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Rediscovering the RTM


annexk8
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First, an introduction. I've been lurking around here for a long time, but I'm a grad student so I don't have that much time to participate. I've lived in the area for three years (midwestern transplant), during which I've come to love Philly, and particularly the Reading Terminal Market, which is probably my #1 favorite place in the city.

But recently I've been in an RTM rut. My husband and I go there all the time, but it's always on Saturdays when we're starving and parked at a one hour meter. So we're always going to the same places for the same food (usually Salumeria for a hoagie or the Thai place for pad thai, husband always gets DiNics roast pork), because we're in a hurry to eat, get our shopping done at Iovine's or wherever, and go.

Until today... Penn's on spring break and the day was too gorgeous to spend it in the library, so I took a *long* walk from West Philly to the RTM. I knew the flower show crowds would be there (which is great, I love it when it's crowded), so I got an ice cream cone at Bassett's and wandered around, scoped out the food and people-watched with more leisure than usual. What a revelation!! I've discovered (or re-discovered, in some instances) a whole bunch of things that I hope will get me out of my rut. Tortas at 12th St. Cantina, the new Indo-Pak place, soups and entrees at Mezze, mac and cheese at Delilah's, pastas at By George. I could go on. I can't wait to get there again!

What else should I try to get myself out of my rut? What's your favorite thing at the RTM??

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My RTM faves:

* hot apple dumpling with whipped cream at Dutch Eating Place

* Moroccan chicken platter at Kamal's

* bread pudding from Le Bus

* DIY fruit salad at Iovine's

* hot turkey-stuffing-cranberry sauce sandwich at the Original Turkey

* pretzel from the Amish pretzel place (can't remember the name)

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Between the DiNic's roast pork sandwich and the 12th Street Cantina's tacos, I rarely eat anything else in the market. They're both just that good.

But lots of good stuff to go:

- The live lobster place has great smoked trout, crab cakes, etc

- The pretzel place is indeed good

- Sang Kee has good wonton noodle soup

- The Amish place in the northwest corner has good barbecue

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Welcome, Annexk8! Now that spring is rapidly approaching the RTM gets even more interesting...

On Fridays and, temporarily at least, Saturdays as well, the Fair Food Farmstand sets up in center court opposite Philbert the Brass Pig (you have noticed Philbert, haven't you?) The Fair Food Farmstand sells products that have been grown and produced by small family farms and independent food companies in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Every week the manager, Ann Karlen, sends out an e-mail to announce what she's scheduled to have. You can subscribe by sending Ann an e-mail at Ann@whitedog.com. (The Fair Food Project is a non-profit endeavor of the White Dog Cafe.

When spring produce arrives, that means Earl Livengood won't be far behind. Earl sets up on Saturdays during the growing season at the same center court location as Fair Food (which is why FFF is there during the winter on Saturday but not Spring through Fall). Livengood's can be counted on to have whatever is in season and offers both conventional and organic produce. His berries are tops, and when tomato season finally arrives he'll have heirlooms. Don't miss his greens, especially the spinach.

Over the last year there's been a new "home grown" addition to the market, artisinal cheese made in Lancaster County. The vendor, Aaron Lapp, sells organic raw milk cheese. He learned his craft from Jonathan White, founder of Egg Farm Dairy who now operates Bobolink Farms; Aaron says he's cave aging cheese for Jonathan. The Lancaster County cheese is cheddar in a number of different formulations, all delicious. He is only at the market on Saturdays, but you can also buy some of his cheeses on Friday from the Fair Food Farmstand.

Iovine's continue's to amaze me. Brothers Jimmy and Vinny are not mere produce retailers -- they're practically farmers! They contract with at least one farmer to grow crops specifically for them, which means they are bringing in good, wholesome local produce in season. And their variety of "imported" produce (in other words, from outside of the Delaware Valley) is usually of high quality and variety. Their exotics can lend interest to your dinner table. When available, try some salicornia, which you can treat like asparagus; but be forewarned, it's naturally salty, hence, one alternate name: pickleweed. This spring Iovine's will have fiddleheads and ramps, among other exotic (and high priced) goodies. Plus a decent selection of mushrooms. Plus they always seem to find the best quality/value mix of conventional produce; in February, for example, they get some Plant City, Florida, strawberries, that, while clearly winter berries, still have exceptional flavor. Last week, perfectly good Haas avocadoes (they did need a couple of days ripening at home) were two for a $1.

