Drugs, Insanity, Death: The World’s Most Bizarre Museums

The Morbid Anatomy Museum

Today, May 18, is International Museum Day—which is really just an excellent reminder that we should make an effort every day to fill our lives with a bit more beauty, peculiarity and enlightenment. But it’s also an opportunity to consider that museums indeed offer so much more than just Damien Hirst, Jackson Pollock and Alexander McQueen. To that end, here are five of the oddest, and perhaps most unsettling of them all. Happy Museum Day:

The Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York


Morbid Anatomy Museum 2


This strange and captivating Brooklyn museum’s mission is stated as “Exploring the intersections of death, beauty and that which falls between the cracks.” It has become a meeting point for NYC’s more funereally disposed artistic souls, as well, hosting lectures, screenings and dark-hearted social gatherings. Its current temporary exhibition is The House of Wax: Anatomical, Pathological, and Ethnographical Waxworks from Castan’s Panopticum (Berlin, 1869-1922). Naturally.

Mütter Museum, Philadelphia




Philly’s rather notorious museum of medical oddities, including historical surgical instruments, corrosion specimens, and the Hyrtl Skull Collection, is genuinely not for the squeamish or sensitive. Its current featured exhibition, Vesalius On The Verge: The Book and The Body, focuses on a series of 16th Century books on human dissection. Creepy.

Museum Dr. Guislain, Ghent, Belgium


Museum Dr Guislain


Joseph Guislain was a forerunner of Freud, the first to posit that mental illness was indeed treatable and that its sufferers were to be cared for with dignity. This singularly fascinating eponymous museum is located in the rather lugubrious former asylum in which he did his groundbreaking work (in one of our favorite European cities, Ghent), and explores insanity and madness from Antiquity through to modern times. A current exhibition, titled Shame, is fairly self explanatory.

Museo De Enervantes, Mexico City


Museo de Enervantes


What the Renaissance is to Florence, so are drug wars to Mexico City. And indeed, this is a museum dedicated to its notorious and storied narco culture. Alongside an arsenal’s worth of seized firearms in display cases, there is an edifying run through the long history of drug abuse itself, and a plaque which commemorates those who have lost their lives battling the brutal cartels (it’s a lot). The museum is technically not open to the public; but call ahead (52 55 2122 8800) and say it’s for, um, educational purposes.

Collection De L’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland


Art Brut Museum


Renowned French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet first began assembling and collecting the artworks of the insane in 1945, influenced by Hans Prinzhorn’s seminal text Artistry of the Mentally Ill. Now, of course, the art world lumps it all together as “Outsider Art.” But this collection, located in the glorious Swiss city of Lausanne, is surely the most astonishing and, arguably, the most honest.

Fitler Dining Room Opens In Philly’s Rittenhouse Square

Playing well to the nostalgia trend, the new American bistro Fitler Dining Room (named for the nearby square) is regaled with 1920s vintage, such as rawhide banquettes, retro lighting fixtures, and a salvaged marble bar top, without being twee or cloying. It’s the latest from the Pub & Kitchen boys Dan Clark and Ed Hackett, which is no surprise since it bears all the recognizable hallmarks of that restaurant’s carefully calibrated cozy-chic interior. Even the uniforms are by local raw denim makers Norman Porter.

And don’t come looking for culinary deconstructions. Head chef Robert Marzinsky keeps it short, simple, and classic: Jerusalem artichoke soup, tartare of Lancaster beef filet, bone-in short ribs…but with a few surprises, like truffle + leek -stuffed skate wing. But the usual craft beer selections are impressively complemented by a connoisseur’s selection of champagne and port. And most gloriously, Fitler’s large windows look right out onto the 19th Century Romanesque Trinity Church – so repentance for your decadence is just steps away. 

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Itinerary: Exploring Philadelphia With Dave Hartley of Nightlands

January 23, 2013: it’s the coldest day in three years, with temperatures dropping as low as ten degrees. Getting dressed is like preparing for battle, piling on protective armor to endure what’s ahead. It’s kismet that I’ll be getting out of New York and heading down to Philadelphia instead of trudging through the city for what would surely be a miserable experience. I am meeting up with Dave Hartley, the mastermind behind recording project Nightlands. His sophomore album, Oak Island, has just been released the day before. He has crafted a mesmerizing record best taken in as a whole: ten tracks that one should sit with, process, and then repeat in order to fully grasp the experience. We’ll be spending our time exploring his Philadelphia neighborhood, Fishtown. Hartley, a Maryland transplant, has called West Philadelphia his adopted home for almost twelve years. I am interested to learn what makes him tick and where his passions lie. With photographer Dominic Neitz in tow, we navigate our way out of Brooklyn and propel ourselves into the day.


