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The Secret Summer

June 13, 2012 By:
Richard Pawlak, This Summer Feature
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The Stoogeum is the Promised Land for Three Stooges fans.

NYUK, NYUK, NYUK

The small office park tucked off of Bethlehem Pike in Ambler gives no outward indication that it contains the DNA for at least three generations of comedic sensibilities. But this unassuming location is where one man’s obsession has grown into three stories of Three Stooges devotion. The Stoogeum stands alone as one of this area’s singular surprises, although, coming on the heels of the recent Farrelly Brothers movie, “The Three Stooges,” it will no doubt be one of the hottest destinations of the summer. 

Hopefully, the new crop of Stooges fans will be able to persuade Stoogeum owner and curator Gary Lassin to open the place more than once a month. Yes, you read that correctly. Currently, The Stoogeum schedules a single day a month for devotees of the legendary comedy trio to visit (June 23, July 14, Aug. 12 and Sept. 1 are the next dates), but admission is free.

100,000 items of Stoogeabilia await you on three cleverly designed levels, along with a research library, 85-seat theater and film storage vault. An interactive display greets you upon entering (along with a neat surprise we won’t reveal here), with a Stooges timeline and screens to direct visitors based on their level of interest. From there you can check out Shemp Howard’s Army discharge papers, rare movie theater lobby cards and posters (including some hilarious foreign posters), famous costumes and props, years of comic books and record albums, and even a six-pack of Three Stooges beer.

Monitors throughout the museum flicker with clips from the group’s body of work, but you can also settle into a plush theater seat and watch hours of their movies in the spacious theater. There is even an airy art gallery filled with images and interpretations of the comedians from both famous and amateur artists. A small gift shop offers you the chance to leave with a memento of your visit, feeling deliriously devolved and full of Stooges trivia.

904 Sheble Lane, Ambler, 267.469.0810, www.stoogeum.com. Open from 10:00 a.m.to 3:00 p.m. on June 23, July 14, Aug. 12 and Sept. 1 and Oct. 6, if you really want to plan ahead.

Make Time for Woodbine

There are as many routes to the Jersey Shore as the dozens of towns that dot the barrier islands where folks spend their summer, but if you’re one of the weekenders who prefer to wend their way through the back roads and farmland near Vineland, Millville and Buena to get to your summer rental, set your GPS for sleepy Woodbine. Here, just 10 miles inland from Sea Isle City, you can learn about the history and people of that extraordinary town at The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage. Woodbine was America’s first self-governed Jewish community. The museum celebrates its role in the history of the wave of immigration at the end of the 19th century. Russian Jewish settlers came to this rural part of the state with a plan to develop it as an agricultural community. When that plan failed to succeed as hoped, the town became a manufacturing center, producing hats, boxes, machine tools, cigars and clothing, creating a unique marriage of farms and factories. But its true legacy is one of civic activity and culture, education and tolerance in a multicultural setting that was a century ahead of its time. The museum, a National Historic Landmark, is housed in the Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue, built in 1893 as an Orthodox synagogue, now lovingly restored by businessman Michael Azeez. Azeez named it after his father, Sam, who grew up in Woodbine and was a co-developer of the first real-time stock market quotation system, as well as an Internet and cellular pioneer. The synagogue’s sanctuary, framed by majestic clerestory windows, is a serene, light-filled space that will inspire the most casual of visitors to prayer and contemplation, but it’s the museum below that delivers a moving message of tolerance, values and the power of community. Its floor recreates the original layout of the town’s streets, and its sleekly designed displays tell the story of its founding in 1880, its evolution into a bustling factory town and its reputation for excellence in education, sports, art and culture. Since opening as a museum in 2003, “The Sam” has become a popular destination for local student groups as well as school trips from throughout the state. 

The museum was recently donated, along with its contents, by the Azeez Foundation to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, which will expand it with classrooms, offices and exhibit space as an extension of the college. If you have kids, bring them here and teach them what “diversity” meant before the word became another bland, politically correct term. It will turn a rainy day at the shore into a meaningful family experience.

