If you’ve flipped through our cousin’s newsier pages on your way here, you’re already familiar with the winners of Readers’ Choice for our 19 titillating categories. Below, you’ll find our picks for Penn’s best and brightest. Expect less hard–hitting reporting and more dancing on tables.
Best of Sansom Street: Avril 50 and Penn Law Library
In an effort to fulfill the former half of the “work hard, play hard” motto, we indulge in habitual masochism. That is, on any given night, dozens of Penn students can be found nesting in fluorescently–lit Van Pelt cubicles and resorting to Mark’s Café for a sleep–deprived caffeine jolt and a stale muffin. Thankfully, between Walnut and Chestnut streets lies a reprieve from the VP monotony. Avril 50, which Street profiled earlier this year, is a shop of coffee, postcards and magazines ranging from “Vogue” to “Tin House” to something called “Girls and Corpses.” After stopping by for coffee and chocolate, cross the street to the Penn Law library and strut inside with all the confidence of a future partner at a major firm. The skylights and view of the Center City skyline provide a cozier setting for polishing off that ten–page paper. Better yet, read that magazine you just bought from Avril 50, even “Girls and Corpses"—we don’t judge.
Best Pad Thai: Thai Singha
“I’m here!” “What do you mean you’re here? I’m here and I don’t see you,” “You’re lying! I’m here! Where are you?” And so it goes, via iMessage, until you finally muster up the courage to call this (clearly delusional) friend and yell: “I’m at Thai Singha! The one with the purple walls! The one closer to Hamco!” “Oh... I’m at the other place, see you in a minute.” While having two Thai restaurants on the same block can confuse even
the best of us, the pad thai at Thai Singha is unmistakably delicious. The massive mountain of thin noodles are cooked perfectly and covered in a sauce so spicy and peanut–y you’ll forget how much you hate your so–called friend for making you wait 15 extra minutes to order. Squeeze the orange slices that come on the side and take this pad thai to next level; like you, they’re good for more than looking pretty.
Brunch and gossip go together like orange juice and champagne. Stay on campus, however, and you'd better watch your mouth: our local brunch joints are crawling with the very people you want to discuss. A short walk to Gold Standard solves this problem and lifts your hangover enough to start drinking again. Call and put your name on the list as you walk, because breezing to your table near the fireplace feels great. For those without foresight, Gold Standard is two blocks from a liquor store. Evaluate the state of your wallet after last night and purchase booze accordingly. Spontaneous mimosas (or bloody marys) go down easy, as does the coffee, with endless refills. Fill your stomach with the ever–changing specials or the crispy potato cakes with salmon and crème fraiche ($14). If you get there after two, the café menu serves egg bowls with salsa, potatoes and cheese ($6.50) and pancakes (2 for $4) all day. In Gold Standard’s sunny dining room, brunch never looked so good. Now about that text I got last night…
“Again?” says everyone ever when they see an invite to a Charles Plaza BYO on Facebook. “I wish there was somewhere else we could get just as rowdy.”
Clearly, someone forgot about Banana Leaf. Not only does this Malaysian spot now provide you with solo cups (take that Charles!), but Banana Leaf is also a dining destination for BYOers outside the Penn bubble. You will have a live audience to watch you boat race, stand on chairs and, of course, take shots out of the soup spoons. We all know how much we love when people watch us in disgust while we act like the hooligans we are. Plus, no matter how big your party is, you don’t need to make a prix–fixe menu, and the food is actually pretty good, so there’s no need to snack before.
Among those evenings that can’t be remembered sans Facebook, Castle’s annual Graffiti Party takes the cake. Arriving annually at the beginning of the fall semester, Graffiti is the perfect example of a registered frat party done right. Deck yourself out in white clothes you don’t mind throwing out the next day-—by the end of the night, even your undergarments will (hopefully) have spray paint on them. After you get past the bros without a good ratio and the NSO freshmen with bad IDs, you'll enter a psychedelic rave with appropriate dance–inspring EDM. The frat fills the ceiling with balloons and flying glow sticks—even Castle’s iconic moose taxidermy wears fluorescent sunglasses. The best part? Getting graffiti’d by the brothers themselves.