We arrive at quaint coffee shop called Leotah’s a little before our 3:00 meeting time with Hartley. I am instantly comfortable; I feel as though I have walked into someone’s living room. "Boogie On" by Rob is on the stereo system, and a Maya Angelou quote on the wall catches my eye: "If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change your attitude."

Hartley arrives promptly in from the cold and is already warming his hand with a coffee. He relaxes by the window where the cool sunlight is spilling through the windows. "There was a coffee shop I use to go to," he tells me. "I use to work there actually, and at some point the music jumped the shark. So I started coming here. They always play something kind of mellow." Working various odd jobs in and around Philly, Hartley spent six years working for a housing company with several musicians from the area. Adam Granduciel, his friend and bandmate in The War on Drugs, worked alongside him. He cites getting laid off in 2008 as one of the best things to ever happen to the two of them, "You gotta make a move, you gotta make a change, because sometimes you just cruise," he says. "We collected unemployment, and Adam finished his War on Drugs record and I finished my first Nightlands record, and with the little bit of money we had we gave ourselves our own arts grant."  Now, four years later, his new album has dropped, and today undoubtedly marks a touchstone moment.

Miner Street Recordings

There’s a huge sense of community at Miner Street Recordings, our next stop. Hartley frequently collaborates with owner Brian McTear and most recently mixed Oak Island at the studio. Greeted by McTear, we make our way up to the loft space. The heat has just been turned on but thankfully has begun to rise. The sunlight has shifted; it’s golden, but you can tell there’s no warmth beyond the panes. Hartley noticeably finds comfort as he glides his way around the studio among all the tools used to bring sounds to life. I am immersed in a conversation with McTear when I hear Hartley entrancingly serenading the sunset behind a guitar. Brian tells me, "A lot of energy went in by the local community development corporation into making this a place that musicians could actually move to and own. The studio has an appeal to so many New York bands. They sort of feel they can’t really work in New York because it doesn’t disrupt their daily schedules enough. In general it just kind of keeps you working"

Pizza Brain

It is still insanely cold, but in a strange way it feels kind of nice, like it’s hitting you in the face and keeping you on your toes. We make a brief stop at Pizza Brain, a restaurant funded by a Kickstarter campaign; it also serves as the world’s first pizza museum, having been listed by Guiness World Records for its extensive collection of pizza memorabilia. The walls are littered with Ninja Turtles, movie posters, and vintage photographs all relating to pizza in some fashion. The iPads bolted in the walls are open to the Pizza Brain Tumblr, which keeps patrons engulfed while they digest. Hartley devours a slice, which he tells us is arguably the best pizza in town. I gnaw on a vegan option and my taste buds are not disappointed.

Hartley will be hitting the road in March in support of Oak Island, and he’s looking forward to the coming year. “Every time you put a record out and then you tour, you just learn so much," he explains. "You want to go back to the lab. I would do that year-round if possible, but you have to promote." Hartley, like many other artists, finds showing off his work to the masses to be a daunting experience. "Touring is scary," he declares. "To go in front of people and present what you’ve done—in some ways that’s good. It’s good to be scared in that way. I am looking forward to touring but there’s a little more apprehension. Whereas, in the studio, I’m like, ‘Let me at it.’ That’s when I’m in my zone.”

Port Richmond Books

It’s now dark, and Hartley leads the way, weaving in and out of streets and intersecting roads. When we reach Port Richmond Books, he mentions it’s the best used bookstore he’s ever found. We meet the owner, Greg Gillespie, in a small room crowded with books. Three men are settled in, tossing back a few beers, and huddled around a space heater. Each has his own piles of books they are flipping through. This is where these men spend their days, conversing on a wide range of topics and quoting their favorite authors. Books are their passion. We politely decline the beers Gillespie offers us and instead set out to explore the collection. The wind outside is roaring and we are roaming through the aisles of shelves. At every corner we face an abundance of books: an endless maze containing so many lives and fantasies. It’s easy for one to get lost.

