OK, kids, if you go to Philly …
You HAVE to check out Charlie Was A Sinner.
To be honest, it was the name that drew us in. How could we NOT go there? Especially after standing in line for hours in cold, drizzly October rain waiting to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, both of which turned out to be total snooze-fests. After that, we needed some sin.
Erm, I mean fun.
We got it at Charlie Was A Sinner. This restaurant is located at 131 S 13th St, in Philadelphia, on a once seedy but now trashy-cool-trendy street lined with bars, restaurants, and late night cookie shops.
NOTE: Charlie Was A Sinner is an all-vegan restaurant, but makes no mention of it on their website. They are what they are, and in this case vegan happens to be secondary.
Charlie’s in this COVID time has both indoor seating (with a temperature check) and outdoor seating. We chose outdoor, even though the day was dreary. (Feels safer that way – also a bit more like an adventure!) Their outside tables wander down the street a bit, so there is plenty of seating.
They also have umbrellas to shield you from the rain.
And heat lamps to keep you warm the cold.
As well as a “keep warm” drink menu – where the hot alcoholic drink in a thermos comes with a complementary blanket!
Given that the drinks are in the $30 range, and you can buy the blanket on their website for $24.50, it’s more like you are buying a blanket and the drink is complementary! However, given the overall total experience – if you’re only in Philly once and eating there on a super-cold day – could be worth it as a souvenir.
The drink menu actually looks incredibly impressive. Liquors are organic; fruit juices are fresh. And how many places can you find absinthe these days?
My traveling companion, bless his heart, hates it if I day drink but did encourage me to get a drink to warm up and because I was still in a slight bit of a peeve over the Liberty Bell.
We still had more places to see – including the Barnes Foundation (which also turned out to be a snooze -a little liquor might have helped there!), so we stuck with water.
Our waiter was very easy on the eyes and could not have been any nicer. He advised this was “small plates” and we should get several plates per person.
We started with …
Potato Croquettes with Chipotle Aioli
Oh, these were good. If you get only one thing, get these. These were basically little fried balls of seasoned mashed potatoes, served with an awesome chipotle aioli. These were perfectly fried – soft fluffy mashed potatoes in the center, crispy on the outside, non greasy. If you don’t fry things, you don’t know how impressive it is to get something like this exactly right. MUST TRY.
Zucchini Crabcake Slider
Brioche buns, old bay remoulade, butter lettuce. These were amazing as well and came with homemade potato chips. AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE ZUCCHINI!
They didn’t quite taste like crabcakes – but they tasted damn good. We both really enjoyed them.
For my main, I chose:
Chorizo and White Bean Chili
Ok, so this was not bad – just not what I was expecting. It’s heavy on the meaty chorizo (sorry, I don’t know what brand this is – Impossible, Beyond, etc.). And lighter on the beans than I was desiring. In fact, I could hardly find any beans. Our waiter suggested ordering it over French Fries, which is an excellent suggestion. Again, I can’t find fault with this. It was very tasty – just not the beany chili I had been hoping for. If you are in the mood for a meaty chili, with an odd bean or two, by all means do order this. It had a good, strong level of spice. In other words, not a timid chili. Life is way too short for timid chilis.
My traveling companion ordered:
Tofu Scallop Bouillabaisse
Saffron, braised vegetables, roasted red pepper rouille, grilled sourdough. This was the only fail. The tofu did indeed look like scallops but had none of the texture nor taste. It actually tasted like … tofu. And had the texture of … tofu. My companion also thought the sauce tasted too much like spaghetti sauce. It just didn’t work well together, and wasn’t nearly substantial enough for the $17. Looked fantastic, though. (This place is all about presentation.)
Since tables for Charlie Was A Sinner stretch down the street a bit, we had the good fortune to sit in front of Danny’s Sex, Leather, Adult, & Video Shop. Not only did it have a most creative Halloween window display, but we got to watch people sneaking furtively in and out. Looking around, pulling their rainhat down, darting in, emerging a bit later, looking around, darting off head down, clutching their plain brown paper bag.
I’ve never been inside a sex shop, but would like to imagine if I did go, I’d be confident enough to OWN it and walk away, twirling my dildo or cracking my whip.
Who The Eff Was Charlie And Why Was He A Sinner
Digging through the Internet, I see for awhile the answer was “we don’t talk about Charlie.”
It’s all probably just some sort of schtick. This place is heavy on atmosphere and experience. (I didn’t really get to see the inside, except when I had to dart to the bathroom. But it was very New Orleans-y, prohibition-y …)
But maybe the rules have changed.
Or maybe it’s just because I can be disarming – a pretty, slightly overweight, middle aged woman with big green eyes and a kind face, soaking wet from rain. Not like the feisty, fiery reporter I can be.
When I’m looking “mostly harmless,” people will tell me damn near anything.
I heard a couple of stories from various employees – starting with:
“I’ve heard this place was a brothel and Charlie was one of the regular customers – a dirty old man.”
From there – Charlie may, or may not, have died in the brothel. He may, or may not, have died from natural causes. He may, or may not, haunt the place.
And that’s why no one “talks about Charlie.”
Mmmm, if you’re a regular Philly person I can’t advise. Would the novelty fade after a time or two; or would the attraction just grow stronger?
But definitely for any non-Philly person, you NEED to go here, just for the experience. Because it IS quite an experience. For me, travel is all about EXPERIENCES.
And who knows? Maybe, as you’re wrapped in your blanket, sipping your absinthe, waiting on your potato croquettes, you’ll see the ghost of Charlie exiting the sex shop, not furtive like the others but maybe even tipping his hat and giving you a wink?
If you do anything more than wink back, though, just be warned.
No one talks about Charlie.