So, you’ve discovered that Penn boys aren’t all they’re hyped up to be. Most of the guys you’ve gone out with think “grabbing Frappuccinos at Starbucks” counts as a date, and your last conversation with the BF ended with “Goddamnit Nicole, it’s not salmon, it’s Nantucket Red!” You’re looking for a man who’s more mature than macho, sensitive but not weak–willed and, most importantly, taller than 5’ 7". The Fates have answered your call with Peter Struck, professor of Classical Studies and instructor of the most (requirement) fulfilling class at Penn, Greek and Roman Mythology. His tousled hair, boyish good looks, kind eyes and quiet self–assurance remind you of your first teacher crush, Mr. Turner, from “Boy Meets World.” You giggle at his worst jokes, laugh like a hyena at his good ones and blush profusely when he reads from the “Theogony” and describes in detail the literally earth–rending lovemaking between Oranos and Gaia. And as the semester winds down and Struck begins lecturing on the application of mythology to marketing, he finds yet another way to pluck at your heartstrings. Nothing is sexier than a man who can turn a profit from liberal arts. When he plays for the class the trend–setting De Beers “Diamonds are Forever” commercial, you can’t help but recast the scene in your mind. As the generically beautiful actor/Peter Struck combo gets down on one knee and pulls out three–months salary, you shout, “YES! YES! MARRY ME!” Oh… was that out loud?
Now that you’re finally 21, the rules of going out have changed. You’re no longer just looking for any old bar that will accept your fake. Now you’re a bona fide adult who enjoys the finer things in life, like drinks made with more than two ingredients, and you're definitely over Banker's. In fact, you know what? You’re over vodka completely. You’re a whiskey kinda gal now, a gin man.
That’s why you’re going to Franklin Mortgage. It’s small and exclusive and intimate. It’s mature, like you. You don’t have to fight to get the bartender’s attention; in fact, she even helps you choose a drink based on what you like. The drinks—nay, cocktails—that come out aren’t tasteless or watered down. No. They’re strong. They’re adult. They’re made for sipping, not pounding. You sit around with your other newly–matured peers, sip on your cocktails and engage in mature adult conversation. This is how your evening goes, because you are now an adult, and this is what adults do. At the end of the night, the waitress brings out the bill. You look at it… and suddenly you realize that you don’t want to be an adult anymore. A vodka soda fits you just right.
It’s nine on Saturday night and you’re looking to start your evening off right with some refreshments. You’re out of booze and, let’s face it, even if the liquor store were open, it might as well be a million miles away. You could go to Allegro, but ugh—the selection is weak and it’s not exactly a deal. What’s a thirsty Penn student to do? Fortunately for you, a wide, wonderful world exists past 40th Street—and that world contains Evan’s Pizza. Located just past 43rd Street on Locust, Evan’s is less about the pizza and more about the drank. From six–packs of craft brews that would make Tap House envious to your standard domestic tallboys and 40s, this under–utilized gem undoubtedly has the best beer selection on campus. The prices are reasonable, the walk is pleasant and—one more thing—they have Four Loko. You heard right. See you there this weekend.
No longer relegated to the dusty territories of geekdom, comic books take on a new dimension at Locust Moon. The shop stocks traditional superhero and sci–fi titles alongside graphic novels and other more sophisticated fare. One wall features dozens of the requisite Marvel and DC Comics books: the familiar Avengers, Spiderman and X–Men. Another holds childhood comic–strip favorites, like Calvin and Hobbes, Popeye and Peanuts. Those with more highbrow sensibilities can find books with inventive takes on the form, like Anders Nilsen’s “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow,” a love story told through postcards, comic strips, letters and photos. Locust Moon also offers a number of non–literary treasures: action figures and other whimsical trinkets adorn the bookshelves (check out the particularly striking vintage Superman lunchbox). A small but well–lit gallery space adjoins the main area, and the shop occasionally hosts events and classes. Whatever your relationship with comic books, Locust Moon offers an unmatched atmosphere of novelty and quirk.
