If I’m being honest, being a food “influencer” (as much as I hate the term), has its limitations in terms of what people expect you to talk about. As much as I love helping Philly decide on where and what to eat, I feel as if the tide has turned and there seems to be an overwhelming amount of newcomers to Instagram, Twitter, and the like, of people trying to cash in on this newly found phenomena of trading Instagram posts for free meals, lavish hotel stays, and whatever else they can get their hands on by saying how many followers they have. What’s interesting about this new social trend is that a good amount of these “influencers” don’t have much to say about Philly’s food and events beyond a picture and a paragraph (if that) on Instagram. Not to completely paraphrase Marc Vetri, but is this what food journalism has come to? A sub-genre of people, who, in all fairness, don’t actually write about their city’s food and the culture that drives it? I’m not talking about three-sentence blurbs on social media of how “delishhhhhh” a dish is, flurried with excessive emojis and meaningless hashtags. I’m talking about something beyond a hundred-and-forty characters and a picture that immerses you into what Philly’s food and entertainment scene is really like.
In hopes to rectify this, I’ve started a new segment called Breaking Bread. A new take on my traditional posts that covers not only the food that our city has come to know and love, but the sights and events that accompany it and, most importantly, the people who eat it.
An Instagram pic shouldn’t be the only thing that enlightens someone to Philly’s wide array of subcultures and people. In fact, I’d put money down to say that a night on the town consists more than just going to a restaurant, snapping a few pictures, and posting it to social media to show your friends and followers that you live and more interesting life than the average urbanite. What about music? What about concerts and other venues where sub-cultures collide? What about the countless clubs and other holes in the wall that you should go to after dinner?
I was thinking about this when some friends and I went out on a Friday night in hopes to find some good food, people, and vibes at The Dolphin Tavern, a casual night club for Philly’s young and thirsty, located at 1539 S. Broad Street.
Before you roll your eyes in the traditional hipster fashion and tell me that you already knew about the Dolphin, let me just stop you right there and make clear that I’m not implying that I’ve discovered this place before you did. I know, the Dolphin has been around for a while ever since the space was revamped from it’s former days of being, basically, a row home with a strip club in it in the thick of South Philly. This isn’t so much an article to turn you on to the next hot spot as it is an exploratory piece on how one can drink up a tall glass of Philly nightlife, culture, and food.
Like a lot of Philly’s neighborhoods in recent years, the neighborhood in which the Dolphin finds itself has changed – arguably, for the better – since the days that I remember where torn open Suboxone wrappers, empty 40 bottles, and poorly lit allies were much easier to come by on the surrounding streets. Don’t get me wrong; this is still further down Broad street than some may expect to find a worth-while club to get one’s dance and drink on with a primarily young and attractive crowd, but the Dolphin’s location on a predominantly residential block has become oddly comforting what with it’s glowing beacon of a sign that towers over the surrounding row homes that vaguely resemble that of Cliff Huxtable’s.
Even as someone who can still technically say he’s in his twenties, the first thing you tend to notice when walking up to the Dolphin is their young and, dare I say hip, clientele, huddled together in scattered circles of cigarette smoke, drunken banter, and the other traditional indicators that demonstrate that the establishment behind them is worth checking out. Being that the music selection changes nightly, an impulsive decision to come here on any given night may put you in the midst of company that you may not normally hang out with. And that’s the best part; it’s like a Russian Roulette of social gatherings that all depends on what kind of music is playing that night. One night, you’ll be drinking with broke college students looking for a good Acid House playlist while dancing with nostalgic thirty-somethings to 90’s hip-hop on others. Sure, you can call ahead or perhaps go online to find out what kind of tunes are playing that night, but half the fun of this place (at least for me) is not knowing who your fellow club-goers are going to be, and what you’ll be dancing to.
“Is it usually this gay here?” my friend asked me out of sheer curiosity as we sat near the bar and took in the sights. It’s disco night tonight. The DJ – performing on his elevated platform with ceiling-high speakers on either side of him – played a non-stop set list of seventies-esque funk-pop with a side of more contemporary songs that sounded similar. It’s roughly around 11 PM and the dance floor has little room to spare in between the solidly rationed crowd of guys, girls, drag queens, and whoever else. Telling by the amount of sweat that some proudly worn on their clothing, the party has been underway for some time.
“I have no idea, actually.” I responded as a bearded man in an elegant dancing dress and makeup walked by. “Either way, the music’s not bad.”
The first thing you see when you walk through the front door at the Dolphin is their bar on the right where the usual suspects of affordable drinks are served. Yuengling and Tecates with lime were our drink of choice to help us lube up before we headed out to the dance floor with its still-packed floor and walls lined with light-up panels that glow various colors in accordance to the music. From what I remember, the panels changed color in accordance to what song was playing, but we were already a few beers deep when we got to the dance floor, so don’t quote me on that.
