The Ritzy Ritz Theaters

Whether you’re planning a special night out or just wandering around Old City, a stop at one of Landmark Theatres’ Ritz theaters is essential for a great cinema atmosphere.

These three Ritz theaters offer the best in independent, foreign and documentary film. One of the things people love about the Ritz theaters is their cultured vibe. They tend to be less crowded than many other Philadelphia movie theaters, and those in attendance are usually the quiet, intellectual types.

Their art-house identities come complete with small art exhibits in the lobbies, projected art playing before films and a classy-yet-kitschy reel of instructions that plays prior to each showing—complete with rules, such as For your safety, don’t put your belongings on the floor, and other typical theater etiquette pieces.

Of course, the Ritz’s biggest draw is their presentation of hard-to-find films. They are definitely the places to see films nominated for awards that perhaps didn’t make it into the large chain theaters.

With a combined 12 screens and a constantly rotating selection, they are sure to have something that appeals to everyone. Sometimes, they will extend a film if it continues to draw a crowd. This personal approach allows the theaters to keep their finger on the pulse of the Philadelphia film scene, and it adds to the vintage feel.

The Ritz theaters are conveniently located in the heart of Old City, surrounded by restaurants, shopping and historic sites. Their movies are a perfect compliment to a scenic post-film walk through Penn’s Landing to discuss what you just saw.

Tickets to the Ritz theaters’ shows are generally around $9 for night shows and $6 to $8 for morning/afternoon shows. Their student discount tickets, which are available any time except Saturdays and holidays, are only $6.75. They also offer discount parking for the garage at the Ritz East. You can also order advance tickets online. Call 215.925.7900 for shows and times.

Here’s a breakdown of the individual theaters:

The Ritz East (125 S. 2nd St.) has two screens and a well-stocked snack bar, offering organic teas and pastries, along with the usual theater fare.

The (214 Walnut St.) is placed at an angle to the other surrounding blocks, so look out for it as you stroll the cobblestone sidewalks. It has five screens and a concession stand which, again, offers some goodies that might not appear at mainstream theaters, such as imported chocolates and Italian sodas.

The Ritz at the Bourse (400 Ranstead St., in The Bourse building) location has five screens and a well-stocked, classic concession stand. Its underground theaters add some flair.

All three theaters often provide free advance screenings and midnight showings. You can usually find these posted at the theaters, or sign up for their free newsletter (also at the theaters) to get the inside scoop.

From the bustling, historic district in which they’re nestled to the artistic atmosphere inside, the Ritz theaters are a cache of gems in the Philadelphia cinema sphere. See what’s playing now in a theater near you.

You can contact Emily Heller at

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Spring Cleaning Hits Philly

As the weather gradually gets nicer and winter slowly leaves, don’t stay cooped up in your room doing homework. Instead of just reading about it, why not get out and actually do something that’s good for the environment and yourself? You can even make some new friends in the process!

By attending the fourth annual Philly Spring Cleanup on April 2nd (rain date April 8th), which takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can join Mayor Nutter and do just that.

This year, the cleanup is focused on putting an end to littering—permanently. Last year’s cleanup consisted of more than 11,000 volunteers working on over 230 projects; over a million pounds of trash was collected. And, this year’s event looks just as promising.

Philly Spring Cleanup is based on the “Unlitter Us” campaign, which encourages Philadelphian pledges to make the city a better, healthier place. Philly Spring Cleanup provides the perfect opportunity to help make it happen.

In fact, opportunities to spruce up the city are endless. Cleanups are taking place throughout Philly and consist of beautifying parks, cleaning neighborhoods and removing graffiti. The areas you clean are based on your personal preference and are chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis on Philadelphia Streets Department’s website. Plus, many opportunities to help can work around your schedule.

Service trip highlights include the Saint Joseph’s sponsored cleanup of North Philadelphia sidewalks, the tidying up of Happy Hollow Playground and the clearing of the Schuylkill River banks. In addition, spots for the “Let’s Keep It Clean Campaign” are still available, where you can plant flowers near abandoned houses.

