Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Seedy Strip

Thirteenth Street, Philadelphia.

If you are of a certain age, just saying 13th Street conjures up images of hookers, drug dealers, wig shops and pizza. And yes, those elements are still there, albeit decorated with a new coat of paint and bright crime-stopping lighting.

But there was a time when only those daring enough would walk on 13th Street between Market and Spruce. Of course, those daring enough included those where 13th was a destination: the punks to clubs like the East Side (13/Chestnut) and the gay community to the various clubs and bars along the strip.

As long as I can remember, OK Pizza has been on 13th Street at the corner of St. James. It was the after-hours location once the after-hour clubs closed and the street there was filled with people just hanging out through the night (no cops were there to keep people moving). I'd leave the DCA (now Pure) and grab a slice and talk til the sun rose with friends, old and new.

Of course, one could always go to All In The Family lounge - easily one of the dumpiest stripper bars I've ever seen, which was directly across the street from OK Pizza. I once saw a stripper with a black eye put change into the jukebox, just so she could dance around a pole for no one.

Klassy with a capital K.

Further up 13th you can find Drury Lane - home of an irish pub (I want to say it was McGillian's) and The Drury Bar - which was a gay bar and restaurant. The space was two floors and had a kick ass brunch on Sundays which somehow ended at 2am, no matter how early you arrived. The bar went through a few name changes and owners in the 1980s and I don't think its anything now -- here's a picture of the alley - The Drury Bar was located in that sold property.

The block of 13th Street between Spruce and Locust was old, abandoned brownstone homes. There was no business there - except for the hookers that went to the Parker Hotel at the corner of 13/Spruce. The Westbury was still at its original location at the corner of 15/Spruce and I don't recall what was under the Parker - perhaps nothing. I do remember AppleJack's though ... it was a deli where Valanni is today - that had the best sandwiches and also sold take out beer. It was my 'kitchen' when I lived at 1302 Pine Street ... and if you were lucky, you could get one of the three booths in the back and actually eat in, versus having it to go.

In 1981, in one of the brownstones on 13th, I began to do some volunteer work for the Philadelphia Gay News - this was their original home. The rent was cheap (if not free) and I remember that the floor to the first floor (which was all the PGN used, since the rest of the house was falling apart), was not even ... and there was a clear plastic tarp that hung from the ceiling to catch debris as it fluttered to the ground. It was quite a sight. In doing some online surfing, I came across a wonderful picture -- for those of you who have ever been to Bump (13/Locust), let's travel back to 1913 and see that location in action.

One of those brownstones on 13th Street, behind the corner building, was where the PGN was located in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Of course the corner building [where Bump is today] is gone, but if you look down Locust Street you can see the side of The Lincoln, which at this time might have been nice - - but by 1980 was a fleabag hotel.

There were four fleabag flop houses in this area: The Lincoln, The Parker, The Kesmon and one other on 11th near Walnut (name escapes me). The Parker is the only one to remain - although now it's just a low-income housing. The Kesmon was finally closed in the mid-80s after a couple on-site murders - and was completely renovated into The Alexander Inn at 12/Spruce.

As for The Lincoln, its biggest claim to fame was that it had a speakeasy in the bottom level, back in the day [the day being the 1920s].

You entered via a door on Camac Street (the Lincoln still sits at the corner of Camac and Locust) and in 1981, that old speakeasy space became the new home of Philly's Gay Community Center - just for a few years, until the building was bought, gutted and made into apartments.

Across from the Lincoln was probably one of the more mystical spaces around (next to Harry's Occult Shop, that is).... it was Rose's Tea Room.

The building was covered completely in ivy and I only was in there once - it was a tea shop, but the story on the street was it was owned by witches!! Of course, now I know that it was actually owned by wiccan folk, but back then just knowing that witches lived on the block made for a better story!


HughE2030 said...

I lived at 13th and Spruce (above the fake 7-11) from 1988 til the mid-90s. I have fond/frightening/thrilling memories of that area. It really was a fun playground for me when I first moved to the City. There used to be a popular resturaunt below the Morris Apts on 13th Street, across from St. Lukes. Do you remember the name?
Do you remember the trio of drunks that hung out across from Applejacks, 2 men and a women (1988 - 1991). They always told me they had my back, as my drunk ass would stumble by them at the crack of dawn towards my apartment. I would give them a cigarette or a buck in thanks. One night they weren't there and I was mugged steps from my door.
Eventually I quit drinking. They were so excited when I gave them my stash of booze.
Sadly, at some point, much later, she killed one of those guys stabbing him with a broken bottle in a drunken fight. I later heard she killed herself in jail.

Ken said...

THANK YOU for bringing up the Westbury!

When I came to college in Philly in 1980, I remember hitting the Westbury with some friends during an intoxicant fueled evening, and I could have sworn it was over on 15th & Spruce. (I remember all the black leather, the biker caps and walrus moustaches).

Yet, the next time I actually noticed the place, it was on the corner of 13th and Spruce. I thought, man, I have no freakin' sense of direction - I could'a sworn this was somewhere different.


Thanks for the clarification!

Harveymilk said...

Drury Street did have McGillan's (still does) as well as the Drury Lane, and the first home of Starz (a black gay bar). Great street.