Much like my taste in food, I try to keep my music preferences as eclectic as possible. In my experience, being picky in any regards to people, food, or music tends to close you off to what may actually be an awesome night. Thankfully, my friends shared the same sentiment and pounded a few more beers before building up the courage to dance in public with such a diverse group of strangers, an act that, without the help of drugs or alcohol, seems to be incredibly foreign to a large portion of the male population inside or out of the city. Even I have to admit that my interest in the activity has only recently came about.
Not much is to be said about our time at the Dolphin besides that we had a great time with great people. I remember something like a few more rounds, a few more hits of a joint, and dancing with a solid crowd of colorful people (literally and figuratively) until the lights went on at 2 AM. In my experience, when a Philly establishment is crowned with a hipster seal of approval, a moan of distress follows shortly after due to the cliquey, pretentious, anti-social filter that the sub-culture has become somewhat synonymous with, but that wasn’t the case this time or any other time I’ve visited the Dolphin. There were no judgmental looks or scoffing at those dancing too close, nor did anyone mind if you randomly joined their circle of friends to dance, if even for a brief moment. Whether it be from the help of alcohol or not, everyone seemed as open to a good time as we did, which I suppose is easy to do when you’re packed in a crowd of like-minded people between two rainbow-glowing walls and a DJ who knew what he was doing.
“Okay, let’s cut the crap…”
“What about the food? What the fuck did you eat?” some of you may be thinking at this point.
Like most nights that go past closing time in Philly, we decided to take a Lyft over to Chinatown to soak up whatever substances we had in our systems and, according to Philly tradition, stumbled into David’s Mai Lai Wah at 10th and Race, a Chinese spot that’s been serving Philly’s drunk and red-eyed alike for as long as I can remember.
Much like the Dolphin, the late night crowd at David’s is varied to say the least. The spot has become a late-night safe haven for those who crawl out of whatever bar, club, concert, or God-knows-where at 2 AM and aren’t sober enough to call it a night. Each table consisting of a different four or six top of Center City housewives on their night out, South Philly Vietnamese who are arguing about something I couldn’t understand, and even some peculiarly dressed kids in their thirties that seemed to have forgotten that Hot Topic stopped being cool to shop at after 8th grade. Imagine being back at your high school lunch table, surrounded by the same strange people who you’ve never met and know nothing about, only this time they’re all drunk and the cafeteria is serving only urban styled Chinese food.
We started with a tried and true cup of Wonton soup with some hot tea to flush out our systems. Say what you will about the quality or “authenticity” of what we’ve come to know as urban Chinese food, but when it comes down to it, when you’re running on fumes from a night of cheap beers, joints, and dancing, what else do you want besides a cup of chewy, freshly thawed noodle pockets stuffed with bits of what the menu says is pork submerged in a sodium packed, oily, butter-like broth with a pinch of scallions?
Finally, our entrees came. My friend, who recently became a vegan, got the bean curd in a brown, garlic-like sauce. Something that, with all due respect to his dietary choices, didn’t sit well with me and our friend, Nick, as respectable patrons of the after-hours food scene, but nonetheless wasn’t bad at all once you got used to its tofu-like consistency.
I got the Singapore street noodles, of course. A dish with such a good track record of giving me the itis that my body naturally enters the beginning phases of its sleep cycle upon site. A chaotic pile of delicately thin rice noodles, stir fried with curry powder, onions, peppers, pork, and chicken, and maybe some baby shrimp, meant to be shredded via fork or chopsticks. It doesn’t matter how much of it you can fit onto your fork so don’t bother with the usual twirling of your fork. The noodles are so thin that any forkful you pull up form the plate immediately shreds and tears from the rest, making it perfect for you to stuff as much down your throat as fast as you’d like. If a plate of this paired with a night of Tecates and spontaneous disco-tech-ing doesn’t put you into stage four food coma at the end of the night, chances are nothing will.
There’s no reason why Philly’s food scene can’t be mixed with its equally vibrant night life on blogs like this. More so than drugs and alcohol, food can be the ultimate social tool to help those with an open mind discover parts of their city – or any city – that not enough people have the privilege of experiencing. Fully aware of how cheesy it may sound, I can only hope that articles like this encourage you to go out and experience your city the way you were meant to.
People, places, food, drinks, what have you. All of these add up to what I hope entails all future posts on Philly Foodporn. It’s with a mixture of all of these that I hope to better explore Philly and get to know its good food and good people on a deeper level than a picture and a paragraph. I want to explore Philly as best as possible and the best way I know how to do that is through good food, people, music, and the arts. Have an idea of what kind of night I should have next? Know of any cool events or people I should meet and break bread with? Take a visit to my Contact page and fill me in!