Arts & Life

A Day in Midtown Harrisburg - January 2011

Written by Elizabeth Kotz | Dec 16, 2010 7:13 PM

A haven of culture, history, entertainment and curios, Midtown Harrisburg stands as a portrait of the past and a portal into the future that continues to evolve. An imperfect rectangle flanked by Maclay Street on its north side, Forster to the south, Front to the west and Seventh to the east, Midtown stretches across approximately 20 blocks.

Arts, Entertainment and Culture

To the resident bookworm, the Midtown Scholar is a gold mine. The Scholar is among the nation's largest academic used bookstores, with more than a million books between those in the store and online offerings. The in-store coffeehouse, The Famous Reading Café, offers a corner in which to sip some chai and curl up with a good read in a recently rehabilitated 1920s locale. At night, the Scholar becomes a stage for folk music performers, speakers and authors.

The Midtown Cinema, a few blocks away, is Harrisburg's only first-run theater showing independent and foreign films. If you want to see that new French comedy or the documentary that won big at Cannes, chances are the Midtown will be the only theater in Harrisburg with a showing.

For more experimental and gritty films, often outside the mainstream consciousness, Moviate, next door to the Midtown Scholar, screens independent films from local artists on a regular basis, holds community events in local venues and raises awareness about film festivals in the area.

Midtown has a thriving cultural scene in the continually developing 3rd Street Corridor Art District. For those who like their art locally grown, these galleries showcase the best Harrisburg artists have to offer. At the 3rd Street Studio on the corner of Third and Granite streets, you have the chance not only to view diverse artwork, but also to make some of your own. The Studio offers art classes and presentations that highlight up-and-coming artists.

Gallery Blu, in addition to its display of traditional artwork and jewelry, features a meditation garden containing works designed to ease the mind. The colorful mural on the side of the building, titled Mending Hearts, Minds and Communities, and the adjacent community vegetable garden were added as a part of Harrisburg's SusqueCentennial Mural Project, and are visual reminders of the commitment to revitalization.

A venue that offers deep-seated couches and nearby sustenance, both literary and culinary, is the Yellow Wall Gallery on the second floor of the Midtown Scholar, an informal environment nestled amid the Used Books section. The Midtown Cinema also displays works of art in its Reel Café.

The Hodgepodgery is a niche of curios, artwork and crafts tucked away on the corner of Third and Herr Streets. Showcasing items made from recycled materials, this little shop is bursting with distinctive crafts from dozens of artists — from handmade belts to jewelry to baby clothes.


Walking down a street in Midtown, you'll pass row homes with antiquated brick-and-mortar charm standing catty-corner from sleek, glass-and-steel buildings constructed just a few years ago. To experience Midtown's historic underpinnings, the self-guided Harrisburg History Project walking tour directs you to historically significant sites, including the Sunken Gardens at Riverside Park, the Myra Lloyd Dock Residence and the Governor's Residence, where tours of the building and grounds are available during certain times of the year. Midtown is home to several nationally certified historic districts, and its various architectures lend character to their respective neighborhoods. The Historic Harrisburg Association conveniently sits at Third and Verbeke Streets and offers other themed walking tours throughout the year.

The Pennsylvania National Fire Museum, housed in the restored 1899 Victorian Reily Hose Company No. 10, offers a stunning collection of firefighting artifacts dating from the Civil War to modern times. They even have a special exhibit for museum members to showcase the artifacts and collections in their family.

Founded in 1860, the Broad Street Market at the intersection at Third and Verbeke Streets claims to be the oldest continually operated market house in the United States. The circular market sign crowning its stone building is a prominent landmark in Midtown. During the Civil War, farmers here helped feed the 300,000 Union soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Curtin on 6th Street. At its peak, Broad Street had more than 725 vendors, and many had to wait years until they managed to snag an indoor stand.

Today, around 40 stands offer a diversity of wares, from fresh local produce to Caribbean cuisine to furniture to old-time Pennsylvania Dutch candy.

Good Eats

When it comes to good food in Midtown, the problem won't be finding a good place to eat, it'll be trying to decide on just one. The area boasts a number of unique dining experiences, from eating spicy Vietnamese noodle soup in the bustling marketplace at Broad Street to relaxing with a warm bagel, mint chai and your favorite read at the Midtown Scholar.

At the corner of Green and Peffer Streets, a bit removed from the main hustle and bustle of historic Midtown, stands Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe, owned by Sal and Lina Alvaro. Visitors can relax with authentic cappuccinos and pignoli-studded amaretti cookies, or sample some of Alvaro's heartier fare, such as stuffed eggplant, suppli alla Romana (stuffed rice balls) or risotto with mushrooms. Its homemade gelato is a cold, creamy remedy during the blistering summer months and comes in a variety of flavors.

On what is known as "Coffee Row," which spans the heart of Midtown on Third Street, you'll find an assortment of coffeehouses and sandwich shops. Breads 'n Spreads offers a quiet respite for lunch with a varied coffee and specialty sandwich menu. You can find a delectable soup-and-salad combo here, as well as brunch on Sundays. Teacups hanging in the window, simple folding tables, scattered artwork and antique salt-and-pepper shakers lend a mismatched but comfortable air to this luncheonette, perfect whether you want to discuss 18th-century poetry or sip coffee while surfing the free Wi-Fi.

For more exotic blends, visit Café di Luna, which offers lassi (an Indian/Pakistani drink made with yogurt), unique tea blends and French-pressed coffee. Recently relocated from its Second Street locale, the cafe features a different coffee blend each week and has a small shop offering teas, beans and gifts for java heads.

At The Soup Spot, the menu rotates daily, with specialties of Pennsylvania Dutch and Cajun concoctions.

If you enjoy a little history with your cheesesteak, you can't pass up Jackson House. Known for its famous burgers, this place serves up everything from steak sandwiches to hoagies South Philly-style in a building once owned by German Jackson, who offered hotel rooms to many notable African-American celebrities visiting Harrisburg in the mid-20th century, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

The area boasts a number of ethnic restaurants, serving authentic Puerto Rican (Anastacia's Restaurant Bar), Vietnamese (Golden Gate, Garden Vietnamese Restaurant), Indian (Curry in a Hurry, La Kasbah), Italian (Nonna's Delisioso, Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe) and Caribbean (Anne's Caribbean Cuisine) cuisines.

And the dinner-and-a-movie special from Nonna's Delisioso and the Midtown Cinema, where you can see a movie and enjoy an entree from Nonna's for under $20, is a great way to round off a day of literary, historical and culinary explorations in Midtown Harrisburg.


Published in A Day In

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