Yes, there is a new faux beach in the heart of North Philly

The parking lot of an auto repair garage in North Philadelphia was converted into a mini beach with sand, above ground pools, a wooden deck and beach furniture for a party on July 13, 2018. Ron Carroll, center, and others dance in a spray of colored lights.

For Habibi Davis, there’s simply too great a distance between Philadelphia and the coast. That’s why, when he discovered that there was a new “beach” in North Philly, he wasted no time.

Hundreds of party-goers turned out for the launch of the New Beach Club in Swampoodle on Friday — once a parking lot adjacent to an auto body shop, now transformed by owner Chris Knight and a crew of like minds.

 >>UPDATE: North Philly’s ‘beach’ now closed for public events

They blanketed the ground with three truckloads of sand. Not one but two above-ground pools were pitched. A custom deck embraces the larger of the pools, and it’s lined with beach chaises. There’s a portable basketball court, picnic tables, fire pits, a little cabana and even a selection of workout equipment, among other features.

Davey Brown, a party promoter who helped conceptualize the scene, knew that if the team wanted to nail this, it had to pay attention to detail.

“We really snatched the essence of the beach and brought it to Philly,” said Brown.

Ron Jones, who also worked on the renovation, characterized the space as a needed respite. “You don’t want to be sitting on your stoop all the time,” he said. “Give me a five-minute fantasy.”

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Relaxing poolside, the owners and promoter await an upcoming pool party on a vacant North Philadelphia lot. They converted it into a miniature beach with sand, above ground pools, a wooden deck and beach furniture.

Knight, who worked alongside party promoters including Brown, envisions the beach club as a place where folks in the neighborhood will cool off from the July sun, where families will rent the venue for their parties and reunions. Compare it to a beer garden if you must, but know that this is no pop-up. Knight sees the beach as a permanent installation, and he’s still adding amenities. Pool tables came in on Saturday; on Sunday, two Jacuzzis arrived. But the Friday launch was a monster affair where the spirits of a pool party, block party and club outing coalesced.

The cover for men was $15 at the door, but women who arrived before 10:30 p.m. in a bathing suit could come free. Attendees brought their own alcohol.

A group of friends huddled and danced around a phone to show off the scene to a friend who was on the way. On the far end of the beach club, some women played volleyball as divers splashed their way from the pool deck. Earlier in the night there was basketball, but a pole was placed on the mini-court, making way for a pole dance exhibition. Dozens of people sat and socialized with friends, while others twerked to the music. A few men were gleefully armed with Super Soakers, dispersing some folks from the sandy dance floor away from surprise blasts.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The parking lot of an auto repair garage in North Philadelphia was converted into a mini beach with sand, above-ground pools, a wooden deck and beach furniture for a party. Ron Carroll flips into the larger pool.

“I wanted to know what it would be like to be on a beach in North Philly,” Tiara Sloan, 22, said while sitting in a beach chair. “It’s chill vibes.”

Barry Taylor, 19, agreed. “This jawn popping,” he said. “Ain’t no drama. That’s the best part.”

Davis, 24, said it was his first dip in a pool this summer.

“It’s lit. It’s a different experience,” he said, relishing the water and taking slow steps to go deeper. Was he worried about the cell in his palm? “Hey man, YOLO. I’m living it up tonight.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Dymond Singleton is carried on the back of Alashanae Keyes at the North Philadelphia faux beach on July 13.

Many attendees found out about the party through social media, especially after Jyriek “Southside Ju” Brown, a comedic actor with a popular Instagram account, gave his followers a preview.

“North Philly is full of surprises,” Brown wrote in the caption.

In his Instagram post, the comedian dramatically presents the beach club’s features with Fetty Wap’s “Mine Again” as his soundtrack.

After the video was reshared on Twitter, one user asked, “Why I felt like I was watching a episode of MTV Cribs [?]”

“Yo I’m still crying!!!” one Instagram user said.

On both platforms, the comments were celebratory. After neighborhood restaurateur Saudia Shuler’s lavish prom send-offs, equipped with camel and black panther rentals, here was another instance of North Philly stunning everyone again.

“You can have fun in here and hear gunshots two blocks away. But that’s the beauty of it,” said the comedian, sitting at a picnic table at what he calls North Miami. “It’s deep, right? It’s like a rose growing out the concrete. That’s real rap.”

Camera icon JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Tariq Knight swims in the pool on the parking lot, which his father converted into a mini-beach with sand, above-ground pools, a wooden deck and beach furniture.

Ahead of the party, the comedian’s video had cracked 100,000 views. His DMs got clogged with inquiries. Normally, Brown charges businesses between $250 and $300 for promotion via an Instagram post, but he spread the word about North Miami for free. He hadn’t seen anything like it before. He also thought of kids whose parents might not be able to afford a vacation.

City property records indicate that Ray Murphy owns the land under North Philly’s beach. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
An overall look early in the evening before it got crowded.

But Knight said the owner has been cool with the converted beach.

As for permits, Knight did not apply for any. He doesn’t seem too worried, though. If the city closes the beach, he said, “that’s on them.”

“That’s why the kids are doing what they doing out here, because [the city is] shutting everything down,” Knight said. “It is what it is.”

Knight has already paid around $15,000 for the amenities of North Beach.

Porta-potties are on their way (guests have been using the auto shop’s bathrooms), and he’s looking to bring in a fourth truckload of sand. On Monday, the next batch of new features had arrived: six LED palm trees to illuminate the manmade strand.

In the early evening light, friends and crew members relaxed and waited for the sun to go down, to see the palms in their full glow. Andre “UGottaChill” Freely, also of North Philly, reclined on a beach chaise. He’d recently returned to town from Miami, and now he was back in the sand again.

It reminds him of a swank swim club he’s seen in Northern Liberties. He likes it better here.

“It’s like something that people in the ‘hood came up with,” he explained, “for everybody to take part.”

This article has been corrected by removing a quote from a resident who said there was no pool nearby. There is a pool at the C.B. Moore Recreation Center on North 22nd Street.