What’s a “Third Place?” Aw, you know: It’s not the place where you live, and it’s not the place where you work. It’s the Third Place: The place where there’s community, if that’s what you’re after, or for us, even just the stretch-out/public living room factor. Maybe you can get creative or have some time to yourself, or maybe you can talk to whoever else is hanging out there at the time — the point is, in that Third Place, you are free simply to be. The whole Third Place concept was initially outlined by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place. Put succinctly, the Third Place is where we...
“[...] host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”
Thinking about this — and it is fun to think about this — a few days ago, we tweeted a random question: What are your favorite Third Places in Philly? The response took us a little by surprise: People in Philly are all about their Third Places. They have feelings about them — and often (and this part was not surprising) those feelings and Third Place locales are tied to their neighborhoods. So much so that it gave us an idea: If we truly want to identify some of the best Third Places in Philly, we’re going to have to A) break it out by neighborhoods, and B) ask the people in those neighborhoods to break it down for us.
So that’s what we’re gonna do, in a new post series called Third Places. Look for the first Third Place neighborhood breakdown post a later this month. Here, to get the ball rolling, we’ll share a few of our own:
The Athenaeum is recent discovery for us, and the fault is all our own: It’s been around since 1814. The Athenaeum is a relic from an era so far gone that the idea seems almost new: A membership library, that also hosts special collections, literary events and exhibitions. But to hang out in the library is free, and let us tell you: The library is one of the most gorgeous rooms in the entire city, stocked with gems of old as well as the latest books and magazines. It’s a fantastic place to while away a rainy day, read or write, and emerge onto Washington Square Park (another perfect Third Place), feeling like a 19th Century Viennese intellectual.
Coffee shops are, by their nature, among the most accessible and plentiful Third Places around. And while everybody’s got their favorite (OH HAI BODHI), special recognition must go to the upstairs room at One Shot Coffee in Northern Liberties — aka the nicest apartment you’ve never had. Bedecked with books, comfortable couches and the pale light from the windows onto George and American streets, it is the home design equivalent of a lovely sigh. The coffee’s pretty good, too.
Do you know what I’m going to do when I’m 70? I’m going to purchase a membership to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and go there three days a week, and just while away the hours, alternately strolling around the galleries and drinking little cups of coffee in the cafe. Maybe a little something to eat, too. The fact is, while most people sadly treat the PMA like a tourist destination, the whole place is a Third Place. Its true soul lies in the heart of a flaneur, whose only agenda at any given time is to dream the day away in one of the greatest art museums in the world.
I once saw a cover band that played only tracks from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew in this park. It’s also steps from where my grandmother grew up, and from where my parents told me to attend Saturday art classes (at Fleisher Art Memorial) because I refused to play a single sport. Down the street, John the Barber used to give me high-and-tights all through 1990s, and today, nonnas and gentridads alike sit around, wondering what the hell they’re gonna do with their lives. To sit in Cianfrani Park, in all its tiny glory, for me, is to slide into the slipstream of memory from before I was born to the present moment.
All bars, unless they suck, should at least have the potential to be a Third Place. And yes, for many Philadelphians, R2L is that bar at the top of Liberty Place that they never go to. But at the magic hour, R2L becomes enveloped in a hazy sunset that never fails to feel like a dream. Everybody should pop in every once in a while, when you need to be reminded: Oh right, you live in a city, that’s got all that city stuff. Who knew!