Hartley finds his way to the sci-fi section and flashes me a cassette tape he plans to purchase, “The World of Wars.” I round the corner and come across a few boxes of old tools, relics from the buildings previous embodiment (it was first a movie theater during the silent film era, then a hardware store) that Gillespie has yet to part with. The organ, I am told, is still down in the basement, as well. Hartley can kill hours here continuing to uncover stories, he tells me. "It’s crazy how many people don’t know about this place. It’s really sad.”

Loco Pez

It all ends for Hartley at his favorite neighborhood establishment, Loco Pez, a dive bar and local taqueria around the corner from his house. It’s bustling this evening and looks like it hasn’t changed much from the previous incarnations that have surely occupied the space. Philly keeps it simple; there aren’t any eyesores in the neighborhood. It is, in many ways, untouched. Tacos at Loco Pez were at the top of Hartley’s mind all day. He gives me a pro-tip to order the mahi-mahi fish tacos. When they are unable to fill his request for a hot toddy, he changes his mind and satisfies his need to warm up with a michelada. Dave runs into an old friend from the area, the sense of community prominent again. Afterward, he tells me a story from New Year’s Eve, when The War on Drugs played their indefinite last show. “We played at Johnny Brendas," he says. "We were the first band to ever play there, and they were so sweet to us. We had been touring for, like, three years, and now we are kinda done touring for a while. It was really a full-circle moment to be the first band to play there, to tour the world for three years, and to come back and be welcomed with open arms. I woke up the next day and it was 2013; that chapter is closed for me for a little while, and I am focusing more on Nightlands.”

We head to the back of the bar, where Hartley runs into another friend playing pinball. It’s likely you’ll find Hartley back here, tucked between the bathroom and the pinball machine. His high score on this particular game is 139 million—not that he’s counting—and you can tell it’s more than just a bar pastime for him. He’s heading out in the next week to purchase a Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine, his first. After spending the afternoon with Hartley, I can’t help but recall his words when he describes his adopted home town: "West Philly has a pretty distinct identity. A lot of my friends feel the same way. I like living here." His parting words are straightforward as we’ve come to get to know each other: "This is my happy spot."

Catch Nightlands February 12th at The Knitting Factory

All Photographs by Dominic Neitz.

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There’s A Museum of Pizza Now in Philadelphia

What’s most surprising about the opening of Pizza Brain, a restaurant-meets-world’s-first-pizza museum that opened over the weekend in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, is that it wasn’t already a thing. America has museums dedicated to all sorts of foodstuffs, from that most American of comestibles, Spam (in Austin, Minnesota) to Kentucky Fried Chicken (at the O.G. location in Corbin, Kentucky). But sure enough, the creation of art show organizer and pizza enthusiast Brian Dwyer, designer Ryan Anderson, chef Joseph Hunter and business manager Michael Carter is the sole, Kickstarter-supported establishment of its kind, where intrepid diners can learn more about the history and cultural significance of their favorite arrangement of flat bread and various toppings.

Pizza Brain celebrates the significance of pizza in modern cultural works, from Do The Right Thing to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Star Trek (one of their favorite pieces of memorabilia in the museum is a pizza cutter shaped like the starship Enterprise). In addition to toys, recipes and historical artifacts, Pizza Brain sports a rather impressive collection of pizza-themed albums (some released by the big pizza chains themselves) by ‘80s rap icons the Fat Boys and others. But if the nostalgia doesn’t whet your appetite, there are the inventive pizzas themselves, from the meatloaf featuring Kobe beef to the just-introduced “Charlie Mayfer,” which sports sweet potato, honey, goat cheese and brown sugar. Mmmm.

Watch their Kickstarter video below.

President Obama Introduced Jay-Z Last Night In Philly

Giving fodder to Republicans eager to accuse him of palling around with ex-drug dealers, President Obama introduced Jay-Z via video last night at the Budweiser Made In America festival in Philly.

You can watch Obama’s intro in the video below, although the Philadelphia Museum of Art crowd is cheering and chanting so loud that you can barely hear what O is saying. I think I heard something about the "promise of this country" and how Jay-Z "worked hard" and "learned from his mistakes." And of course there’s a plea that "you should vote this fall" before Jay-Z comes out on stage to the opening bars of the Jackson 5’s "ABC."


