What to expect at the 2023 Italian Market Festival
The Italian Market Festival is back. Here's what you can see, eat, drink, and climb.
The time of the year when Philadelphians can lawfully climb on greased polls has arrived!
The Italian Market Festival returns on May 20-21, with live music, the 12th annual John Marzano half-ball tournament, and the procession of the Saints all included. About 30,000 people are expected to attend over the weekend. And, there are some new activities, including cornhole competitions and voting for the restaurant with the best cheesesteak.
The festival began in the ‘70s when vendors from the Italian Market came together to hold a “Mediterranean stroll” — a type of event where, back in Italy, different villages would walk to honor their church or patron saint as an opportunity for the community to come together.
Over the years, the stroll turned into a full-on festival with food, drinks, shops, and activities for all Philadelphians.
Here is what you need to know about the 2023 Italian Market Festival:
When is the Italian Market Festival?
The Italian Market Festival will be held on Ninth Street — from Wharton to Fitzwater Streets — on May 20 and 21 between 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday brings an 84% chance of precipitations, so you might want to pack an umbrella because this is a rain or shine event.
Food and drinks
There will be more than 40 spots to grab food, as well as alcoholic (Peroni, anyone?) and nonalcoholic drinks. It’s a great time to try Italian favorites from market mainstays: Expect Cappucio’s to be grilling sausages outside, Isgros to have cannoli, and Talluto’s to serve up macaroni and meatballs.
The festival will also have food from the Mexican American and Asian American communities that have been incorporated into the fabric of the market in recent decades. Don’t forget to try the new fried guacamole, mango on a stick with tajin, and elote (street corn).
Those over 21 can head to 12 Steps Down beer garden, or get a refreshing spiked Piña colada on any of the multiple stands.
The Italian Market Festival is family-friendly, and most activities are free.
Procession of Saints: The traditional procession stems from the area’s Italian and Mexican Catholic roots. If you wish to participate, the procession will take place on May 20, starting at 12:30 p.m.. at the historic St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi Church. It will pause for the Blessing of the Market at Ninth Street and Washington Avenue, then continue along Ninth to Christian Street, ending at St. Paul Catholic Church around noon.
Live Entertainment: There will be live music playing while you eat and walk around. Look for entertainers like The Company and The Juliano Brothers.
John Marzano Half Ball Tournament: Created in 2009, the tournament brings teams of five from all over the city for a Half Ball street game. This year, the tournament will take place on May 20 at 10a.m. in the schoolyard of Christopher Columbus Charter School, on Christian Street between Ninth and 10th Streets. You can register your team on-site. There is a $150 fee, and all profits go to the support the John Marzano Wood Bat Scout League.
Greased Pole Climbing Competition: The traditional Albero Della Cuccagna competition is back, where teams race each other to the top of a greased 30-foot-high pole at Ninth Street and Montrose Plaza. The goal? Be the first to get the meats, cheeses, gifts, and money at the top. You can watch the competition — or try the climb yourself — on both days (or until someone gets to the prizes first) from 1 to 5 p.m.
Vendors: Artisans and vendors will take part in this year’s festival, selling discontinued fabric accessories, handmade cutting boards, hand lettering art, jewelry, colorful paintings, crafts , and more.
Philly Cheesesteak Contest: This year’s festival brings a cheesesteak contest, the Deer Park Philly Cheesesteak of the Year. You can nominate the restaurant you think has the best cheesesteak in the city, until May 20, at 11 a.m. The winner gets a trophy, and $5,000 donated to a charity of their choice.
Tribute to Jerry Blavat: Blavat —best known as The Geator with the Heater, was a famous Philly DJ, who passed away in earlier this year. He attended the festival, and last year was one of the entertainers. To honor his memory, a tribute will take place on May 20, at 12:30 p.m., with music from Carlucci (Billy and the Essentials), ChiChi (Memory Lane), and DJ Eric Bartello.
Ninth Street from Wharton to Fitzwater will be closed for the festival. This includes sections of adjacent streets such as Wharton, Federal, Ellsworth, Washington, Carpenter, Christian, and Catharine.
You can take bus routes 47 or 47M, which run along the Market’s blocks, or you can take the Broad Street line, get off at Ellsworth-Federal, and walk about 14 minutes until you reach Ninth Street.
The Italian Market has two main parking lots. For a $20 daily fee, you can leave your car parked during festival hours at:
Carpenter Street, between Ninth and 10th Streets
Washington Avenue, between Ninth and 10th Streets