Icepack | July 23-30

Restaurateurs sound off on lack of city leadership, more Masked Philly and more

Closed for COVID sign
The uncertainty of how the “new normal” is supposed to look across Philly’s restaurant scene has some owners feeling some type of way towards the decision-makers within city government. In this week’s Icepack, a few of them unload. | Image provided

If you can comb through, Werner Herzog-style, the verdant mountains of trash and recyclables in front of your house and along your block – and admit it, you’re a combiner, purposely tossing the Goya cans in with the coffee grinds in with the plastic Coke bottles –  I need your attention. 

I may have joked, at certain periods along with the Icepack graph of time and space, that there were too many restaurants and bars being thrown into Philly’s culinary + cocktail economy – to say nothing of my email inbox, Twitter and Instagram feed – to the point of saturation. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have ever looked forward to any, any, ANY watering holes disappearing and closing due to the impoverishment caused by COVID-19. Far from it: More is always better; distracting, but better. 

With that, I’m horrified to announce that the decades-old fave, Dimitri’s in Bella Vista – a revolutionary in Philly’s BYOB scene, the king of grilled octopus – and The Bards in Rittenhouse have closed due to the financial ravages of the pandemic economy. Man, I have never ever set foot in the Irish-y Bards in the near-quarter century it existed, and I’m annoyed. 

“I completely understand that this situation is constantly changing but if we had strong leadership from the local to the federal level we all wouldn’t be where we are.”

– Philly chef-restaurateur Nicholas Elmi via Instagram

Annoyance, though, seems to be the big buzz word amongst Philly restaurateurs – especially on social media. Marc Vetri hauled off on state and local government administrators on Twitter for not sending in economists, along with health officials, to make decisions on codes, Yellow and Green. Top Chef Nic Elmi jumped on Instagram to share his dizzzzgust with the back-and-forth of East Passyunk Ave’s “Open the Avenue” block-closing event scheduled for July 10-12. Yes, it was finally cancelled, after it was agreed it would move forward, after it was cancelled before that. Same thing happened to the Northern Liberties street-closing event on the same weekend. Oddly enough, the Old City block-closing dining jawn went on in all its safely-distanced pandemic-packed glory. 

“I completely understand that this situation is constantly changing,” wrote Elmi on Instagram, “but if we had strong leadership from the local to the federal level we all wouldn’t be where we are.”

Masked men

After reading a study from professors in Berkeley, CA, and London, England, and their frustrating find in relation to C-19 transmission – “that in the age of the coronavirus, men are less likely to wear masks in public,” perhaps due to some perceived emasculation (?!) – a local, manly concern threw its devil-horned hat into the ring. Arch Street’s Decibel Magazine and its editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian – the always encyclopedic twin towers of heavy metal music and lifestyle writing – cobbled together some of the biggest names in metal to take their own selfies in masks, JUST LIKE WE DO IN ICEPACK – 140-plus in all, and curated an online gallery with the hashtag, “#GET BEHIND THE MASK: A Gallery of metal musicians in support of public health.” 

Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Ice-T from Body Count, Max Cavalera of Sepultura, Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, Anthrax leader Scott Ian and members of Pelican, Cave In, Melvins, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, GWAR, Testament and more head-bangers showed off just how butch mask-wearing can be. GRR. 

New band

What do earnest, skronk-rocking Philly bands do during a pandemic? If you’re The Districts‘ Braden Lawrence and Pine Barons‘ Keith Abrams, you become a new band, Haggert McTaggert, record a Prince-ly psychedelic LP, “Songs Of Abstraction,” and invite buddies such as Rob Grote and Pat Cassidy to the party.

Good music, good cause

Last week, I mentioned the passing of conscious Philadelphia rapper, activist Ronnie Vega (AKA Curan Cottman) and how his short-but-sharp recorded catalog was – in his too-brief career – something iconic and holy, but, spottily released. Now, Philly-based indie label giant Don Giovanni Records has cobbled together Vega’s complete discography in one place, and donates all proceeds to the Oshun Family Center, an organization providing free therapy for Black residents of PA, NJ and Maryland. Solid

Songwriter and former UArts student Elle King shows us all her life behind the mask. | Image courtesy: Elle King

Masked Philly: Elle King

In Icepack’s continuing saga of asking mask-donning local celebrities to tell me what they’ve been up to beyond the pale during COVID-19, I reached out to a giant – beloved bawdy, ballsy, brooding, chart-topping, nuanced soulful rock shouter and intimately detailed songwriter Elle King, who just released her first, rawest work in two years, her “In Isolation” EP. 

If you’re wondering why it is that I reached out to a Los Angelino know this: King has scads of Philly cred as she moved here after high school to attend the University of the Arts, for film and painting studies. 

“I majored in LSD when I was there,” King said with a laugh. “I learned to play the banjo there. I started playing in the streets there, in Rittenhouse Square, back before it was fucking strollers and soccer moms. We were dirty punks in the park – 13 years ago. OH MY GOD, 13 years ago. I’m indebted to that time and that place. Philadelphia was my first time truly on my own, and I learned all about songwriting. 100 percent I wouldn’t be the musician I am if it wasn’t for my time in Philly.”

Beyond Philly and back home now in LA, King has spent her last four months of quarantine developing her work ethic and instrumental skills. 

“In quarantine I have taken guitar lessons, and worked on the house, only to realize I want to move,” King said, before revealing that she’s leaving LA for Santa Fe soon.

As for what the mask, and what wearing it means to her, King claimed it was a double-edged sword.

“Sometimes I look at it and feel fear, uncertainty, unknowing. Is this what the future entails? Will I have to sing with the mask on? On the other hand, it also represents protection. It is a way for us as a society, to continue to maintain any type of normalcy, yet still stay safe. All the times I have been to Asia, people have worn masks there for a long time, way before corona.

So my mask, which I bought in Hong Kong five years ago, is a cat mask. People look at me and laugh and say I love your mask, so it brings human connection. Regardless of how many emotions the mask brings up, or all of the things that it represents, it’s important to be safe. This whole experience has taught me that we have no idea what’s going to happen. So we have to remain positive, really dig deep and think about what it is that brings joy to your life. The mask will always be a true marker of that.”

And what will be the first thing that King will do when-if the masks come off? 

“I don’t leave the house very often, but when I do, my animals greet me, and I always kind of jump into the dog pile and wrestle and play with them. When masks aren’t required, I’m still going to wear one. You can look a whole lotta mess but no one can see it! See? Finding the blessings through all of it.”

  • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

    A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.