This past weekend, luck put me on my way to Philadelphia on a Saturday. As soon as I realized that Max’s would still be open I called for an appointment and he had an opening at 5:00 PM. Maxamillion’s Gentlemen’s Quarters is a barber shop in the Rittenhouse area of Philadelphia. I stumbled upon his shop a little over a year ago, while walking around the area. I have been to several men’s saloons, unisex saloons and hair “chop-shops” but nothing like Max’s. A large window overlooking Chestnut street, mahogany and oak mirrors and chairs, jazz & blues music playing in the background, the lingering smell of aftershave, a shoe-shine boy, and photographs on the wall of the famous people’s hair that have been cut at this establishment.
Max is a imposing, black man in what seems like his early 50’s. Always a smile and a wave for everyone that walks by the window, he’s always dressed impeccably, be it his white barber coat or a denim jacket from the 80s. His shoes are polished so that the gleaming light reflects of them. His hair and beard are always perfectly trimmed.
Is it any wonder that the best haircut’s I’ve ever received have been from Max? He pays attention to every line with the shaver, every trim with the scissors and every draw of the comb. When I leave Max’s 30 minutes after I sit in the barber’s chair, I look better and feel better. It’s a true men’s salon, not like the namby-pamby establishments that surround it. A man should only get his hair cut by another man, and preferably by a black man. They know style. Now I just hope that I’ll have a head of hair long enough to keep enjoying these fantastic haircuts.
#3 in the list of my Philadelphia “Must-Visits” (Yes, I’ve been eating out a lot), is Penang. It can be found on 10th and Arch. It is a Malaysian restaurant in the Chinatown area of Philadelphia that I first visited back in 2002. For a vegetarian, opening the menu there can be disheartening until one learns that almost everything on can be made in a “veggie, no meat” option. Upon being seated, you are given a pot of hot herbal tea and small, oriental porcelean cups. Upon closer inspection, a lot of the menu has Indian and Thai influence. Try the Roti Telur and Roti Kanai for apetizers, but make sure to tell them no meat. Main courses can be chosen from a variety of fried and drunken noodles, or rice dishes that are delightfully flavored and suit the Indian palate. It is great escape from the normal mild and almost flavorless American food found everywhere else. I think my absolute favorite part of the meal is the end – when they bring out sliced oranges or “mosambi” that clears the mouth of all the other taste of the night and leaves one with a wonderfully clean, slightly sweet flavor.
MadMex is my second nomination for a Philadelphia “Must-Visit”. It’s official address is 3401 Walnut Street, but it can actually be found at 35th and Movarian, a tiny street that is not really a street between Sansom and Walnut. It is in the University City area and is generally crowded with college kids. Its got great specials, including half-off food at various times during the week. A large selection of beer and great margaritas are always available. And to top it off, the food is excellent. I’ve been there several dozen times in the last 7 years I’ve spent in Philadelphia. I’ve been there for a few memorable birthdays and other occasions where things have got — somewhat out of hand. When I’m looking for great Mexican food, MadMex is my top choice.
Rim’s Cafe in South Philadelphia is the first on my list of Must Visit locations in Philly. Strangely, I was introduced to it by a person visiting Philly for the second time and even he stumbled upon it. It is too good a place to be kept a secret, but it is also too good a place to be unknown. It is a block north of the intersection of 9th and Passyunk a stone’s throw from Pat’s and Geno’s.