Although the Philly Spring Cleanup is a special occasion, keeping Philly beautiful doesn’t have to be. Participating in any of these cleanups doesn’t require a future commitment, but it can. Even if you can’t make this year’s cleanup, many organizations are still searching for volunteers for during the summer, as well as year-round.

As the weather becomes nicer, why not take some fun opportunities to get out and help the environment? Whether it’s for Philly Spring Cleanup, another organization or simply for you, the opportunities are endless.

You can contact Danielle Miess at

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A “Love Letter” to Philadelphia

The Mural Arts Programhas made Philadelphia the mural arts capital of the world.

The program began in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, turning “destructive graffiti writing to constructive mural painting.” Philadelphia now boasts over 3,000 murals.

50 of these are part of a single project by artist Steve Powers called Love Letters. Arguably the Mural Arts Program’s most popular project, the Love Letters are a series of murals located along the Market-Frankford Linebetween 45th and 63rd streets. They present the story of a love letter between a man and a woman, as well as between Philadelphians and their city.

Powers envisioned the murals as a way for a fictional man to get back the woman he loved; he painted the murals for her to see when commuting every day on the El.

The murals have endearing, funny, romantic and creative messages: “Forever begins when you say yes” is located not far from “Your EVER AFTER is all I’m After.” Creative fonts and colors add to the appeal.

At the same time, the murals are closely tied to their communities. The messages reflect the buildings on which they are painted. An eyeglass store reads “Open Your Eyes/I See the Sunrise,” and a barber shop boasts a razor reading, “I’ll Shape Up.”

The painting of a single mural generally takes between 4-8 weeks, during which local students or underprivileged youth are often involved in the process. When the mural is done, Mural Arts Program throws a party for the community, during which they dedicate the mural and celebrate art and culture.

The Love Letter project has been wildly successful, having been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

But, Powers had a long journey to success. He’s a West Philadelphia native and former graffiti writer, who became an established studio artist, illustrator and Fulbright scholar.

He initially did not want to work within the Mural Arts Program’s rules, so he moved to New York City, where he began graffiti-ing under the pseudonym “ESPO,” telling people he worked for the city. He first gained public recognition when The New York Times ran a story on him; but, with his cover blown, he needed a new project.

After working in several cities (and creating the prelude to Love Lettersin Ireland), he came back to his hometown. According to Powers, he wanted to “put something on these rooftops that people would care about.”

Powers made sure to leave his mark on every mural. They are, for the most part, painted with regular graffiti—not the expensive paint and varnish that the Mural Arts Program normally uses to make its projects. The “EVER AFTER” in “Your EVER AFTER is all I’m After” has already faded from bright pink to gray.

To learn more stories about the history of individual murals, explore this piece of city art on the Love Letter Train Tour. It runs every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. You’ll travel along the El in a small group of about 10 people, getting off at certain stops to look more closely at some of the murals. The tour costs $17/person, train fair included.

You can contact Rachel Taube at


A Fresh Start with the Phils

With Opening Day right around the corner, two new members of the Philadelphia Phillies are looking to make the starting day lineup. Former top prospects Josh Barfield and Dan Meyerwill need to prove they can perform consistently, though, if they want to secure a spot in the Phillies’ roster.

When Baseball America published its 2005 top 100 prospects, superstars Ryan Howard and Cole Hamelswere included, alongside Barfield and Meyer. Now in 2011, they are both non-roster invitees, looking to prove themselves in the Phillies’ organization. What happened?

A plague of injuries, in conjunction with questionable performances in their first few years in major league baseball, prove that even the most highly touted prospects must be able to walk the walk before they’re guaranteed any job security.

During his rookie year, Barfield climbed the ranks in the San Diego Padres’ organization, becaming a fixture in the starting lineup. After being traded to the Cleveland Indiansin 2006, he was sent down to the minors after hitting .243 with three home runs.

In addition to his poor hitting, he was plagued with injuries, including hand surgery in 2008. Last season, he did not play in the major leagues for the first time since 2005, and though he posted decent numbers during his stint in Triple-A, he spent a good amount of time on the disabled list.

