Bordered by Broad and Sixth streets, Tasker and Washington, the neighborhood of Passyunk Square is, by turns, old fashioned and trendy. Once upon a time, East Passyunk Avenue, which bisects the neighborhood diagonally, felt a lot like a small-town main street. It was a place where mom and pop businesses — selling everything from headstones to school uniforms — catered to mostly Italian-American neighbors. Depending on who you ask, Passyunk might mean “land below the hills” or “a place of sleep” in the Native American Lenape language. And by the 1980s, Passyunk Square itself had begun to feel a little sleepy, its shops and restaurants, many of which had been in families for generations, seemingly stuck in a mid-century time warp.
In recent years, however, Passyunk Square has reinvented itself. The arrival first of immigrants from Mexico and Southeast Asia, and then millennials who appreciated the nostalgic feel of the avenue, breathed new life into the area. Bryan Capone, associate broker with the Capone For Your Home Team at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Fox & Roach Realtors, calls it a place where old-timers and newcomers mix and “everybody co-exists.”
With new residents came an influx of new businesses, which seemed to pop up overnight. Corner stores and bodegas were joined by trendy shops selling artisanal gelato and vintage clothing. The Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation (PARC) implemented a program of neighborhood upgrades, such as greening initiatives and the refurbishment of the Singing Fountain. Suddenly, sleepy Passyunk Square was red hot.
Perhaps what now defines the neighborhood most is its emergence as a magnet for Philly’s most talented chefs. Townsend, Le Virtu and Will are just a handful of East Passyunk restaurants that routinely top “best of” lists. The 2017 nominations for the prestigious James Beard Awards gave nods to Nick Elmi of Laurel (Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic) and Malaysian newcomer Sate Kampar (Best New Restaurant).
It would be a mistake, however, to overlook old-school favorites such as Marra’s and Francoluigi’s, for pizza and pasta, and Ippolitos, which Capone calls one of the best fishmongers in the city. And with East Passyunk Restaurant Week running from Feb. 27-March 10, now is a perfect time to dig in and sample some of the city’s best dining.
While real estate prices have risen to match the area’s vibrancy, there are still bargains to be had, especially for anyone willing to put in sweat equity. The row homes that make up nearly all the residential property in Passyunk Square tend to be on the smaller side and often require updates to satisfy modern tastes. But that translates into opportunities for first-time buyers, as many houses can be found for under $200,000.
The median sale price for a two-bedroom house is $305,000, well below other trendy Philly neighborhoods. Rentals are comprised largely of single-family homes or mixed-use duplex and triplex properties, with the median monthly rental coming in around $1,600.
Capone, who lived in the neighborhood from 2005 to 2014, has seen blocks gentrify as buyers have rehabbed and flipped houses. There was never much vacant land, he says, so there’s not much new construction, but the borders of the neighborhood have expanded. He also notes that, with younger residents having families, parents have gotten involved to improve local schools, such as Andrew Jackson Elementary School. For anyone looking for an affordable, walkable, vibrant place to live within easy reach of Center City, Passyunk Square is as good as it gets.
ON THE MARKET
1221 Emily St.
2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths
This renovated town house is chic and sophisticated, boasting upgraded custom designer finishes and an open-concept floor plan, all bathed in natural light from a central skylight. The kitchen offers upgraded stainless appliances, including an in-cabinet drawer microwave, French-door refrigerator and designer range hood. Upstairs are two generous bedrooms — the master features a custom walk-in closet — and master bath with European soaking tub. The fully finished basement offers additional living space, a separate laundry nook and utility closet. A private rear yard and outstanding location makes this a perfect spot to enjoy city living.
1634 S. Ninth St.
1 bed, 1 bath
This modern third-floor apartment is located just blocks from bustling East Passyunk Avenue. A large living room/kitchen combo features a skylight, hardwood floors, granite counters, stainless steel appliances and plenty of cabinet space. Highlights include a large bedroom with exposed brick walls and a marble bath. This move-in ready apartment comes partially furnished with an Italian leather sofa and chair (and optional bar stools). There’s also a new 42-inch Samsung HD TV already installed on the living room wall. The unit is cable/internet ready and includes a video intercom system. No pets and no smokers.
Contact: Michael Giordano, 215-451-7610, firstname.lastname@example.org
For real local flavor, grab some friends and stop by Garage. Housed in the former Satellite Auto Body, this mostly can-only joint — they have 300 varieties of beer and cider — is a no-frills place to shoot pool, play pinball and even try your hand at boardwalk favorite, Skee-Ball. There’s an onsite food cart welcoming a rotating roster of chefs, sometimes from featured breweries. And the BYO food policy encourages customer to sample South Philly’s finest cheesesteaks — Pat’s and Geno’s are right across the street.
1231 E. Passyunk Ave.
Bing Bing Dim Sum
If you’re after authentic Asian cuisine, look elsewhere, say Bing Bing Dim Sum’s owners, whose deeply personal cooking is “often informed by tradition, but it’s never defined by it.” But if you want a creative take on Asian favorites — try the South Philly accented roast pork bao with sharp provolone, long hots and spinach — Bing Bing has you covered. Slide into a comfy booth or take a sidewalk seat for a front-row view of the daily Passyunk passeggiata.
1648 E. Passyunk Ave.
NEW IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
Columbus Square Park at 12th and Wharton is getting a $3 million facelift and a new name: Columbus Square. Following input from neighbors, a community task force and the Department of Parks and Recreation, construction will begin this year to revamp the park for broader community use. There will still be athletic fields, but these will be joined by an expanded dog park with larger runs and anti-bacterial grass, and gathering places like the new community lawn along Reed Street and a patio along 13th. A new pathway system will connect the features and allow access from all corners