Philly’s coronavirus response

Drinks at a bar, dancing to live music, a show at the theater: Your last ‘normal’ memories in Philly before life changed

What’s striking about recollections of the Before Times is their specificity.

uptownbeergarden
Facebook / Uptown Beer Garden
michaelawinberg-2020-2

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

Listen to the audio version of this story here.

Tuesday marks 365 days since Philadelphia issued its first shut-down order. It’s been a hard year. But on this anniversary, many people are reliving what they were doing when everything was uprooted and life underwent a drastic shift.

So what’s the last normal thing you did in Philly — before the pandemic stopped normal things?

“Normal” means something different to everyone, of course. When Billy Penn put out the call, your answers varied widely. They were about work and fun, activities high-end and low-brow, group events and intimate gatherings. You said things like:

  • Went to the flower show
  • Dancing at the club
  • Bubble tea in Chinatown
  • Saw a show at the Arden
  • Rowed on the Schuylkill
  • Went to the pandemic exhibit at the Mütter
  • Lewis Black at the Merriman Theatre
  • Beers and pizza at Urban Village
  • Road trip to three quilt fabric shops and an art gallery
  • Wedding reception at Reading Terminal Market
  • Eric Nam at Union Transfer
  • Wednesday night jazz at the Kimmel
  • German Beer Fest at The German Society of Pa.
  • Got a haircut
  • Sat at a bar and ordered a drink

Most striking about the memories of the Before Times is their specificity. People recalled not only where they were, but what band they saw, what they ate, which friends they were with.

There’s been a lot of loss. Some is unrecoverable. But one year later, there’s at least hope for the future. Here are several more memories from Philadelphia before the world changed.

Ate indoors! With other humans around!

“Several of my friends and I got together for a farewell dinner at Aki Sushi on Friday, March 13. Gigantic plates of sushi and an endless flow of appetizers were a perfect gastronomic escapism to temporarily defend ourselves from the scary and almost certain future we faced. With full bellies, we reluctantly walked to the Walnut-Locust subway station to part ways indefinitely. As I gave my friends final hugs at the station entrance and watched them walk away, a wave of melancholy washed over me.” — Jamie Song

Danced to live music

“We went to see Martha Graham Cracker at the now shuttered Boot & Saddle. A bunch of fans packed in shoulder to shoulder singing and sweating and reveling in the Greatness of Martha while enjoying a few cold beers was a pretty great ‘final memory of normal'” — Steve McCaffrey

“I’m a musician and I played my last ‘normal’ local jazz gig at Heritage in Northern Liberties on Wednesday, March 11. This was a place where I played a few times a month every month, a ‘regular’ gig. Obviously shutting down all the clubs/restaurants put an end to that.” — Lucas Brown

“The week of March 2 to March 9, 2020 was my last ‘normal’ week. I went to 3 concerts in three different venues, had a visit from my nephew and his family, and dinner with my sister and brother-in-law. Since then, none of the above.” — Peggy Curchack

Drank alcohol at a bar

“My last time at the bar having lunch at Chillis with my margarita to celebrate Chili’s 45th birthday got two free cups. I knew this was the last time.” — Shaunda Watson

…Including final citywides

“Went to Fishtown Tavern for decompression drinks after a final bartending shift wondering whether or not the entire city was going to shut down the next day, which it did. Felt like the wrong thing to do, given all the pandemic news, but did not expect it to be the final time I’d be doing citywides with my former coworkers.” — Chris Weiseman

Went on first dates

“The last normal thing I did was go on a first date. We got warm drinks at Shot Tower Coffee and walked around my neighborhood, then stopped by Vault & Vine for a snack on our way to Rolling Hill Park, where we went for a stroll. After that, we got dinner at El Poquito and did some window shopping in Chestnut Hill. In one week, we’ll have been together for one year — so yeah, it was a pretty good first date.” — Eric Dale

And got revenge on exes

“A few days before, on March 12, I celebrated three months of being single for the first time in 15 years, and a homeowner. I went to Victoria Freehouse to eat their curry chips because my ex hated the place, then the Ritz East to see a movie. I was the only person in the theater. It was … weird.” — Amy

Threw a heavy ball at pins

“Went to a friend’s birthday party at Lucky Strike for drinks, food, and bowling. Imagine the last thing you do before a pandemic is BOWLING.” — Michael Hochman

Prepped for big events

“Went out on a work fam bachelorette outing with my coworkers to Marrakesh and South Street bars. It was timed to be before my wedding, which was supposed to be March 28.” — Holly

“The day before the shutdown, I went shopping for a mother-of-the-bride dress, and found one! Of course, then the wedding was postponed and downsized considerably, but I still wore the dress for an eight-person outdoor wedding in August.” — Sylvia Beck

Stopped by the Flower Show, for better or worse

“Philadelphia Flower Show and lunch at Reading Terminal on Feb. 28. Pretty sure we got COVID from it. Husband and I were sicker than ever the whole month of March, but the cheesesteaks and flowers were worth it!” — Myra Wood

Perused IKEA

“The Sunday before everything shut down, March 15, I ran to the Wine & Spirits to stock up, then went over to South Philly IKEA and bought a new sofa. Then had a boozy brunch with my boyfriend at my favorite Mexican restaurant down the street from me. It was the last time we sat inside a restaurant.” — Mel Joy

Wore stuff other people had just worn *shudders*

“I went to Wonderspaces where I wore VR goggles that others had worn mere minutes before. A few days later I ate Indonesian food at a South Philly strip mall with a friend who was visiting from out of town. The restaurant had already started limiting capacity and spacing out tables at their own discretion. At the time, we chuckled a bit but appreciated their cautiousness… we looked at this pandemic as if it were something like a winter storm.” — Tim DeGennaro

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Find everything you need to know about Philly, every day — in clear, direct language, like a good friend might say.

No clickbait, no cliffhangers: the Billy Penn morning newsletter.

Thanks for supporting Billy Penn!

Test your local knowledge — join us for the next Philly Quizzo virtual event, or take the quiz online.

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our local pandemic reporting. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?