Imaginative Menus Help Fuel the Emergence of Philadelphia’s Fishtown

By Kae Lani Kennedy, Foodable Contributor

Upon first glance, Fishtown in Philadelphia may seem a bit edgy, with empty lots and abandoned factories lining much of the northern part of Frankford Avenue. You might assume by its appearance that it’s a rough neighborhood. But in recent years, Fishtown has been recognized as one of the fastest growing neighborhoods, with the New York Times describing its growth as “a creative Renaissance.” 

Though much of Fishtown’s revitalization has been a communal effort involving locals taking the initiative to paint murals, start boutique businesses and tend to community gardens, most of the neighborhood’s initial success can be attributed to big name restaurateurs using the neighborhood’s artistic spirit to leverage their novelty restaurants and quirky menus.  

A Starr is Born

One of the biggest names in recent years to set up shop in Fishtown is Stephen Starr, owner of several of Philadelphia’s most popular restaurants including Serpico and Talula’s Daily, two restaurants recently featured on Foodable's Top 25 Restaurants in Philadelphia. In 2011, Starr launched Frankford Hall, a German-style beer garden.  Having lived in Germany myself, I am always impressed with the beer hall’s ability to stay consistent with the German theme, creating an authentic German beer garden experience. From genuine German beers served by the liter to currywurst coated in real, tangy curry ketchup, the attention to detail makes every visit feel like Oktoberfest in this little “hof” off Frankford Avenue.  

Ingredient Innovation

Since the successful launch of Frankford Hall, many restaurateurs have followed Starr’s lead, encouraging chefs to come up with niche concepts, reflected in everything from the interior design to ingredients used in each dish and cocktail.  Fishtown continues to be a new frontier for experimental chefs, attracting the attention of young professionals, Millennials and trendy couples, with wild flavors like Cardamom Caramel ice cream at Little Baby’s Ice Cream parlor and pine nuts on pizza from Pizza Brain.  

The Yachtsman Exterior  | Foodable WebTV Network

The Yachtsman Exterior | Foodable WebTV Network

This week, Fishtown and Frankford Avenue welcome a new addition to the imaginative restaurant and bar circuit: The Yachtsman. It’s the brainchild of PYT’s Tommy Up and co-owner Sarah Brown, who are known for their legendary menu of absurd burgers, including the Donut Cheesesteak Burger — with donuts instead of bread — and the Hot Pocket Burger — same concept, but instead of donuts, the burger patty is encased between two Philly Cheesesteak Hot Pockets. These burger connoisseurs reached out to the community through Kickstarter to achieve their dream of founding Philadelphia’s first Tiki Bar. because, as they put it, “any dream worth having is worth doing the right way.”  

Bringing Island Flavor to Philly

Fishtown caught a glimpse of The Yachtsman during a soft opening last weekend and were introduced to a sample of what the island-themed menu of specialty cocktails would look like. It featured potent drinks like the “Caribe Welcome,” a creamy booze-filled concoction served in a “fresh young coconut” and the “Phoebe’s Piña Colada,” named after one of the bartenders and simply marketed toward guests who “like piña coladas” and “getting caught in the rain.” A tiki head stretching from floor to ceiling, an extensive playlist of surfer tunes, and an illuminated blowfish in a globe are amongst the carefully curated kitsch giving this tiki lounge an even more swanky island feel, with a hint of nostalgia for those who liked “Gilligan’s Island” or even “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The cocktails are a bit steep, but customers don’t mind indulging in high quality liquors served in ceramic tiki heads.

The Yachtsman Interior  | Foodable WebTV Network

The Yachtsman Interior | Foodable WebTV Network

It was such a tease. After the soft opening, it was clear that locals were craving more of the Yachtsman. Luckily, we only had to wait three days. On Wednesday, doors opened for an exclusive Kickstarter launch party, and after 10 p.m., it was open to the public. With National Rum Day being Saturday, it’s open just in time to flaunt what is being anticipated as the “best rum collection in town.” Celebrate with an upscale “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai,” a mix of Duquesne Gold, Smith and Cross Jamaica Rum, and Curaçao, and the “Zombie Punch,” an intoxicating mix of tequila, rum and 151.

Only in its second day, The Yachtsman is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, giving locals in Fishtown yet another unique and trendy experience.