Barfield is a second baseman by trade, but he worked at third base and the outfield last season; this versatility will hopefully make him more attractive to the Phillies. He’s making a strong case to start at second base if Chase Utley’s knee injury (tendinitis) does not improve soon, as Barfield hit .474 with two extra base hits over the course of six games in the Florida Grapefruit League, a Florida-based major league baseball spring training league.

Barfield started at Utley’s usual spot at second in their March 8th victory over the Baltimore Orioles, and though he was 0-3, he walked, scored two runs and stole a base. If Barfield shows he can perform consistently, the Phillies may just feel comfortable enough to give him the starting spot over Utley.

The Phillies made another low-key signing when they welcomed lefty reliever Meyer to a minor league contract. Meyer, who will be 29 years old this season, has only seen prolonged action in the major leagues for one season.

Meyer was a highly touted prospect out of James Madison University, and a first round pick by the Atlanta Braves in 2002. His only full successful season in the majors was two years ago with the Florida Marlins, when he was 3-2 with two saves and a 3.09 ERA in 71 appearances, with opponents batting just .219 against him. Meyer walked just 21 batters that season, and gave up only 20 runs in 58.1 innings.

In 2010, however, Meyer struggled with his mechanics and a calf injury, and he racked up a 9.64 ERA in 13 games. He ended up spending most of the season in the minors, and Florida let him go as a free agent once the season was over.

Now, Meyer has a chance for a fresh start with the Phillies. In 2010, left-handed relief had been a source of concern for the organization, and Meyer will compete for a spot on the 2011 roster.

Barfield and Meyer have unique opportunities to prove themselves with the Phillies this season, as the team is in need of infield depth and left-handed pitching. If the two are able to prove themselves amidst the talent the team currently has, they may be able to resurrect their careers, as well as help the organization to their next World Series title.

You can contact Stephanie Zrebiec at


Let Me Down Easy

The Philadelphia Theatre Company is proud to present Anna Deavere Smith in her show, Let Me Down Easy, which delves into the universal topics of life, health and death. It’s also a must-see event for socially aware students who love live theater.

Anna has never come to Philadelphia in a full show before. She’s one of the great theater artists of the world, and we’re honored to be presenting her here for the first time, said Sara Garonzik, managing artistic director of the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Smith has made a name for herself in both the world of theater and that of international politics and awareness.

She has created a theatric art form that she invented. She’s part journalist and part actress, explained Garonzik.

This duality in her art form seems to reveal the root of her talent; as she naturally transforms herself on stage into the characters she embodies, she is able to tell audiences their stories as if she herself lived them.

Watching her transform herself from the inside out in such a complete way is like watching an athlete…watching her is like watching no one else on the planet, said Garonzik.

Let Me Down Easy began when Smith was commissioned by Yale University to conduct interviews with doctors and patients before performing some of her work for them. The show grew out of these initial interviews. She then went on to interview 300 people about their experiences with life, death and health over 10 years, creating the show as it exists now.

The show hit it big, holding a spot at the off-Broadway Second Stage Theatre in New York City. The Philadelphia Theatre Company has linked up with other theaters to bring this important piece of work to its community, and to keep such a poignant show going.

Let Me Down Easy presents real, touching stories of Americans struggling to maintain health while dealing with unfeeling doctors, undergoing harsh cancer treatments and trying to reconcile the emotional hardships of death with the uncaring modern American health care system.

Smith’s range of characters is incredible. In Let Me Down Easy, she transforms herself into 20 different people, each with their own voice and traits—which she takes on as she speaks their actual words, taken from her interviews.

One crowd pleaser is Brent Williams, a proud Republican cowboy. Another, Ruth Katz is the only one Smith originally interviewed for the Yale project who has remained in the show. In her experience, a doctor said her paperwork was lost and gave her brash treatment until she revealed that she was the Associate Dean of the Yale School of Medicine.

All of the issues in Let Me Down Easy are extremely relevant to anyone living in America today. The issues of health are universal to the human condition. Mayor Nutter himself is a big fan of Smith, whom he met in Washington, D.C. at the Mayor’s Conference, where they both received awards. The Mayor attended opening night, and he clearly feels the issue of health care is important to the Philadelphia community.

