More Philadelphia Neighborhoods
About Northern Liberties
Northern Liberties is one of the nation's primary examples of urban renewal. Ever since the breweries, leather tanneries and textile mills that made this a 19th century center for manufacturing closed down, the neighborhood just north of Old City had been a wasteland of abandoned factories and ramshackle rowhouses. But something funny happened on the way to the 21st century, and that was the concept of green architecture. Suddenly, progressive and eco-conscious developers were everywhere, turning once forgettable residential structures into mind-bogglingly unique sculptures forging function and design pleasingly enough to compel thousands of new residents to call them “home.”
In the years that followed, NoLibs became a haven for artsy New Yorkers priced out of Brooklyn. They, along with many design-forward Philadelphians, turned the blocks bordered by Girard Avenue, Callowhill Street, N. 6th Street and the Delaware River into the city’s original hipster hangout, full of art galleries, beer bars and tattoos. Many of those hipsters have grown up along with the neighborhood and can now be seen pushing strollers to the brand-new SuperFresh (the neighborhood’s first full-size grocery), vegetarian coffee shops, and European-style pedestrian malls, and younger hipsters have in turn gotten priced out of Northern Liberties. But despite the latest wave of gentrification, make no mistake, Northern Liberties retains its funky edge and still makes for a fun place to stroll and admire the body art.
See & Do
Designed by Bart Blatstein, the developer responsible for much of Northern Liberties' Renaissance, the Piazza is a cobblestone courtyard that's provided Philadelphians with an outdoor gathering space unlike any in the country. On the ground level, the Piazza is surrounded by a few high-profile restaurants and pocket boutiques selling an eclectic mix of clothes and accessories designed by shop owners. Rising above the Piazza are three nouveau apartment buildings that create a dramatic effect.What's most unique, though, are the myriad free public activities that take place here, from the pro baseball and football games broadcast on a larger-than-life wall-sized screen, to the farmers' markets, fashion shows and rock concerts that make the Piazza vibrant almost every day and night of the year.
Though there were early beer bars in Philadelphia that focused on Belgian imports, Standard Tap is sometimes credited as being the first restaurant to cook with craft beer in mind. With several casual dining rooms and a roof deck, you can spot many a Philadelphian whiling away a Sunday with a pint of Yards (brewed down the street) and a plate of mussels or one of the city's most highly regarded burgers. Reticent to put down your pint once it's time to leave? Shoot next door to The Foodery for one of the city's best selections of rare beer bottles. Also, don’t overlook N. Third, Abbaye, and vegan-friendly Gunners Run for more gastropub fare.
In its former life, Silk City Diner was just that: a diner, and one housed in a circa-1952 diner car at that. But as the neighborhood evolved, gum-chomping waitresses gave way to Pabst Blue Ribbon guzzling hipsters and now Silk City does triple duty as a New American restaurant, a music hall and a 3,000 square-foot terrace, AKA “beer garden.” Located at the gateway to Northern Liberties (a few walkable blocks off the main commercial strip), Silk City is open for dinner and brunch, though the best time to go is at night, when DJs get a young, diverse and funky crowd moving to the groove.
NoLibs hasn’t quite developed a hotel culture yet so the best approach would be to stay in nearby Old City and drive the few blocks north. Walking is an option but not recommended, as a highway and some semi-deserted streets separate the two neighborhoods. Free parking around the Piazza and Liberties Walk is plentiful, though parking on the main drag of 2nd Street may require patience. If you’re looking for lodging with the closest proximity to Northern Liberties, you’ll find the Holiday Inn Hotel Historic District Philadelphia to provide the expected amenities, plus a pool, at average prices. For more romantic digs, book a waterfront room a few blocks east at the boutique Penn’s View Hotel, where rooms are plush and historic.
While there are shops and galleries to be found by strolling N. 2nd Street or by poking in the nooks and crannies of the one-lane residential streets, the greatest concentration of such can be found on Liberties Walk, a charming four-block pedestrian mall whose narrow path is demarcated by a continuous flow of modern apartment structures on either side. Designed as the pre-cursor to the Piazza at Schmidts, located across the street, Liberties Walk spans four blocks with trendy and tidy niche stores like Trophy Bikes, Beautiful Blooms flower boutique and Delicious Corsets, where ladies can play dress-up in delicious handmade-to-order corsets.