Race Street Cafe: Wake and Wander Visits Old Friends

Update: I am beginning to embrace the heat. Traditionally, I love hot weather – much more than the cold – but a few years in Santa Barbara will spoil anyone in terms of their expectations of comfort. The first few days were a shock, but I am now sort of enjoying all the sweat stains.

Confession: I have been to Race Street Cafe before – many times in fact. It’s probably my favorite spot in Philadelphia currently – not because it’s anything flashy – rather it’s quite modest.

208 Race Street, Old City

There’s a lot of noise being made in Old City, especially south of Market Street. Those places have their purpose – but ours was to catch up with friends and have some conversation over a few respectable beers, so we went north a few blocks.

A few months ago my very-talented friend (Boy Pierce) came to visit me in California (we went skydiving together, and I showed him the interesting people that roam Venice Beach). He makes his home in Center City, and once the sun had set I crossed the river from New Jersey and took 676 west towards downtown.

On the drive, I was playing the old blank CDs I found in the glove box and the center console – the songs bringing up memories from years ago when I often traveled this same route, when I studied journalism at Temple. I can honestly say that Philadelphia does not impress me in terms of beauty, but this drive and the stunning view you get of the skyline – especially at night – will always have a place in my heart. I did not have my camera, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. This is one of those things that we’ve seen in photos and postcards, but until you see it there in the moment, you haven’t seen it at all.

I picked up Mr. Pierce and we drove through the city down to Columbus Boulevard and parked by Pier 3 (right on the river near the Ben Franklin Bridge, under the Market Street Bridge). It was a short walk to Race Street Cafe – and we talked (once again) about our developments as artists, our strategies and our inspirations and the fact that each beautiful thing we create only motivates us to work harder, to make the next one even more expressive. (We had to get that out of the way – because once we start chatting about that stuff at the bar, people look at us like we’ve lost our minds.)

I walked in and found our friends sitting at the bar – the usual spot. See, this isn’t some bar where you never see the same person twice – this is a neighborhood bar and many of the customers are on a first-name basis with the bartenders. Don’t worry if you’re a first timer – stick out your hand and say hello (start talking Flyers hockey if you really want to impress them).

Race has a very dark atmosphere. Soft light comes from old-fashioned street lights and the bar is backlit, but that’s about it (in the winter they have the fireplace going – almost giving the place the feel of a ski lodge). Above the bar is a beer chalkboard that’s always changing – beers on tap that your average twenty-something-year-old wouldn’t recognize.

When I arrived I could feel my shirt sticking to my back, so I asked the bartender what he recommended to cool me down. He poured me a glass of the Harpoon Summer Beer. Very light and refreshing – not a ton of flavor, but a better option than Miller Lite.

I had two of those, and finally I was ready to get to work on something with a bit more to it. I was sitting by the taps and the Firestone Doube IPA had been staring me in the face. It was as good a place to start as any – a little taste of California in Philadelphia.

But the beer that stole the show was Houblon Chouffe Dubbel IPA Tripel (I had to write that one down). It’s a tripel (9% alcohol), but it drinks like a white Belgian brew. Really recommend this sipper if you see it on any beer menus – keep an eye out.

Although I did not eat last night, I can attest that the food is very good, as well as their drinks and menu in the morning at brunch.

After the bar, I walked along the edge of the river near Pier 3, and then again this morning. The Ben Franklin Bridge is beautiful when it’s all lit up.

Here are some photos:

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