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February 17, 2015

Syreeta Martin: Why Brewerytown is Philly’s best neighborhood

Neighborhoods Brewerytown
Trolley Brewerytown Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The 15 Trolley on Girard Avenue in the Brewerytown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

There are two sides to every coin, every story and, in Philadelphia’s case, every neighborhood.

Brewerytown is ground zero for all of the above.

If you were to start on Girard Avenue at any point between 25th and 29th Street and walk three or four blocks to the left and then right, it seems like two different worlds loosely defined not just by geographical boundaries but by race and socio-economic statuses as well.

You might find yourself scratching your head. How could Brewerytown be the best neighborhood in the city? 

The truth is, it depends on whom you ask here. Over the course of the last 10 years, Brewerytown has undergone intense transformation.

Brewerytown Sign
The intersection of Oxford Street, Glenwood Avenue and North 31st Street used to be an area booming with breweries. Now, the space is scattered with crumbling buildings and faded remnants of an industry that has completely withdrawn from the neighborhood. Thom Carroll/ 

I first encountered the neighborhood as a senior journalism student at Temple University in 2012. At the time, I lived at a 22nd and Diamond — sandwiched between a liquor store and a funeral home — a few blocks away from the Brewerytown threshold at 22nd and Cecil B. Moore. I was assigned to cover the area for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Temple’s capstone course. 

During that time, I met with the Greater Brewerytown Community Development Corp., local residents,and the team over at MM Partners — a real estate development, construction and management company that had already invested about $45 million into the neighborhood (according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, the partners are now planning to invest an additional $60 million). 

While I found the GBCDC and MM Partners' plans to be relatively aligned and well-intentioned, the residents' perspectives generally went one of two ways: They loved all the new developments and the impending “bright future” (usually from the “newbies”), or it was all a clear example of the city’s push toward gentrifying the inner city, in which case, they felt rather powerless in preventing it.

Longtime Brewerytown residents have had to undergo some major re-adjustments. They tend to have relatively fixed incomes and face rising property values and other zoning and politically driven measures, in addition to an influx of new neighbors. In recent developments, the city has been “seizing property” on behalf of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Some of the “newbies” (in this case, rehabbers who have moved in within the last three to five years) aren’t so happy: 

Brewerytown Message Board

The business community has also felt the effects of the gentrification. I recently chatted with Nasir Abdullah, co-owner of the Center Stage clothing boutique at 26th and Girard Avenue, regarding the changes. Abdullah detailed how the owners had to rethink their business model and branding just to stay afloat; they now target an extremely different customer base and have all an new inventory and interior design in their store. An elderly African-American gentleman who has lived here for the majority of his life shared how the changes certainly require some re-adjusting, but that he remembers when there were “mainly white folks” here and African-Americans were just starting to move into the neighborhood. For him, life is simply coming full circle.

But it wasn’t until I officially moved into the neighborhood in 2013 that I lived both perspectives. It’s perfect for newcomers like me: the millennial professionals and first-time families. Here, we can walk down tree-lined streets to any one of the cafes (past traditional row homes and modern townhomes) to get work done over free Wi-Fi while sipping on a cup of freshly brewed coffee and eating prepared food. And when we’re too wired for own our good, we can go for a stroll, run or bike ride over to Fairmount Park to take in the beautiful views along the Schuylkill and enjoy the quiet peace of the park and its trails.

My two young daughters and I fit right into the circle that defines this neighborhood. We’re far enough away from the colleges that we don’t have to deal with the students' “liveliness” or a lack of parking on a daily basis, nor do we have to fear for our safety, because our neighborhood is safe. We’re close enough to have our own space, to have access to all of the city’s perks and to enjoy some diversity in our neighborhood, too. Here, I’ve found a clean place with a fine balance of people from different walks of life who are passionate about the city and live by its motto: “the city of brotherly love” (even if, in my neighbors' case, it may have to become a little tough love depending on what you’re doing — they’re the ultimate block captains).

Pete's Barber Shop Brewerytown
Jabre sits patiently while Pete Lopez, owner of Pete's Barber Shop, (1209 N. 29th St.), gives him a haircut. Lopez has been cutting hair just north of Girard Avenue for 20 years. Thom Carroll/

No, the nuances of Brewerytown simply cannot be painted with the broad stroke of a brush. But what Philly neighborhood can be? Let’s be honest, the gentrification that’s happening in Brewerytown is happening all across Philly — especially where universities are concerned. And if I had my pick of any neighborhood to live in, I’d stay right here. I love the imperfect masterpiece that it is. 

