Fishtown: Through Bikes and Bars

A Young Crowd Enjoys the Night Outside Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown.

A black SUV drives down a lit Girard Avenue, music blaring and tires screeching.  Two girls lean out of the window and scream in unison, “It’s thirsty Thursday!”

Conveying the mood of the evening, the young patrons of a local bar watch the vehicle drive by and smile, as if in agreement.  Sightings like this are typical while standing in front of the popular music venue and bar, Johnny Brenda’s.  But it is already ten o’clock on a Thursday night in Fishtown and the drinks just keep on coming.

So then the question is, how are you getting home?

“I’ll probably take a cab,” says Sienna Freeman.  Freeman and her friend Mia Moffett stand outside Johnny Brenda’s waiting for the band to start playing.  They contemplate whether or not to have a few drinks.  “Well, I haven’t had any drinks yet,” says Moffett.  “And I probably won’t since I rode here.”  Moffett rode her bike from South Philadelphia just to see Dead Meadow play at Johnny Brenda’s.

A Young Crowd Enjoys the Night Outside Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown.
A young crowd enjoys the night outside Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown.

Most customers of the establishment come to see the bands, kick back and enjoy a few drinks and conversation about the music scene.  Even the local residents of Fishtown frequent the bar.

“I come here every couple of weeks,” says Michael Carney.  “I live down the street so usually I come to see bands.”  Carney is one of the fortunate few who only has a five block walk to the bar.  But for those who are not local Fishtown residents, there is public transportation readily available.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) offers several means of public transit in Fishtown.  The number 15 trolley via Richmond Street and Girard Avenue runs 24 hours and has a station at Front Street and Girard Avenue in Fishtown and also has stops at every stoplight.  The cost is a better deal than a taxi cab- only $2 for a one-way token.  Fishtown also has two elevated train stops for the Market-Frankford Line, or El.  There is Girard Station, located at 1200 North Front Street, and Berks Station at 1900 N. Front St.  These trains stop offering service from midnight through 5 a.m.   However, the Market-Frankford El and Broad Street Line, or Subway, offer shuttle “Owl” buses during these times.  The cost of these services is also $2 for a one-way fare.

Some bar frequenters, however, choose an alternate form of getting around. “I drove here, but I can take the trolley,” says Preston Kelly.  Some people, like Kelly, choose not to take public transportation because they find it inconvenient.  Kelly feels that SEPTA should run more trains after two in the morning when the bars close.

It is last call and your designated driver is either inebriated or leaves you stranded.  So what are your options?  Even though the Market-Frankford Line does not run past midnight, shuttle buses are available for the same price and they run the same route.

“Everyone hates on SEPTA but compared to New York and Boston, the fact that the [Broad Street] subway runs on buses all night long is pretty good,” says Carney. However, the Owl bus service has not been a satisfactory experience for some riders.

“The shuttles come every half hour,” says Kelly.  “It sucks.”

Safety is also an issue at hand.  “It gets hairy,” says Carney.  “They’re just more violent.  I’ve seen some shit go down.”  This frustration has led people to resort to driving.

Carney says that in Fishtown, people drive everywhere, even after they have had a few too many drinks.

“People drive a lot around here,” says Carney.  “If you’re in your twenties and you just moved here, you ride your bike.  If you’ve been living here in your house for five generations, you’re driving your car.”  Most on-street parking is free in Fishtown, which makes driving a popular option.

It seems to be that more people would take public transportation instead of risking the drive home if the buses came more often.  “We need more railways, whether it’s trolleys, subways or elevated trains,” says Kelly.  “And they need to come more frequently.  I think the buses get held up in traffic too much.”

The lack of confidence and customer satisfaction in SEPTA certainly has not had an effect on the crowd at Johnny Brenda’s, who visit the bar regularly to see their favorite bands rock the stage.

A Patron Listens to the Music from Outside.
A patron listens to the music from outside.

Getting home from the bar has always been an issue whether you are in a bustling city or the sedated suburbs.  Thanks to Fishtown’s easy access to public transportation, it makes getting home a lot easier and safer.  As long as you have a token in your pocket, you will always have a designated driver to take you where you need to be.


  1. “People drive a lot around here,” says Carney. “If you’re in your twenties and you just moved here, you ride your bike. If you’ve been living here in your house for five generations, you’re driving your car.”

    So this person thinks that all the original residents are lazy. No wonder people around here don’t like the new comers.

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