrants who came to Philadelphia and created a life here in our community.
Neighbor Ballads – Keeping up with the trend of murals not on walls, these little portraits on metal boxes around the neighborhood highlight what it’s like to be a part of this close-knit community. The Mural Arts program explained, “These stories honor the particularities of an individual’s journey-based narrative, while focusing a lens on that individual’s community. When viewed as a whole, the broadsides illuminate the shared experiences of the ongoing history of a legendary part of the city. When looked at individually, they give voice to the ordinary people who have shaped the character of a unique and culturally rich South Philadelphia.”
Hawthorne Park – This cute green space at 12th and Catherine Streets opened up about five years ago, and has continually served as a clean, safe area for community members to have fun, relax, and unwind. Doubling as a venue for events and performances, Hawthorne hosts everything from live jazz music to movie nights, from Shakespeare in the Park to their annual Halloween and Christmas parties.
Palumbo Park – A quiet little park at 7th and Catherine Streets, Palumbo is a great spot for kids, dogs, and adults. Frequented by practitioners of tai chi, meditation, and yoga, this space is adjacent to the Fleisher Art Memorial on the side of the Fleisher Art School and Museum.
Cianfrani Park – At 8th and Fitzwater Streets, Cianfrani Park opened at the site of a demolished school about 30 years ago. Today, the “Friends of Cianfrani Park” team has over 100 members, and they’ve been hosting community events from live music to fundraisers for over 20 years. Residents of the area often gather to plant trees and help keep the park green and flourishing year-round.
Queen Village and Bella Vista are both small parts of the city, and there is a lot of overlap in the school and facility options for your kiddos. The Mario Lanza Institute & Museum: This nonprofit organization was founded in honor of the late opera great, Mario Lanza. Born to Italian immigrants in South Philadelphia in 1921, Lanza was blessed with a big voice and strong lungs. Today, the institute provides scholarships to young individuals training and studying voice and music. Many of their alumni have gone on to perform in major opera houses. The museum contains memorabilia, costumes, and more from Lanza’s life.
Academy at Palumbo – This center for learning for grades 9 through 12 sits just on the border between Bella Vista and Queen Village. You can read more about what the Academy has to offer in my recent Queen Village post. Additionally, mentioned in my feature about Queen Village is the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), Nebinger Elementary, and the Weccacoe playground. You can also learn more about Furness High School and Andrew Jackson Elementary in my East Passyunk post.
FOOD + DRINK
Santucci’s – Who knew Italians made good pizza? Just kidding. Obviously, pizza is in every Italian’s blood, and Santucci’s has perfected the art of the pie. With two locations in the city plus a third opening up in Roxborough this year, the Italian Market spot is the flagship restaurant, and the name Santucci is famous in Philly. Their signature pie is classic and comforting, just like pizza should be. They also serve up awesome burgers and other traditional American fare.
Isgro’s – If we’re talking about the Italian Market, we can’t not talk about pastries. Isgro’s has some desserts that are truly to die for — their website is literally “bestcannoli.com,” and they aren’t just being cocky. This 114-year-old establishment has made its way onto the Best of Philly list many times, and their mouth-watering family recipes are timeless and flawless.
Sabrina’s – Now, I’ve talked about Sabrina’s before, but the Italian Market Sabrina’s is the OG location. Massive portions on the cheap that will leave you so happy and so stuffed, you’ll want a (very long) nap afterwards. This place has such a cozy and welcoming vibe, it’ll keep you coming back again and again just like I’ve been for years. Pay attention to the details: unique mugs, each one different from the rest, and slightly quirky decor (the Fairmount location has a painting of a really fat baby, I have never known why). It oozes charm and keeps you warm.
Function Coffee Labs – This modern indie coffee company was founded by two Ivy League grads with a mutual love for (and dependency on) caffeine. Taking a scientific approach to coffee (#sciencemadecoffee), co-founder Ross Nickerson used his engineering degree to emphasize the technical aspects and improve the quality of their roast. The name, “Function,” was inspired by the common phrase, “I can’t function until I’ve had my coffee.” Girl, me too.
Sam’s Morning Glory Diner – Philly has always had a knack for awesome diners. Nothing beats going to a cozy neighborhood spot on a Saturday morning, and Morning Glory is definitely no exception. Similar to Sabrina’s, Sam’s serves up massive portions of too-good-to-be-true foods on the cheap, and provides a welcoming and homey vibe to make you feel like part of the family. FYI, it’s cash only, so come prepared.
Monsu – If you call a Sicilian “Italian,” they will correct you. They are Sicilian — it’s its own culture. Monsu calls itself a “micro-seasonal” restaurant, specializing in bold Sicilian flavors and the freshest of the fresh ingredients. A sweet BYOB spot, Monsu makes for a truly authentic Italian experience, whether it be brunch or dinner, with a menu that is constantly changing to make room for new seasonal flavors.
Italian Market Festival – Of course, this massive open-air market has a huge festival every year as soon as it gets warm out. Hosting tons of competitions and events (like the “grease pole” contest — if you were around during the Super Bowl riots, you’ll know why that’s hilarious), this festival attracts thousands of Philadelphians for a weekend of food, crafts, and community. Stuff your face and make some friends, watch the beautiful Procession of Saints, and then stay for the Half Ball tournament. It is probably the most quintessentially Philadelphian festival in the city, and you will not want to miss it.
Night Market – The Food Trust organization was founded about 25 years ago, with a mission to make healthy changes in the city and our often-greasy eating habits. They’ve made a huge difference in the local schools, providing healthy and balanced meals to the kids in the city, and work endlessly to make actual changes in public policy. In 2010, they hosted their first annual Night Market, inspired by several similar markets in various Asian countries. This late-night food fest is an awesome place for local entrepreneurs and small businesses to make themselves more known throughout the community and get some very well-deserved attention from Philly foodies.
Hawthorne’s Festivals – If you’re a beer, cider, rosé or champagne lover, Hawthorne’s has a festival for you. Hawthorne’s Biercafe on 11th Street hosts a couple festivals each year, fall features beer and ciders, and they ring in the spring with beer, rosé and champagne. Complete with live music and food, their events shut down 11th street for blocks in each direction.