If you’re young and engaged and interested in what’s going on on the planet, if you’re media centric…if you love live theater, you will enjoy this show. She truly plugs you into the stories and informs, as well as entertains, said Garonzik.

If you have a love for theater, and if you’d like to see an international celebrity and poignant political and social critic talk about a topic that is universally important, order your tickets online now.

The show will run from March 18th until April 10th at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre (480 S. Broad St.).

You can contact Emily Heller at

Photo: ©

Big Laughs in Philly Comedy

Philadelphia isn’t exactly known for its stand-up comedy scene. It often goes underrated and unnoticed because of bigger cities, such as New York or Los Angeles.

Comedy venues like the Laff House, Helium Comedy Club and Comedy Cabaret, along with various open mic nights, are making a splash in the city, showing off the area’s most talented professional and amateur comedians.

For those interested in making a name as an up-and-coming comedian, many opportunities are readily available. Even if comedy is just a developing hobby, there’s no reason not to give it a try at a local club. In fact, people you least expect may actually be stand-up comedians.

Amateur Philly comedian Jason Hazelwood has done everything from video production to his current day job as a nuclear pharmacy tech. As not enough creative opportunities existed in his current field, he decided to give comedy a try. Four years and plenty of comedy shows later, he doesn’t regret giving the scene a try one bit.

Hazelwood particularly enjoys the individuality of the Philly comedy scene. [Philly] has opportunities for comedians of many different styles, he said. If you’re a storyteller, do improv [comedy], or sketch comedy, if you’re artsy or corporate, clean or filthy, there are opportunities for you.

For those that are in the beginning stages of considering a comedy career, Hazelwood said, There may not always be money, but there is generally an audience, with so many stages and bars and open mics.

Hazelwood also suggests for amateur comedians not to get roped into a bringer show

Mighty Writers Fighting for Literacy

The state of Philadelphia education is well below that of other large cities in the United States; it has only a 66% high school graduation rate. And as of 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 22% of Philadelphian adults lack basic literacy skills.

Because of the low literacy problem, Philadelphia is falling behind other cities in economic growth. Many jobs require high-level literacy skills; without people to fill these jobs, Philadelphia cannot draw big businesses, and the city cannot compete.

Mighty Writers is trying to change that.

Mighty Writers is a non-profit organization, offering free writing programs to underprivileged Philadelphia students.

It provides a daily after-school program, long- and short-term writing workshops (interactive, themed classes), a weekly Teen Writers Lounge (for high-schoolers) and an SAT preparatory course.

Workshop topics range from sports blogging, to music reviews, to writing about the neighborhood. These workshops are staffed almost entirely by volunteers, including journalists, teachers, young professionals and students.

Last year, a friend and I volunteered to run a workshop for middle school students on memoir writing—so I got an inside look at the way workshops are organized.

Volunteers propose a workshop for a specific age group, lasting between five and 10 weeks. They, then, are free to create their own lesson plan. After submitting one to a Mighty Writers coordinator for approval, the workshop is advertised on its website and by email.

In my workshop, every week included a reading of a professional piece, followed by time for students to discuss, write their own short pieces and edit with another student.

The Mighty Writers program was started by Tim Whitaker, as he explained in a June 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer article. After a rocky education during his own childhood, he wanted to make a difference for other children.

He decided to call his program Mighty Writers; he “liked the name because it bestowed literary empowerment on every kid who walked through the door before he or she was even asked to write a single word. (My indolent school-age self would have appreciated the sentiment.)”

An April 2010 report from Carnegie Corporation of New York explained that learning to write helps students learn to read.

“Writing instills discipline and allows you to organize your thoughts. The ability to write persuasively can help you get into college, land a job or convince somebody you’re right,” Whitaker explained. “Programs like Mighty Writers do what the schools can’t by showing kids a different route to success.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, you can run a workshop or donate your time during homework hours. Sign up here.

You can contact Rachel Taube at

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Philadelphia has an awesome music scene, and many of the city’s local bands are gaining or have gained national recognition. Two local favorites are Natalie Nylon and Rob Paine.

Natalie Nylon

According to her official Myspace page, pop singer Natalie Nylon is described as a “vibrant young singer-song writer,” who “has had a passion for music since day one.” From an early age, Nylon was singing along to musicals like Annie and Les Miserables, and even played the part of Annie in her school play.

