In 2012, a group of well-connected Philly nightlife entrepreneurs transformed an old Spaghetti Warehouse restaurant in the Spring Garden neighborhood into Union Transfer, and it quickly became one of the most popular music venues in the city. Several nights a week, this mid-size, 1,000-capacity club books generally indie and small-label national touring bands: the garagey Heartless Bastards, retro-soul purveyors Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and the synthy electronic-music trio Chvrches are the types of bands that grace Union Transfer’s stage. Shows are general admission with limited seating available in the upstairs balcony. Most concertgoers stand in the main floor area in front of the stage. During all-ages shows, concertgoers need a wristband to access one of the three bars.
The chefs at Aki Japanese Fusion Restaurant & Sake Bar experiment with ingredients and recipes from a host of countries, but the flavors of Japan shine through most noticeably. Traditional Japanese entrees such as tempura-fried shrimp and teriyaki-glazed chicken offer heartier options, though the chefs also demonstrate a commitment to simple, elegant bites. The salmon nigiri "particularly rocked," according to Philadelphia Weekly, "melting on the tongue like pats of butter." Amid these familiar sushi-house staples, the menu also features a handful of items that embrace the fusion theme. Globetrotting menu options include broiled black cod marinated in miso paste and topped with mango salsa, and the tuna pancake—a tortilla layered with guacamole, raw tuna, and a spicy caviar and scallion sauce. Just like the menu, the decor has a similar fusion theme. "Although new Aki, with its red velvet booths and sleek black accents, may feel more nightclub than neighborhood sushi spot, it manages to play both roles relatively well," says Philadelphia magazine. Cherry-wood floorboards and a wall of exposed stonework help convey this homey, neighborhood spirit, while sunset-orange walls and soft lantern lighting create a lounge-like ambiance where sipping one of the bar's numerous sakes or specialty cocktails feels perfectly natural.
First opened in 1968, the Electric Factory has been hosting rock shows for almost as long Puerto Rico has been a state. After dancing their faces off to headliners from Erykah Badu to the Dropkick Murphys, concertgoers can stop by The Chive Caf? to recharge with a cheesesteak or an all-beef hotdog on a potato bun, or refill their draft Yuengling at the bar. In summer, the Electric Factory reveals an outdoor location complete with more refreshment booths, vendors, and upgraded food stands.
Trilogy Hookah Lounge isn't just a place to smoke hookah with friends, though they have over 50 flavors. It's also the recipient of the "Best Hookah Bar" award from the 2013 Philadelphia Nightlife Awards and a place to mix and mingle. Swankily-dressed clientele can hit one of the three dance floors, each with a different DJ, converse over drinks at the bar, and network as they puff on flavorful hookahs. As guests socialize, staff make their way around the room replacing ashen coals with new, neon orange nuclear reactors.
The building that would eventually become Merriam Theater opened as the Sam S. Shubert Theater in 1918, honoring the famous, theater-owning Shubert family’s youngest member, who died tragically in a train accident a decade earlier. Following the fortunes of its fellow theaters, the Merriam's inaugural years saw success with toe-tapping Gershwin musicals and spine-tingling Shakespearean performances by John Barrymore. As vaudeville petered out and the country slid into a depression, the theater struggled to pay the bills through more tawdry means, hosting burlesque shows and letting patrons see the stage without its curtain. The University of Arts eventually bought the building in 1972, and restored the venue to its former glory as host to the country's finest performers.
Just about every night at 8 p.m., two musicians take their seats at opposing baby grand pianos, and the show at Jollys Dueling Piano Bar begins. For the next, say, six or so hours, they'll belt out crowd favorites by Billy Joel and Lady Gaga, pausing to take audience requests or serenade a birthday honoree. But even without the rollicking performance, there would be plenty to draw people to the bar—namely, the food and drinks. A rotating list of craft beers and sweet cocktails complements a menu of spicy bacon burgers, goat cheese flatbreads, and housemade guacamole.