Time–capped happy hour is not the Baby Blues way—the Sansom Street BBQ grotto likes it all day. Specials, like Monday’s $3 Miller Pounders and Friday’s $1 discount on all beers and cocktails, change nightly, while the "City–Wide Special" ($6.50 for any pounder plus a shot of Jack Daniels or Jim Beam) is there to stay. On Tuesdays, $4 “Well” drinks allow for your choice of bottom–shelf booze and mixer—so customize a cranberry vodka soda, or whatever. Rumor has it that proximity makes Baby Blues Zete’s hottest hangout, but we reckon it’s got something to do with the food. Our waitress—Penn junior Allison Brodsky—told us we couldn’t go wrong with the bacon cheeseburger ($9.95) or the shrimp po’boy ($10.95), so we ordered both with fries. Our only plea for the Southern spot? Stretch your lunch deals out to dinner (food is only discounted until 4:30) so we can go at it again. Otherwise, it’ll be house tequila and pong on your outdoor table for us.
It’s mid–afternoon, you slurped up your third caffeine dosage from Williams Café an hour ago, and it’s time to crash before rising for your next class. No worries—every floor of Williams has a leather–cushioned bench recessed into the wall and adjacent to the elevator, so that regardless of what floor you’re on, your go–to napping nook is close by. Designed simply, two vertical wooden planks support one horizontal six–foot–long plank, properly fitted to the length of your Frankenstein body. Resembling a doctor’s bench that's perfect for your resurrection, four black cushions top the horizontal plank. While their abundant bounciness can fool you into believing you’re floating in spongy clouds, any passersby engaged in a sweet conversation of a Romantic tongue are equally likely to lure you to sleep. As you stare further up to the sky from your fantastical retirement in the clouds, you’ll also be greeted by a multicolored bulletin board, adorned in the flashy advertisements of foreign places you wish you could be. Just hang in there—only a few more weeks before you can show off your hard work in Italian class while on summer vacation in Venice.
Getting to Cucina Zapata can sometimes feel like a trek to the Temple of Doom. Not only is 31st and Ludlow kind of a schlep, finding a place to eat around that part of Drexel is nigh–impossible, too. But finally stumbling upon the truck may be one of the greatest treasures of a lifetime. The truck, brightly decorated but not gaudy (especially compared to Tyson Bees), serves all kinds of Mexican–Thai fusion, from chicken satay tacos to Cap’n–Crunch covered tilapia burritos. The food is magnificent, always cooked fresh, though a cold walk back to Penn could sufficiently chill your meal. The staff may be Cucina Zapata’s greatest asset, as each employee greets every customer with a smile and small talk—and it isn’t even awkward! Make the journey out to Drexel for Cucina Zapata, because no truck at Penn can match it in terms of quality, uniqueness or attitude.
There is nothing better than Shabbat at Penn. Come to Hillel for hundreds of Jews of every shape and size and stay for the challah and grape juice (maybe even wine, if you're lucky). Friday at sundown should be known as Friday at FunTown. Shabbat services at Hillel offer Friday night prayer for Jews of all denominations. Hillel's dining hall also serves a Shabbat meal. Insiders and cool kids will be invited to private Friday night dinners. The best part about Shabbat: no phones, no electricity, no bullshit. You have to stick to the plans you make and actually talk to people. On Shabbat there's no loud music to drown out conversation, just you, a potluck meal, and most likely at least 40 Jewish people. Also everyone dresses up for Shabbat! It's like being an adult: looking nice and not being on Facebook.
If you died, went to Heaven, and then went to Heaven's pizzeria to try a slice, Dock Street's pizza would still be better. Seriously, this stuff is good. Last summer, I was getting this pizza on the daily, but my doctor has since intervened due to alarmingly high cholesterol levels. I now wear a leg monitor—if I step within 20 yards of Dock Street Brewery, Dr. Cohen knows. But that doesn't mean I still can't write about their pizza. When you go, make sure you start with the Flammenkuche pie—not only is it funny to say, but it's amazing to put in your mouth (that's what she said). For your second pie (trust me, you'll want another) I recommend the a la Cocca. The a la Cocca comes with creme fraiche and a fucking egg on top! What's better than an egg on a pizza? A pizza on an egg? Hmm... we might be on to something.
