It’s around 10 p.m. on a Friday, and I’m shuffling my feet on the corner of 36th and Market streets outside of an imposing black storefront accentuated with magenta flowers and neon blue lightning bolts. The awning reads “Pace Blossom,” the words split by a circle of petals with a heartbeat graphic in the middle. The street is eerily quiet, save a few speeding cars, and the stanchions posted outside of the building’s doors sit stiff like security guards. 

I’m close to messaging the manager—a guy called Eric—on Instagram when a flurry of activity interrupts my thoughts. Pace & Blossom’s massive doors crack open, and a few people dressed in black pour out, talking and laughing to themselves. Aida, a hostess with a strong smile, sees me first. “Oh! You’re the one writing the article!” I nod, and she takes pity on me and waves me over to a podium at the door.

Pace & Blossom, a Philly nightlife newcomer, dominates University City’s Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It’s the second generation of barely–legals’ beloved West & Down, a popular bar and club that was tucked under Bonchon on 38th and Chestnut streets. On Feb. 10, West & Down took to Instagram to assuage their nearly 8,000 adoring fans’ fears—the club wasn’t closing, it was just moving to a different location. “It is not a goodbye but a ‘SEE YA LATER MFERS!’” West & Down wrote.

In early June, the Pace & Blossom crew welcomed back University City’s rowdiest MFERS. The new spot is an explosion of neon lasers, bubbles, color–changing drinks, women in lacy thongs, men in all–black suits, and Aida in her elegant midi skirt. This bizarre ecosystem is strung together by an equally indomitable and unlikely tie: family. 

“I don’t usually do nightlife,” Aida tells me, leaning on the hostess desk outside of Pace & Blossom. This is her first time working at a club—during the day, she’s a manager at a bakery, which does its best to accommodate her late–night schedule. “That’s the best of both worlds, Miley Cyrus type of thing,” she says.

I ask Aida what you need to be a hostess at a place like Pace & Blossom. She says it takes people skills, but also something less formal than that. “I’m just here to have a good time,” she shrugs. 

“I thought a lot of good ones,” a tall blond kid interrupts, stepping closer to Aida’s podium. She yields, smiling. “Fluff knows his stuff.”

Fluff is Jack Manogue, who works as security at Pace & Blossom and detests the textured nickname bestowed upon him by his co–workers. By day, he’s a product manager at PECO and a mechanical engineering student on co–op at Drexel. By night, he checks IDs at the door and tinkers with Pace & Blossom’s special effects—like bubbles, lasers, and a fog machine—in his honorary role: production specialist.

Jack and Aida, two halves of the same door, couldn’t be more different. He’s a veteran of the Philly nightlife scene and spends the latter part of our conversation explaining the rules of 78, a twist on beer pong with six players and 78 cups on each side. What does it take to do door at Pace & Blossom? “Patience,” Jack says, without hesitation. 

I retire to the podium where Aida lingers—still hesitant to try my luck with Pace & Blossom’s massive door. “Would you like a tour?” she asks.

The entrance parts easily for Aida. 

It’s a few minutes past opening, and Pace & Blossom pulses under mounted LED screens and multicolored lights. To my right is the VIP section, plump black booths with wooden tables on a gated platform, reserved for the club’s special guests. To my left sits a long bar with a stone countertop, and on it are glowing plastic cups stacked around silver taps. Tucked in a corner, a black iron staircase slinks into darkness. The main dance floor sprawls in front of me on the first floor, dizzying tile framed by the DJ’s enormous platform.

Photo: Emily White

Aida hangs left toward the bar, where a motley crew of suave bartenders, women in lingerie, and a large dude in an all–black suit lean over the counter in light conversation. Before flitting off, she introduces me to my next victim: 34–year–old Angel Arroyo, who works the bar.

Angel has an air of reflection absent from his college–aged co–workers. He’s worked with the owners of Pace & Blossom for over a decade, helping open West & Down and seeing the venue through a global pandemic. “[The past two years] really brought us all together, because we were together before the world changed,” he says. “Our staff, we’re all like family.” 

If Pace & Blossom is a family, Angel is the dad. Or a cool uncle. He knows everything that goes on around the club, and everything that will go on. “We’re only about 75 percent done with this place,” he says. In Pace & Blossom’s future are new screens and tables, an upstairs bar, a kickass chandelier, and a restaurant set to open in the fall. 

Without Aida, I slide down the bar until I bump into Kenzie Taylor, who carefully arranges glasses behind the counter. The first thing I notice about Kenzie is that she’s mostly naked. Tonight, she wears only a black lacy bra with embroidered flowers on the cups and a high–waisted thong.

Kenzie started working at West & Down when she was 19—she got the job through Instagram. “I had no experience whatsoever, they gave me a chance, and I learned how to bartend in about a week,” she says.

Kenzie, and the three other girls that mill about her behind the bar, are part of the Blossom Babes—scantily–clad staff with their own designated Instagram. When I ask Kenzie if she thinks people come to Pace & Blossom because of the Blossom Babes, she cracks a huge smile. “One hundred percent,” she says. “One hundred percent, that is a big reason why they come.”

Photo: Emily White

Joining the Blossom Babes changed Kenzie’s life. “It gave me the family I never had,” she says.

It’s a sweet sentiment, even when a tall figure down the bar interjects that the Pace & Blossom family can be absolutely rabid, too. Marc Jordine is the VIP host. When a prized guest waltzes through the door, a besuited Marc greets them with an expensive bottle and a flattering smile. 

Marc the VIP host is the suave intermediary between his identity as a marketing and communications major at Drexel and Marc after dark, who corralled the Pace & Blossom staff into attending his 22nd birthday party at their sister club in Chinatown.

“Every day I have class, and the days I have off I try to get my homework done on time,” Marc says. In the same breath, he regales me with the story of his 22nd birthday—he decided to take 22 shots, but ended up blacking out and doing 34. 

The energy in Pace & Blossom is amping up, but exhaustion works its way between my bones. I have an early flight the next day, so I head outside to thank Aida for her guidance. That’s when I catch him—the manager I had messaged with on Instagram and the man of the hour. 

The man in question is Eric Haff, the general manager of Pace & Blossom and total dad of this ragtag family (sorry, Angel). He’s been in the nightlife industry for half his life, since he started bartending at 16, and he moved to Philly about eight years ago.

Photo: Emily White

Eric waxes poetic about Pace & Blossom with a solemnity even Angel can’t match. He often works ten–hour days when the club isn’t even open, just to make sure everything runs smoothly once it is. “What’s that saying? ‘If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life,’” Eric preaches. “So I love what I do … but it’s also very hard.”

As Eric speaks, a steady stream of people shake his hand and clap him on the back. I catch one of them telling him, “Happy Birthday, man.” He jokes back, “Hey, it’s not midnight yet. Let me be 34 for another 20 minutes.”

That night, as I complete my bedtime social media scroll, I click on Eric’s Instagram story. It’s an explosion of sound and color and community. Pace & Blossom is alive for Eric’s birthday—Marc waves a massive glowing sign above his head that reads “Happy Birthday Asshole.” Kenzie and the Blossom Babes carry in a bottle of champagne framed with sparklers on their shoulders. The crowd rises and falls together in celebration. And from out of the frame, I hear Aida’s laugh ringing.