610 Washington Ave., Woodbine, N.J. 609.646.9400; www.thesam.org. Open Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A Delicious Impression

You may already have tickets for this summer’s exhibition, “Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which runs from June 20 to Sept. 3. But do you have an inkling of where you will fortify yourself either before or after taking in the exhibition?

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the museum is the answer to the hunger that follows cultural enrichment. Granite Hill, a Zen-like space operated with atypically little fanfare by Starr Events, the catering arm of Stephen Starr’s restaurant empire, and one of the city’s best-kept restaurant secrets. At Granite Hill, you can tuck into salmon rillette dabbed onto toasted brioche, an entrée salad, roasted branzino with wilted greens or a signature burger perched on more of that good brioche. Be sure to make reservations now for the restaurant’s “Tiki Pop-Up” in honor of “Visons of Arcadia,” June 28 through 30. The $48 price tag includes a cocktail in a souvenir tiki tumbler! Trader Vic’s was never like this.

2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, 215.684.7990. Lunch, Tue-Fri, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Fri 5:00 - 7:30 p.m. 

Happier Hours

The Center City District, those nice folks who keep Center City safe, clean and attractive — and promote the river-to-river residential lifestyle — have devised a clever way to keep you in town on Wednesday nights. Center City District Sips promotes drink and appetizer specials at 85 bars and restaurants from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays from June 6 to Aug. 29. Enjoy reduced prices on cocktails, wine and beer and half-priced appetizers, with some establishments even offering a 15 percent dinner discount after 7 p.m. Some examples of the bounty:

At the Caribou Café (1126 Walnut St., 215.625.9535), quaff a Krönenbourg with a selection of sliders (smoked salmon and Boursin, mushroom, spinach and Morbier); around the corner at the new ersatz-Gothic Boilermaker (216 S. 11th St., 215.922.3427), half-price, housemade hot dogs, burgers and fries make for a surprisingly good pairing with a St. Germain cocktail; gaze down at the after-work bustle along Broad Street as you sip on house-infused vodka martinis or gin and tonics while nibbling on deviled eggs at Perch Pub (1345 Locust St., 215.546.4090); or go for the lush quiet of the garden setting at the M Restaurant at the boutique Morris House Hotel (231 S. 8th St., 215.625.6666) with a glass of Pinot Grigio and some garden bruschetta. www.centercityphila.org/life/Sips

A Lark in the Park

A warm summer night, blankets and picnics laid out on an expanse of grass, with the sounds of Shakespeare filling the air. You’re in Clark Park in University City between the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Sciences, where Shakespeare in Clark Park brings free productions of the bard’s plays to one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful parks every summer. The acting troupe, founded in 2005, re-imagines the world of the park through the works of the playwright, drawing upwards of 1,000 people with barely a whisper of publicity.

The plays are staged around a giant, picture-perfect tree, in a corner of the park that forms a natural bowl of greenery. While there is minimal lighting used when the 7:00 p.m. performances reach sunset, the outdoor embodiment of the bard’s lyrical lines is a singular summertime experience that few outside the West Philadelphia neighborhood have even heard about.

The four founders of this summertime theater company cobble together their production with donations and volunteer help with the belief that “public art is both important and necessary,” according to their website (www.shakespeareinclarkpark.org ).

This year’s production of five performances of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” takes place July 25 to 29, and is suitable for all ages. If you’re not into packing a picnic dinner, there are plenty of dining and take-out options within a short walking distance of the park, ranging from Chinese, Vietnamese and Ethiopian cafes to pizza and panini.

And be sure to grab a craft beer from The Bottle Shop at 44th and Spruce Streets on your way to the performance, because nothing says summer like a lambic to go with iambic pentameter and a panoramic sunset.

Suitable for all ages. Clark Park, 43rd St. and Chester Ave., University City. Bring blankets, lawn/beach chairs, picnic baskets.

Richard Pawlak is Special Sections’ secret weapon.

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