Every man, no matter what age, deserves to unwind with his buddies. This is essential to maintaining a good balance in your life. Whether your interest lies in fishing, seeing your favorite sports team play, or any other number of hobbies, heading out with a few close friends to partake in your favorite shared activity is a great way to escape the pressures of the daily grind. With this in mind, my friends and I created The Nor’Easter. This is the name we have given our annual guys’ trip. The premise is to seek out a new city each year, finding out what makes each destination unique. We usually seek out urban environments, hit up some of the well know eateries, investigate the music scene, and take time to learn some history along the way. While this is our focus, it’s not uncommon for us to find our way into the local haunts – from the gritty dive bars to the most hidden local hangouts in each city.
The Nor’Easter was conceived about seven years ago when Moops, Barnett, and Mike – my cohorts – went up to NYC to play a gig with their college band. We look back on this as the genesis of what became our trip. After several more random trips over the following years it was apparent, going to a new city each year and checking out the scene was pretty fun. However, our trip as it’s now known includes four of us, and it all really began in Chicago in 2007. Each year we table some ideas for the next city via email and discuss the merits of what makes that location interesting enough for a weekend. It could be great BBQ, a well-known brewery, or a famous music venue. Once a location is selected you can bet we will be there the third weekend in August.
There are many guidelines and customs for Nor’Easter. First, the trip is meant for a weekend. Fly out Friday, taking a half day at most. The first man to arrive at the hotel is responsible for setting up the bar. He is tasked with finding some good local beer and having it on ice at the hotel when the others arrive. A constant goal throughout the weekend is to get down with the locals. This can be any number of things, but hitting up a house party is the preferred method. It’s crucial to utlize public transportation as much as possible. Get out and see the town, but don’t stress over getting to every tourist spot – just maintain a comfortable pace. Pre-dinner charcuterie Saturday night is recommended. It’s a great way to chill and hash out some ideas before a night on the town. Finally, you want to be the last one to leave on Sunday, this is highly respected.
This year, the city of Brotherly Love beckoned, Philly was selected as our destination. Philly typically gets a bad rap because it’s rough around the edges – something I wouldnt argue – but beyond the tough exterior is a city with great food traditions and some of America’s best history.
The travel God’s were not smiling upon us this year. Despite making it to the Atlanta airport at 5PM to catch my flight to PHL, I found myself landing in Baltimore at midnight and renting a car. After a two hour drive, Barnett and I finally arrived at our hotel in the City Hall district around 3AM. Luckily Mike and Moops had some cold Yards waiting for us weary travelers.
Our Saturday started a little late, but appropriately, we headed over to Pat’s for the original cheese steak. While I think anyone who enjoys a good cheese steak should visit Pat’s to pay homage, I would say to keep your expectations low. The sandwich was prepared hastily and was underwhelming. My main complaint? Too much bread. I don’t consider myself a food critic so I’ll just end by saying, the sandwich was ok.
After lunch we had the entire day ahead of us. You would be remiss to visit Philly and not take in some historical sites, and by that I mean anything featured in the movie Rocky. Our next stop was the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by its massive front steps and the scene in Rocky where Stallone finishes his long run. The city recognizes the significance of this with a life size statue of Rocky Balboa near the base of the iconic stairs; of course we got a picture with it. After leaving the library we made our way to some real historical sites, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Ben Franklin’s grave.
We tend to walk a lot and this year was no exception. After a few hours of seeing sights we needed to rest our legs. We made our way to the South street neighborhood for an afternoon cocktail. O’Neals is an Irish pub with a patio out back that’s perfect for on a sunny August day. A few whiskey and ginger’s later the edge was sufficiently off and we had planned our next move.
Our next destination was the Reading Terminal Market. I have visited markets all over the world and this one certainly competes with the best of them. The Reading Market was just a few blocks from our hotel and sells everything from fresh fish to gourmet chocolate. Frankly, you could spend the entire day at this place and not be bored, tons of great merchants and food vendors! After purchasing an assortment of olives, cheese, bread, cured meats and wine, we were headed back to the hotel to relax. Despite getting to see some of the best things a city has to offer, our pre-dinner ritual is really one of the best parts of the weekend. Having some light food and drinks while planning the night ahead is a great way to unwind and get ready for a night on the town.
While getting ready, we convinced Barnett that every shirt he brought was ugly and he should probably just stay in, but thankfully Moops offered a shirt of his own for the evening, and we headed over to Buddakan. We heard the Philly location opened to much fanfare a few years ago, serving as an Asian fusion restaurant in Old City. Despite having the worst vodka gimlet of my life at the bar prior to dinner, the overall experience was good, except for Moops sending back his meal, something he claims that he ‘never does’, but he’s batting about 50/50 on Nor’Easter’s thus far – food snob.. What this place may lack in food and drink is definitely made up in atmosphere and clientele.
After dinner we decided to keep it close to the hotel and hit up a watering hole in City Hall. Per usual, we ended up meeting some friendly locals and chatting late into the night. What do you do when last call comes around and you feel that twinge of hunger? In Philly, you hit up a late night cheese steak. That’s right, the second cheese steak in roughly 12 hours, that’s what we do. I can’t recall the name of the sandwich shop or even what part of town it was in, but I do remember taking a 20 minute cab ride each way because we heard it was that good. This was by far the best cheese steak of the weekend, and it leads me to believe that it’s not all about Pat’s or Geno’s, rather it’s the small, local places that are worth checking out. Moral of the story? Forget the hype and keep it simple when it comes to cheese steaks in Philly.
Sundays are always bitter-sweet. The trip is coming to an end, but after a weekend of late nights the prospect of getting home always sounds nice. Another Nor’Easter tradition worth mentioning, always request a late check-out and extra breakfast vouchers. That way you can sleep in late Sunday and start the day with coffee and hopefully a ready-made omelet. Honestly, I've started doing this on all trips when I have time to spare on Sunday, why not?
Before we could say goodbye to Phlly, we had one more stop on our trail. Dinic’s Roast Pork and Beef. This place serves a great roast pork sandwich with sautéed broccoli rabe topping. If you are keeping count, that’s three big sandwiches in 24 hours and yes, it was awesome.
All in all, another successful trip, city, and experience. Watch out Buffalo, NY a Nor’Easter is soon headed your way.