For anyone that grew up in downtown Philadelphia through the 1980s, Levis Hot Dogs at 507 S. 6th St. was on the same level of Pat’s Steaks or Ralph’s- a restaurant that’s been around for so long that you take it for granted. As you might imagine given the name, this establishment was founded by a gentleman named Abe Levis. Mr. Levis only emigrated to America to avoid serving in the Czar’s army, and that gives you a pretty good indication of how far back this business goes. As we told you previously, the business initially opened in 1896, and unverified reports indicate that Levis was the first person to dream up putting a sausage on a bun. This leaves us with more questions than answers, but whether Levis invented the modern hot dog or not, he managed to establish a business that lasted at the same location for 96 years, and that’s quite the feat.
Over the last twenty-five years, we can remember two businesses in this space. Gianna’s, a punky sandwich shop with a vegetarian-friendly bend, occupied the building from the late 1990s through 2009- not a bad run for a restaurant. Blackbird Pizza followed right behind, offering purely vegan pizza and sandwiches and a wholesale seitan operation. Though both businesses had their own associated signage, the cornice of the building still advertised its former occupant and that was indeed a unique and enjoyable architectural feature.
If you’re in the market for a vegan cheesesteak and plan to grab one at Blackbird, we would regrettably divert you to their Northern Liberties location. Their spot on 6th Street has been closed for about a year, and it’s not because of a lack of business.
The building was declared imminently dangerous around this time last year, and the continuing presence of the business in the building became a serious safety risk. We have to think that the property was in pretty terrible condition, because there’s been serious construction activity there since the ID designation and the building is still nowhere near ready to be reoccupied. Unfortunately, in the process of repairing the building, the owners needed to replace the facade. Needless to say, the new one doesn’t hold a candle to the old one. Hey, we get it. They don’t make ’em like they used to. Still, it’s a shame that this building has lost its old facade and its connection to its commercial history.