Places to Go, Carrels to Reserve: Our Favorite Spots at Swat (And Beyond!)

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

As you arrive at Swarthmore, you’ll begin to explore the campus’s large lawns and close amenities without any assignments yet lingering in the air.

However, the hours you spend playing icebreakers in the Rose Garden will feel like a different lifetime when next week comes and you begin scouring McCabe for the right carrel or wondering where you can find food after 6:30 p.m.

To ease the transition, and to offer the advice we wish we’d received as freshmen, the Gazette editors offer this list of our favorite places to study, eat, and squander free time on campus and in Philadelphia.


The daytime crowds at the coffee bars, whether students are getting a refill of coffee or avoiding Sharples’ lunch menu in favor of sushi, slow down in the evening, making Kohlberg and Science Center good candidates when looking for a place to study either alone or in a small group.

And if you prefer a more quiet workspace, you can find an empty seminar room upstairs in Kohlberg or hunt around Science Center’s split-levels for a comfortable lounge (the couches near the computer science laboratories and the table at the bottom of the stairs to the basement are two good starting places).

Another option is Paces Café, behind Essie Mae’s in Clothier Hall – better know as Tarble, where you can spend the evening studying stag or chatting with friends over bottomless one-dollar coffee. The Café, open from 9:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m., Sunday through Wednesday, also offers nightly specials ranging from the pie out of Waitress to burgers, alongside a set menu of snacks and desserts, including milkshakes and nachos.

Paces also houses Pub Nite (hosted by Senior Class Officers) on Thursdays and student-organized parties most Fridays and Saturdays during the semester. If that’s not your scene, just downstairs in the basement of Clothier (yes, you are allowed to walk down the nearly unfindable staircase behind Essie Mae’s prep area), the SCCS Game Pit offers Rock Band, Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and other video games displayed over a new (well, half-year-old) projector.


When Crum Creek and the bamboo grove aren’t offering the escape you need, Philadelphia is just a short train ride from campus. Restaurant Week, an annual Philadelphia tradition, is one good excuse to take the SEPTA to Center City. From September 30 through October 5, and again from October 7 through October 12, over 130 restaurants in Philadelphia offer three-course dinners for 35 dollars per person. Many also have a lunch menu that rings up at 20 dollars per person.

The Free Library of Philadelphia offers an annual calendar of events worthy of the 20-minute commute. This fall’s ticketed lectures, which generally cost 7 dollars to attend, include Junot Díaz (Sept. 29), Wyclef Jean (Oct. 1), Barbara Kingsolver (Nov. 9), Zadie Smith (Nov. 27), and Bob Woodward (Dec. 10, $32), among others. Free programs also occur throughout the fall, most of which are held at the Library’s Central Branch on Vine Street between 19th and 20th Streets.

If you’re looking to put the books down for an evening out, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a staple in Philadelphia’s art scene, while smaller galleries along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, such as the Rodin Museum, offer collections that, if not as vast, feature works by similarly established artists.

On North 7th Street, the Electric Factory is the oldest concert venue in Philadelphia and continues to offer a strong seasonal lineup (upcoming associated acts range from Bruce Springsteen to Tyga) and, if you’re interested in theater, keep an eye on the Telephone Bronco Theater Company, a group founded by several Swarthmore alumni and based in New York and Philadelphia.

Nick Gettino ’13 is Managing Editor (and a former Co-Editor in Chief) at the Gazette. To reach him, email ngettin1@swarthmore.edu.


  1. ^Thanks for that, SEPTA. As a regular SEPTA user, I’d like to translate the above blurb: If ever your bus is running 17 minutes late, despite being scheduled to run ever 11 minutes, there is a customer service number that you could call, ostensibly to receive information on the whereabouts of your bus. However, if you call this number and the annoyed employee tells you, after putting you only hold for twelve minutes, that they have no idea where the bus is because they have no report of a service problem, you can always try the chat feature, assuming you also have access to wireless while you wait at your bus stop.

    First-years, SEPTA is horribly unreliable, but don’t let that keep you from visiting the city. Do it often; expand your horizons; keep reminding yourself that not everyone is a socially awkward kid whose life is all about higher education and doe-eyed idealism. This is frighteningly easy to forget when you lock yourself away inside the Swat bubble for months on end. This is also an incredibly dangerous thing to forget.
    Also, for god’s sake, treat yourself to some real, delicious food. It will improve your life and health tremendously, and it’s something you just won’t be able to do in Swarthmore. You’re going to spend several years living just twenty minutes outside of a major city. Take advantage of it. Take in its charms and take in its horrors. Try to remain engaged with the world at large as best you can, because your left-leaning activist ideals won’t mean a thing if four years and a Swarthmore diploma later, you don’t actually know what poverty looks like and how racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia manifest in the world beyond a cloister of manicured lawns and sparkling stone temples of Western pedagogy. You might not even be able to identify the ways in which these problems run rampant (subtly, perniciously) in your own community, deceptively set in a place that looks like a utopia.

    Swarthmore offers its students a million different opportunities for growth, but so many students fail to take it up on one extremely significant offer: its proximity to that gritty, diverse, culturally rich city. Don’t just visit for restaurant week. Visit for the fantastic soul food in West Philly for the amazing tacos in South Philly, for the incredible cannoli and olives in the Italian Market, for the free or cheap concerts on the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing, for the parties that last long past 1:30 AM and don’t culminate in the world’s most awkward cafeteria encounter the next day; for the innumerable murals that beautify the scorched walls of buildings once adjacent to others that have since burned down or been condemned and demolished, and for the community gardens that sit beneath these walls and fill the now-vacant lots; for the independent bookstores that house the things even the tri-co system doesn’t want you to read; for the demonstrations and the protests and the community gatherings. And so much more. Leave the campus and visit this city. It is one of the best things you will do for yourself in your time at Swat.

  2. Get off at Market East and visit Reading Terminal Market and Chinatown! The food is delicious and cheap, the shopping is eclectic, and you mingle with a cross section of society. You can get wonton soup for 2 dollars and Amish produce brought right from the countryside.

  3. Great article DG! Really, the best way to survive at Swarthmore is to get out and explore all that Philadelphia has to offer. I would go to Philadelphia at least once each week with friends to a restaurant or to a concert. Take Swarthmore as a marathon not a sprint; burnout is a huge and real problem at Swat.
    For me, I would always schedule these excursions on Friday night. My reasoning: classes are done, tommorow is Sat, so I can have a stress-free night of good food and fun! (as you’ll soon discover, Sharples isn’t so good with Friday dinner -_-)

    Now my recommendations for Swatties!:

    Concerts at Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Institute, Philly Opera, they have student specials

    Go to a Phillies game at least once! It’s awesome!!

    Philly Chinatown has some amazing authentic Chinese restaurants:
    Ocean Harbor has great dim sum on weekends
    Empress Garden has great Taiwanese food
    Four Rivers is my favorite~get their bomb basil chicken!!

    Philly also has some BOMB froyo and gelato places:
    Froyo: Yogorino
    Gelato: Capogeiro

    More awesome restaraunts:
    RAW sushi lounge
    Barbuzzo mediterranean cuisine
    For more great places, yelp and urbanspoon will be your best friends!!

    Dont forget about the HMart at Upper Darby to serve all your Korean and Asian cuisine needs! I dont know why I just thought of this after I graduated but it would be awesome if StuCo could provide a weekly shuttle to HMart!!

    Exploring the city definitely helped me survive Swat! So gather some friends and explore away!! 🙂

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