So here’s why we love Recess: we concede it’s in Old City, which is kind of far off, but unlike at Whisper, you don’t have to walk up a flight of stairs to get in here. You just walk right through the door. This may sound simple, but it’s not: the architects behind the Walnut Street club were considerate enough to play to our pregame. Is there anything worse than falling up the stairs? Now for the interior: the VIP section and the plebe–playground is one in the same. It’s a bandage–skirt and grey–goose passing free for all. Don’t have a table? Don’t worry. The staff at Recess lets you play on the couches, so you can rock out and pretend you don’t want to end up on Instagram, which you will. And you will look cool even without a filter; you can smoke inside, which is a special effect in itself.
Getting a haircut at school is hard. You’ve got that special someone back home who knows exactly how you like it done and you’ve gone to her for a million years—now, you’re in a strange new place, unsure of where to turn when your locks get long. Instead of toughing it out until your next break, though, there’s a better option—Saturn Club.
A cozy, two–story salon tucked into the quiet Moravian Court area between Sansom and Walnut Streets, Saturn Club offers a broad range of services at relatively affordable prices. A simple shampoo and cut will run you anywhere from $25–$40—a bargain compared to its competitor around the corner, Adolf Biecker, where haircuts range from $40 to over $100. The staff is friendly and they know what they’re doing—the stream of regulars is testament to that.
Let's start with Green Line's coffee. If you've ever wanted to taste drip coffee fit for the gods (and not pay outrageous amounts for it, like you do at Capogiro), head to Green Line Cafe. There are three locations nearby: one on 42nd and Baltimore Streets, one on 45th and Locust Streets and one near Drexel, so study hours there are always convenient. Next, let's consider the baked goods. Are you vegan/gluten free/hungry? Green Line has a wide assortment of muffins/loaves/croissants/sandwiches for you. Some locations are cash–only though, so come prepared. If nothing else, you should go to Green Line for the eye candy. Sure, sometimes you won't be able to find a table (it's very popular with the West Philly crowd) but that just means you'll have to share a table with the gorgeous babe who rode in on his or her fixed gear bike. Swoon. You can thank us later.
Best Quizzo: Sigma Kappa
If you are so inclined, you could go to Quizzo every day of the week. The options are endless! Long Island specials and terrible team names on top of clips of Billboard’s Top 10 songs of 1997? We know, pretty tough to beat. But nothing compares to crowding into a frat house, sneaking swigs of your own homemade “Long Islands” and answering obscure facts while 100 sorority girls serve you food. We didn’t know a Quizzo that wasn’t Blarney or New Deck could be fun, but the ladies of Sigma Kappa know how to ‘zo. Plus, Quizzo for charity—Alzheimer’s research, to boot—is the icing on the cake. As this year’s emcee so astutely announced at the event, “we do Quizzo because people with Alzheimer’s can’t.” The prizes here can’t even compare to that Tap House bar tab that disappears as quickly as your bursar account. Eagles tickets, spring break trips to beach houses and enough restaurant gift cards to last a semester. Finally, Sigma Kappa Quizzo is held just once a year to create artificial demand—a classic strategy. Your move, Blarney.
Like a Monday night $10 pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea, Blarney’s favorite bartending bouncer, Dan Saris, is incredibly sweet. He's an undeniable hit with the ladies, and when it comes down to it, he can certainly knock you out. The pre–med footballer stands at six feet, three inches tall and weighs in at five tons of pure, unadulterated badass. (We added that last bit in to intimidate the TFA kids sure to stalk him next year.) Dan’s pals might say that his best qualities are his loyal friendship, sense of humor, and end- less appetite, but we know better. Dan’s real best qualities are that he never overstuffs your drinks with ice, never rejects a freshman without a sincere smile, and never cuts you off after your third fishbowl, even though he probably should.