Though her music has evolved into an edgy-pop sound, Nylon was actually trained as a classical and musical theater vocalist until her late teens. She strayed from this path, however, realizing she was more inspired by the Philadelphia punk scene. It was then that she began to play bass guitar in a punk rock band, Accident Prone.

After journeying to Los Angeles, Nylon joined a band called The Midnight Shakes, and she began experimenting with synthesizers. She also filmed a reality television show called Rock Bottom, which aired on Fuse TV. In 2008, Nylon began collaborating with noted artists Daniel Dart from Time Again and Miko, after he discovered Nylon on Myspace. The teamwork eventually led to Nylon’s most well-known songs, “Let’s Go (Dance),” “XXX” and “Queen Bee,” which topped the European DJ charts at #1.

Nylon lists her major influences as Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry—and, once you listen to one of her songs, you can definitely hear the influence. Like all three pop stars, Nylon’s music is edgy, reflecting her innermost thoughts and feelings. Her lyrics sound like they are torn out of a diary.

Her music best fits under the category pop/dance music, yet it has a slight sharpness to it. Nylon professes that she’s a strong independent woman, who never follows the “norm;” she follows her instincts, and this is most certainly reflected in her music.

Nylon is part of the DJ League, which is Europe’s #1 DJ community.

Songs to check out:

“Let’s Go (Dance)”

“Queen Bee”

Rob Paine

DJ Rob Paine’s inspiration for his DJing style is rooted in reggae music and culture. He first began listening to reggae-influenced bands, such as The Clash and The Police, when he was in junior high. It was then he realized reggae music truly moved him. This love remained steadfast, and it can now be heard in his reggae-influenced house, deep techno, broken beat, dub and down-tempo soul/hip hop.

Paine’s penchant for blending different sounds stems from his interest in a mixture of cultures. This love began when he traveled to downtown Philadelphia in the late 1970s. He eventually moved there in the early 90s—the same year he started to DJ on a professional level. At the same time, he was majoring in jazz saxophone at Temple University. Prior to attending Temple, Paine played in a ska-reggae punk band called Hyperactive.

Paine has been a professional DJ in Philly since 1993, and he began a tour of major U.S. cities that same year, after a successful booking in Pittsburgh. He is known for energizing crowds and continues to play for many of the same clubs as when he first started. Throughout his career, Paine has performed in prominent clubs in Canada, Mexico, Jamaica and London, and he’s worked alongside artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Roots and Lady Alma.

These days, he performs monthly in San Francisco, weekly in South Beach Miami and frequents Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

Above all, Paine is possibly most well-known for his mash-ups of house and reggae music. According to Worship Recordings’ website, Paine said, It’s really exciting to be able to switch between the two genres and sometimes do a mash up of the two and everything in between. But it is always about keeping the dance floor rammed and getting the crowd to come with you on that journey through your set with out missing a beat.

You can contact Stephanie Zrebiec at

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A Truly Non-Traditional Bride

The year 1969 brings to mind hippies, music, freedom, love and art. It’s not surprising, then, that out of that atmosphere of cultural upheaval and evolution sprung a performing arts center that has remained, for 41 years, a hip and unique space to create and view art.

The Painted Bride Art Center was founded by a group of artists who graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After being turned down time and time again by established art studios and venues, this group of artists decided to embrace an entrepreneurial, DIY vibe.

They opened their own window of opportunity in an old bridal salon off of what was (at the time) a relatively barren South Street. They founded The Painted Bride Art Center as a place of true collective cooperation, helping each other along the path of creativity and gaining a following as they went, bringing in poets, writers, musicians and more.

Describing the current state of the art center, Phil Sumpter, Director of Marketing and Communications, peppered his explanation with words and phrases such as totally alternative, off the beaten path, hip, fringe, unpretentious, fun and cutting edge.

Even in the face of a rapidly changing arts and culture scene, The Painted Bride has maintained its diamond-in-the-rough appeal.

The Painted Bride is the original author of the fringe arts…and we continue to be relevant and also make noise. We’re a gem, said Sumpter.

