Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

October 14–21, 1999

slant

Buddy, Can You Spare a Quarter?

by Tom Javian

As I stroll down a familiar street on a glorious Saturday afternoon, I am treated to a melange of arresting sights and smells. The comforting aroma of freshly brewed coffee spars with the stink of rotting fish over a uniform backdrop of baguettes recently pulled from the oven. I stare openly at café patrons seated along the sidewalk as they sip their drinks over Le Monde. On the corner, a gendarme bites into a soggy pan bagnat. Suddenly, three street urchins scurry up to me and beg for a dollar. I happily oblige, and watch as they excitedly file into the patisserie on the corner. In the distance, an accordion slowly sounds "La Marseillaise."

Few spots in the New World offer these distinctly Parisian experiences. But I am not wandering the sticky streets of New Orleans’ Latin Quarter, nor promenading through the winding cobblestone maze of Old Montreal. No, I am standing on the corner of 18th and Sansom, right here in the middle of Philadelphia’s own French Quarter. Although it remains largely unrecognized by both tourists and natives (like so many other of Philadelphia’s cultural and historical treasures), the Philadelphia French Quarter is one of the few places outside of France that supports a thriving French culture.

The Quarter, located between Walnut and Sansom, and between 16th and 19th, boasts a long and hallowed history, dating back to 1994, with the opening of La Colombe at 19th and Walnut. By the late 1990s two other French establishments had sprouted up in the vicinity: Le Bus, on 18th between Walnut and Sansom, and La Cigale, a beret’s toss north of Le Bus. The appearance last year of a creperie on Sansom street firmly established the area as a true French Quarter, promising to make it a delicious oasis of Continental esprit and cuisine for generations to come.

The Quarter was officially recognized by the city this year with the addition of subtle orange signs that read, simply, "French Quarter," tastefully affixed below the traditional green streets signs at the area’s intersections. The signs serve not only as a tribute to Philadelphia’s French heritage, but also as a guide to tourists and Republican conventioneers who might become confused or disoriented when they find themselves surrounded by speakers of Philadelphois, the Franco-Philadelphian dialect unique to this area.

For the intrepid tourist, Philadelphois language guides are available for purchase in the area, providing pronunciation instructions for indispensable phrases such as "$6.50 pour un hoagie, ca c’est crazy" ("$6.50 for a submarine sandwich sounds unreasonable") and "Yo, Ou est le MAC?" ("Excuse me, could you direct me to an ATM?").

The Quarter’s future is as bright as its past is glorious. At least half a dozen new businesses are slated to open their doors to Quarter traffic, almost all of which plan to feature the French definite article (either "le" or "la") in their names. A rumor has been circulating in the Quarter recently that the incongruously Italian Di Bruno’s House of Cheese is soon to be challenged by Say Fromage!, a new cheese shop with a French flair. Alaska Ice Cream, which flaunts a distinctly un-French name (and is often out of French vanilla), can also expect some spirited Gaulish competition when Ooh La Yogurt, scheduled to begin construction next year, opens in 2002.

Although a highly visible example, the French Quarter is only one of many incipient ethno-cultural enclaves springing up all over Philly. The Warsaw Café, located at 16th and Spruce, is surely a harbinger of the long-awaited Polish Quarter, and depending on its success, nearby Monk’s could very likely become the center of a Belgian renaissance. Other ethnic neighborhoods such as the Irish Quarter (Bards, Irish Pub), Jewish Quarter (Rachel’s, Philly Nosheri) and African American Quarter (Warmdaddy’s, Ortlieb’s) also dot the city landscape. Despite the long standing of these Quarters, official street signs have yet to be seen.

Tom Javian is a local freelance writer. If you would like to respond to this Slant or have one of your own, contact Howard Altman, City Paper news editor, 123 Chestnut St., Phila., PA 19106 or e-mail altman@citypaper.net.

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