You can also watch the Made In America festival streaming live from MadeInAmericaFest.com. Very cool.

Kickstarter of the Week: An Epic Dinner Party From ‘The Feast’

A group in New York wants to host a massive celebration of food, music and innovation—but one that seems a little less Googa Mooga and a little more World’s Columbian Exposition. The Feast is a network of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and altruistically-minded folks who host events to connect like-minded people together to do good. With their next project, The Feast is looking to Kickstarter to launch the World’s Largest Roaming Dinner Party, although this one probably will involve more networking and less crudités and semi-awkward games of "Would You Rather?" Instead, Jerri Chou and the fellow feasters will be making toolkits for people around the world to host dinner parties, get together over good food and drink and bounce off ideas on how to change the world. The team is raising funds to create a World’s Fair-evoking (World’s Fare… see what they did there?) pavilion in a New York City warehouse for an after-celebration on October 6th with lots of music and live entertainment, opportunities for innovators to show their stuff and, of course, food. At time of writing, they’re about $6,000 short of their $20k goal with a week to go. 

This is not to be confused with another dinner party that happened this week you may have heard about on the Internet. Last night, Mitch Prensky, executive chef of Philadelphia restaurant Supper, held a dinner party recreating the masked ball sequence from Fifty Shades Darker, the sequel to the erotic hit of the summer, Fifty Shades of Grey. Guests could dine on salmon tartare, rosted duck breast and foie gras and sugar-crusted walnut chiffons while browsing intimate apparel and toys from local adult store Coeur. This thing is a phenomenon, and it cannot be stopped. 

Watch The Feast’s Kickstarter video below:

Philadelphia Opening: Urban Enoteca at The Latham Hotel

With the long-awaited debut of the revivified version of the storied Latham Hotel last fall, a part of Philadelphia history marched into the 21st Century. Now the final piece of the transformation puzzle has been put in place with the opening of the casual and sophisticated new Urban Enoteca. An Italian wine bar with an international bent, the small plates encompass everything from prosciutto-crusted white prawns, to handcrafted gnocchi.

A mod Cruvinet system allows for a selection of 24 wines by the glass, playfully named Luscious & Sexy, Full & Intense, and so on. Or just order up a couple rounds of the house specialty cocktail, the geographically-titled 17th And Walnut, with such ingredients as 10 Cane Rum, fresh Persian lime juice, yellow passion fruit juice and blossom honey. The interior, like the rest of the jazzed-up hotel, is a mix of vintage, contemporary, and all-around stylish. 

Jay-Z Curating, Headlining ‘Made In America’ Festival

Yesterday, we learned that Jay-Z is curating and headlining a festival of his own making named after one of his own songs because of course he is. The Made In America Festival will take place at Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park September 1st and 2nd, and much like Coachella 2013, tickets will be available very, very soon—eight days to be exact, with early bird passes going for $99 (cue "99 Problems" joke and subsequent eye-rolling). Roughly 30 acts will perform on three stages, although Hov has so far been quiet about just who (other than his headlining the first night), although the fest’s website advertises acts of all genres. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone about the weekend, he did say he would call and try to convince President Obama to perform, perhaps recreating his viral rendition of Al Green’s "Let’s Stay Together." "He’ll be so far into helping the world that he probably won’t have time," he said, "but I’m absolutely going to ask him." With the election following close after, it would certainly be an interesting campaign move. 

Watch the teaser video (although it doesn’t reveal much) below:

And listen to the Watch the Throne track (feat. Frank Ocean) that bears the festival’s name: 


Philadelphia Openings: Lemon Hill, Walnut Street Supper Club, Hickory Lane

Lemon Hill (Fairmount & Art Museum) -An acclaimed Philly chef and gang of master mixologists further their pedigree-packed partnership by spearheading their first joint restaurant in Fairmount.

Walnut Street Supper Club (City Center West) – Iconic Center City restaurateur debuts a ’40s supper club in his former Portofino space.

Hickory Lane (Fairmount & Art Museum) – Fairmount welcomes a contempo neighborhood bistro whose main appeal is the celebrated, progressive chef manning the kitchen.