This is a place where people can come and experience new things, thus generating new ideas of their own. The Painted Bride offers a global, first-class art and culture experience, with artists ranging from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Tibet, India, France and urban America.

One such artist is Mark Josephs, who addresses social issues—specifically the issues of education, racism and the internal denial of responsibility that haunts youth in America—through his hip-hop theater infusion of spoken word and music.

The Painted Bride is also excited to be hosting Zakir Hussain, a “rock star in world music,” who is returning to the venue to perform classical Indian music accompanied by a tabla drum. Although this show is sold out, students can still participate in a workshop with Hussain, where they can get up close and personal with a global super star. If interested, get tickets to join this workshop.

The Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra, a 12-member percussion group joined together as one voice representing four distinct folk art traditions in drumming, are another Philadelphia favorite. The Painted Bride is always excited to provide a stage for Spoken Hand, a group who, like many artists, can truly call this art center home.

People go bananas, they feel it in their hearts and lose their minds. We have people dancing in the aisles, coming up on stage. You do not want to miss this, said Sumpter.

If you’re interested in world cultures, drumming and rhythmic dance, you’re sure to enjoy this performance. Reserve your tickets online.

Shows at The Painted Bride are great ways for students to tap into the culture Philadelphia has to offer. Its focus on students is reflected in its low ticket prices. It’s also involved in the Cultural Passport Program, which encourages students to explore the many different cultural elements available in Philadelphia. The Painted Bride is one place that makes Philadelphia’s changing art scene accessible to anyone and everyone.

No matter what your artistic interests, The Painted Bride has something for you. It’s an affordable way to foster a love of local art, music, poetry and dance. Through the years, it has maintained the founders’ focus on artists, which provides a sense of purity that the mainstream theater scene cannot match.

The Painted Bride a Philadelphia-rooted center, but it also maintains a global perspective, straddling the line between cutting edge and accessibility.

You can contact Emily Heller at

Photo: ©

St. Patrick’s Day: Philly Style

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Luckily for you, even if you don’t have your own ancestors from the Emerald Isle, Philadelphia has plenty of green (and white and orange) roots for you to embrace.

Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Paradehas been a yearly tradition since 1771. It’s the largest parade in Philadelphia, measured by number of participants.

Even if you missed this year’s parade, which was held the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day (as per tradition), you can catch an encore showing on the CW Philly 57 network tonight or on Saturday, March 19th, from 12-3 p.m. You could also always check out photos and videos from the parade online.

Like Philadelphia’s Irish community, the parade has a historyolder than the nation itself!

The parade was established by The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, which honored Irish heritage, primarily by spreading the stories of early Irish immigrants in the infant United States. Today, many who seek to respect important Irish figures can do so in Philadelphia.

Laurel Hill Cemeteryis holding a St. Patrick’s Day tour on March 17th to honor the Irish lads and lasses interred in this historic graveyard. Explore and learn about Philly’s Irish heritage amidst the rolling green hills of the cemetery.

A visit to The Irish Memorialat Penn’s Landing is yet another way to give a ceremonial nod to our city’s Irish heritage. This large statue memorializes the tragedy of the Irish Potato Famine and the ensuing struggle that Irish immigrants faced in their battle to establish new lives in America, particularly in cities like Philadelphia.

Located at Front and Chestnut Streets, right on the edge of Old City, the memorial adds an important touch to the historic district. St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to stop by the small, landscaped park, read the informative plaques and consider the influence of Irish heritage in this country.

Philly is also rife with Irish restaurants and eateries, where you can sample traditional fare year-round. If you’re feeling particularly spirited this St. Patrick’s Day, why not try to make some festive food of your own? Philly.comis a great resource for restaurant and recipe tips. In particular, check for recipes that have been passed down through families; these are part of true Irish-American traditions, just like Philly.

Whether your blood-line is as green as shamrocks or you can’t tell the difference between a leprechaun and a garden gnome, St. Patrick’s Day traditions in Philadelphia are something everyone can celebrate. Keep a sharp eye, and you’re sure to spot some of the rich Irish history in the city. St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to tap into this important cultural pot o’ gold.

You can contact Emily Heller at