Here's why: 


No matter how you get around in Brewerytown, the mixture of historic, traditional and modern architecture (thanks in part to Westrum Development Co. and McSpain Properties) is sure to lure the eyes and leave you craning your neck to get a better view of the structure, details and artwork. It’s clear that Brewerytown’s roots are grounded in history and tradition, but it's reaching toward a future nurtured and pruned by innovative minds and deep pockets alike. While this is great for newcomers, it’s not always so great for native residents.

Brewerytown gentrification
The corner of Taney Street and Girard Avenue has recently seen a transformation. Thom Carroll/

In case you didn’t know, Brewerytown used to be “North Philly.” The new distinction, sparked by the unfolding real estate developments, was a nod to the numerous breweries that were located here during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even back then, it was a rather special place that underwent constant change. There’s plenty of history to check out in the area, like Girard College, the historic buildings in Fairmount Park and the historic — now mixed-use — properties like Rybrew located at 2816 Girard Ave. Rybrew was once a toy store that MM Partners acquired via REO auction in 2011. After fully renovating the property, a bi-level home featuring two roof decks and ground floor retail space occupied by the gourmet sandwich and craft beer bottle shop now sits there.

Rybrew Brewerytown
Rybrew, a sandwich shop meets bottle shop on the south side of Girard Avenue near 28th has quickly become a neighborhood staple with fresh, made-to-order sandwiches and more than 250 beers to choose from. Thom Carroll/

It also offers a large rear garage that is currently rented and used as an artists' studio. And who can forget the famous W.G. Schweiker Co. building at Jefferson and Bailey streets (the corridor is now known as the Bailey Street Arts Corridor)? MM Partners, along with Michael Connelly, a local ceramic artist and college professor, plan to build a “live/work open-plan apartment and studio, as well as a raw space to house a commercial-type business.” Come be inspired by the history and mystery that is Brewerytown.

Accessibility and transportation

With Center City less than 15 minutes away by car (about 25 minutes on a brisk walk), I-76 less than five minutes away and SEPTA running in all directions, Brewerytown is one of the most accessible sections of the city. As a media-relations consultant, freelance journalist, community activist and media personality, my schedule can change at any moment, and it’s important that I’m able to make a move in record timing if needed; living here ensures that’s possible, and my life flows a little smoother because of it.

Food and spirits

I’m a self-proclaimed “fat kid” (no, really, I use the hashtag #fatkidsunite), and the foodie scene offers a plethora of options, some of which are in nearby Fairmount. For example, if you eat by Zagat ratings, head to Angelino’s (Italian cuisine), which was rated four stars and above. There are the tried and true: Butter's Soul Food, Blue Jay Restaurant, Philly Sunnyside Diner, Deborah’s Kitchen, Italian Express and Lazo’s Pizza & Grill

Deborah's Kitchen at 2608 Girard Avenue. Thom Carroll/

Looking for something a little more modern? No worries! We have Rybrew, iMunch Café and the Lucky Goat Coffee House (more are popping up, so this list will probably change by the time it’s published). Want to get lost in the neighborhood vibe over a good drink, comfortable environment and affordable bar food? Brewerytown is just blocks away from Fairmount haunts like North Star Bar, Playmakers or ERA.

The North Star Bar Brewerytown
Fairmount's North Star Bar is a stone's throw away from Brewerytown. Thom Carroll/

Arts and culture

As a mother who loves nature and art, I appreciate all that Brewerytown offers in such a short distance. The Art Museum, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Zoo and Kelly Drive are all within walking distance. Last winter, my girls and I walked to the Art Museum steps for a killer sledding experience: THE. BEST. EXPERIENCE. EVER! For the nights you want to unwind while having a memorable time, there’s Sarah’s Place, a bar and restaurant that hosts karaoke nights, dance parties and events like Drink and Draw night — which not only spotlights talented artists but lets patrons get in on the fun, too. I’m sure some of the pics come out looking like a 3-year-old drew them thanks to booze.

Lemon Hill Park Family
Felix and his mother, Carly Maurer Kaufmann, go on an adventure to Lemon Hill's playground. Thom Carroll/ 

Commerce, retail and landscape development

There are renovations and construction happening on every block along Girard Avenue in Brewerytown. In the next year, we will welcome four new retail stores, a retail shopping center and at least three “mixed-use” developments, which will bring a minimum of 84 new apartments, 10 for-sale townhomes and three retail spaces. Oh, and that doesn’t even touch the landscape improvements to the Girard Avenue corridor; there’s way more in store for our little neighborhood.

Brewerytown Bikes
Shelly Salamon, owner of Brewerytown Bikes, with a Surly Pugsley in the bike stand. Thom Carroll/ 

Syreeta Martin is the founder and CEO of Sincerely Syreeta, a start-up consulting firm that specializes in social media, branding and strategic planning.