Over the last few years, most people wandering into Bok, the former South Philly vocational school that the School District closed in 2013, have come in search of cold drinks paired with expansive skyline views.
Bok Bar, the building's highly popular, seasonal rooftop beer garden that closes for the season on Sept. 28, became one of the first spaces to demonstrate the transformation of the 340,000-square-foot building.
Today a haven for entrepreneurs and craftsmen of all kinds, Bok is morphing into a new kind of destination. You'll find tenants ranging from jewelry makers to tattoo artists to custom rug weavers and more, many welcoming you in with open doors. It's home to roughly 130 businesses, including two year-round food and drink spots, and more than half of the tenants can be classified as "creatives" or "makers."
Bok's new identity did not come without controversy: The building was acquired by developer Scout Ltd. from the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in 2014, leading to protests that the company was a tone-deaf gentrifier, but conversations have cooled on the topic.
Nearly 80 percent of current tenants are residents of South Philly, which now embraces the building as a place that fuels creativity and collaboration.
"Everyone works together here," says Megan Stover, a ceramicist who works on the first floor of Bok and also owner of a home just few blocks away. "The furniture maker crafts tables for the business next door, the letterpress artist illustrates earring cards for the jewelry maker, the photographer shoots portraits for the baker's new website — everyone's talents come together to create this incredible and rewarding environment."
Many of the businesses are open to the public, inviting you to, in some ways, experience the community. What follows is a list of nearly a dozen where you can shop, sweat, eat, and/or get a behind-the-scenes-look at how artists work. Take note: You may need to set up an appointment before stopping by a business, but don't let that deter you. All owners of the businesses listed here delight in the opportunity to interact with customers in person.
A women-owned jewelry brand, Nuance produces vintage-inspired pieces designed to last. All parts of the process — from sourcing materials like rubber earring backs to casting and stonecutting — are done in collaboration with other small American business owners who promote healthy working conditions, an important ideal of Nuance owner and designer Wendee Daelhousen.
From celestial-decorated headbands to botanical-encrusted initial necklaces, the collection is full of chic yet playful designs. All are available for sale online, but most are also on view by appointment at the studio. Don't miss the herb-shaped earrings (basil, rosemary, and parsley) that are attached to a seed-infused card that can later be planted in the ground.
Other fun gift items include "Saucy Post Earrings," featuring two-word phrases, such as "Sup Nerd" to be split between the left and right ears, and the "Stalactite Ring," cut entirely from crystal quartz.
With a bright, airy space and skyline views, Fringe Salon creates an ideal environment to ease the nerves of getting a fresh cut. The salon has become particularly known for its curly hair-care methods and cuts, as well as for being able to produce both funky hairstyles and colors for the bold and brave. Services start at $45 for a women's cut and $35 for a men's cut, and cuddles with resident cat Uli are free. Every two months, a new local artist is featured on the salon's walls, often giving rise to an opening party that fills the space with live music and vendors slinging local designer wares.
Tuesday through Sunday, hours vary by day, 215-339-1778, Fringesalonsouthphilly.com
Forever Valentine Tattoo
Though the wait list at Forever Valentine Tattoo is often lengthy, the five artists in the fifth-floor Bok studio bring decades of experience to the table. To get an idea of their varying aesthetics, prospective clients are encouraged to check out their Instagram handles: @easy_tiger, @davefoxtattoos, @j_hoffman, @chrisdkline, and @black_casket. Appointments and consultations can be set up by email at email@example.com. Just across the hall, owner Patrick Haney's wife, Kelly Haney, runs Forever Valentine Beauty, a cosmetic tattoo shop full of additional talent. Those interested in cosmetic appointments can book online at forevervalentinebeauty.com.
By appointment, firstname.lastname@example.org, foreverphilly.com
Two Persons Coffee
Housed in a former tool room of the auto-body shop at Bok, Two Persons Coffee serves up a limited menu of local treats. The cafe gets its beans from Lancaster roasters Passenger Coffee, and all pastries are from Machine Shop Boulangerie, run by two women who churn out French-style baked goods from their fourth-floor studio. Though the cafe is small, there's an ample public space full of chairs and tables right next door. Walk in through the public Bok entrance at 821 Dudley St. to reach the entrance.
7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, twopersonscoffee.com
As of mid-July, Bok is home to its first year-round restaurant. Irwin's, named after the Philadelphia school board architect who designed the original Bok school, offers cocktails alongside a Middle Eastern-inspired menu with sharable dishes like smoky baba ganoush, lamb kofta, rice-stuffed mussels, and crispy fried olives. Like Bok Bar, the space is open only to those 21 and older and also includes a small rooftop terrace for sipping drinks al fresco.
