Bordered by Broad and Sixth streets, Tasker and Washington, the neighborhood of Passyunk Square is, by turns, old fashioned and trendy. Once upon a time, East Passyunk Avenue, which bisects the neighborhood diagonally, felt a lot like a small-town main street. It was a place where mom and pop businesses — selling everything from headstones to school uniforms — catered to mostly Italian-American neighbors. Depending on who you ask, Passyunk might mean “land below the hills” or “a place of sleep” in the Native American Lenape language. And by the 1980s, Passyunk Square itself had begun to feel a little sleepy, its shops and restaurants, many of which had been in families for generations, seemingly stuck in a mid-century time warp.
In recent years, however, Passyunk Square has reinvented itself. The arrival first of immigrants from Mexico and Southeast Asia, and then millennials who appreciated the nostalgic feel of the avenue, breathed new life into the area. Bryan Capone, associate broker with the Capone For Your Home Team at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Fox & Roach Realtors, calls it a place where old-timers and newcomers mix and “everybody co-exists.”
With new residents came an influx of new businesses, which seemed to pop up overnight. Corner stores and bodegas were joined by trendy shops selling artisanal gelato and vintage clothing. The Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation (PARC) implemented a program of neighborhood upgrades, such as greening initiatives and the refurbishment of the Singing Fountain. Suddenly, sleepy Passyunk Square was red hot.
Perhaps what now defines the neighborhood most is its emergence as a magnet for Philly’s most talented chefs. Townsend, Le Virtu and Will are just a handful of East Passyunk restaurants that routinely top “best of” lists. The 2017 nominations for the prestigious James Beard Awards gave nods to Nick Elmi of Laurel (Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic) and Malaysian newcomer Sate Kampar (Best New Restaurant).