5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 215-693-6206, irwinsupstairs.com
Whether working on a walnut cutting board or white oak coffee table, Bicyclette owner Brian Christopher strives to create clean, utilitarian solid wood designs in his fourth-floor studio. The woodworker and furniture-maker opens his studio twice a week for visitors to peruse a showroom full of rotating signature pieces and custom projects. Currently, items include a dining table, a coffee table, and a collection of stools, and at least a few cutting boards are always available for purchase.
"My goal when designing furniture is to make something simple, classic, and timeless, which is actually where the name ties in," says Christopher. "I really admire the traditional Parisian commuter bicycle because it withholds those same qualities I just listed."
6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays in Room 407; also by appointment, bicyclettefurniture.com
Visit Stover Ceramics and you'll have the opportunity not only to browse a selection of dinnerware, vases, lanterns, and other wheel-thrown and hand-carved pottery, you'll also get to see a working studio in action. Hands often caked in clay, owner Megan Stover keeps her door open whenever she's at Bok, producing pieces designed for function alongside one-of-a-kind decor items. To be sure Stover is there, send her an email through her website, stoverceramics.com, at which point you can also inquire about custom orders. Stover has created personalized ceramics ranging from 30-piece dinner sets to wedding gifts to specialized housewares and always welcomes a new challenge.
Open whenever owner Megan Stover is at her studio; appointments can be scheduled online at stoverceramics.com
It doesn't matter if you're striking a downward dog or dropping into a kettlebell squat — workouts are always better when paired with a skyline view. When weather permits, female-owned personal training and fitness studio KG Strong takes classes outdoors on Bok's scenic eighth-floor rooftop. The final evening rooftop yoga session of the season will be offered for $10 Sept. 25. On the last Sunday of the month, owner Katie Gould hosts a yoga breakfast club, featuring an hour-long class, bottomless mimosas, and a continental breakfast for $25. Book a personal training or small group training session, and it's likely part of your workout will be outdoors, too. Other classes, including core conditioning, kettlebell training, and strength endurance, are held in the studio's second-floor space and are taught primarily by female coaches. There's also the opportunity to work out in Bok's original boys' gym in KG Strong's "Old School Gym Class," a $10 community class that'll have you moving through shuttle runs, wall sits, skipping exercises, and other drills from your grade school gym class days.
Check schedule for class times or call to schedule a personal training appointment, 215-395-3618, katiegouldstrong.com
Franklin & Whitman
"We believe you can achieve your skin-care goals without the need for synthetic, harsh, or toxic ingredients," says Christopher Cieri, founder of Franklin & Whitman, an all-natural skin- and hair-care product company.
Tucked into a room decorated with greenery and a living plant wall, Franklin & Whitman whips up everything from face masks to beard serums to body scrubs to dry shampoos, often named after Philly parks, neighborhoods, and other local spots (e.g., the East Falls Sea Salt Hair Mist, Washington Square Botanical Steam, etc.). Though most sales are online, Cieri welcomes visitors to set up a time to stop by in person to shop from an inventory of more than 50 products and chat with him. All products are plant-based, preservative-free, and cruelty-free, and five percent of every purchase is donated to dog rescue organizations across the country.
Whether decorating a new place or going through a room redesign, deciding on a rug often becomes one of the most challenging parts of the process. Ann Roantree, who specializes in one-of-a-kind and limited-edition handwoven textiles, is ready to help you find your way.
"What sets me apart from other weavers is the amount of interaction and client participation in the process," says Roantree. "Purchasing a textile from me — even a scarf — is not an anonymous experience." To arrange an appointment at the studio, where Roantree keeps scarves, throws, pillows, wool rugs, and other various items for sale, email email@example.com with a suggested day and time.
By appointment, 267-449-0522, roantreeweaves.com
Transforming bottles ranging from wine to champagne to sparkling water and more, Remark Glass produces a variety of barware, dinnerware, and home decor pieces out of a lower-level studio at Bok. "Our mission is to remove from the waste cycle," says Danielle Ruttenberg, one of the three women who own the business. "All of our bottles are either discarded or saved from a special event like a wedding anniversary or celebration, and are locally sourced or donated from local individuals or businesses."
The studio will host designated "shopping hours" every Saturday afternoon through Dec. 22, inviting you to shop local into the holiday season. Weekday appointments can also be scheduled to browse through Remark's collection of bowls, vases, and lighting vessels, or to inquire about a custom order. Want to remember a meaningful event? Save a bottle from the celebration, and Remark Glass will turn it into a keepsake to use for years to come.