Don't dismiss the hotdog stand near the entrance to the Beer Garden. It's one of the few places in town where you can buy a Best all-beef hot dog (Best Provisions of Newark, not Best Kosher of Chicago). Best Provisions manufactures, IMHO, the best all-beef frank going, better than Sabrett's and better than Usinger's, two other high quality dogs.

You've got three fish stores to choose from at the RTM, and all offer good quality, fresh fish. There is some difference in the varieties carried, as well as the prices, so it pays to check out all three if you're in the mood for fish or shellfish. Only Golden, for example, handles "dry" scallops ("dry" in the sense that no water-retaining phosphate has been added), while only what used to be Kim's (the one closest to Filbert Street) carries skate. John Yi, of course, has the best neon sign. (Eat Fish, Live Longer.)

Need a treat? The Pennsylvania General Store has lots of them, and recently started carrying Swiss style truffles made by a real Swiss chocolatier, even if said chocolatier has his workshop in Lancaster County (close to good milk for Swiss milk chocolate). If you want even more local chocolate, Caviar Assouoline sells gift boxes of Jubilee Chocolates from West Philly.

I could go on, and on and on. I've been an RTM shopper since the early 1980s and suffered through the convention center construction and market rehabilitation, where in succession 25% of the floor space was shut down for repairs. But today's market is as vibrant as ever. The stores change, and there's a constant battle to keep it from becoming a chain-dominanted food court (the closest thing to a chain today at the RTM would be Bassetts Turkey). So far, the good guys are winning. But to keep it that way, we locals have to support the merchants. Nothing wrong with having sandwich places to attract the tourists (especially when the sandwiches are as good as those prepared by Ed's crew at Salumeria or Tommy DiNic), but we've got to shop for our everyday food there if the RTM is to remain the unique resource for urban living that it is.

(Edited to fix typos)

Edited by rlibkind (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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rlibkind - an excellent post! You've basically said it all, but I'll add a few things of my own.

The pretzel place is Fisher's and the pretzels are divine. Real butter and coarse salt on them - yummmmmm. I don't even normally like soft pretzels but these are awesome. I like them with the squeezy cheese sometimes too.

Iovine's does indeed have excellent produce. I often check for the "big bag bargains" on the rack off to the side closest to the rest of the market for excess or already ripened stuff if I'm planning to use it right away. I've gotten some fierce bargains there from time to time.

Sang Kee (I think) Peking Duck is very good. So is 12th Street Cantina for Mexican food. The cookbook stall has an amazing selection of hard to find books. Harry Och's is an excellent butcher. Downtown cheese also has a great selection of cheeses. Godschall's poultry has fresh goose in the winter time and really great chickens and ducks all year around as well as eggs. The Amish stand on the Arch Street side has amazing fresh dairy products like really heavy cream, buttermilk and fresh eggs.

I'm certain there's other things I've forgotten, but the best thing to do is just wander around. Parking at the lot for the gallery on Filbert St. is pretty cheap and is better than rushing back to a one hour space. Perhaps that would allow you the time you need to give the RTM a really good once over!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Parking at the RTM can be a bitch, and it's one market management and the merchants' association are always grappling with.

However, there is a discount parking program. But it's much akin to the scene in the film 2001 where Dr. Floyd is trying to read the complicated instructions governing use of the zero-gravity toilet.

The garage to use would be the Parkway garage at 12th & Filbert, enter either on Filbert or off 12th. When you enter DO NOT PUT YOUR CREDIT CARD into the gate slot. Instead, take the ticket and proceed to one of the special areas on the 3rd and 5th levels reserved for Reading Terminal Market customers. (You'll have to reinsert your ticket to gain entry to those special areas; it will be returned immediately.) As you shop, show your ticket to merchants, and you'll collect a token for every $5 spent.

Be sure to finish your shopping and return to the garage within two hours of entry to take advantage of the discount rates, otherwise you'll pay the full rate (I think it's $16.50) with at most a 50-cent discount per token. If you stay within the two-hour limit, your parking fee will be a maximum of $4.50 with only one token, and an additional 50-cents deducted for each additional token. To get that discount within the two-hour limit, when you return to the garage put your ticket stub into the ground-floor check-out machine. When it asks for you to deposit money or a credit card, put in a token; be patient, in about 5-10 seconds the display for amount owed will change from $16.50 to $4.50. You can now continue to add additional tokens for the additional 50 cent discounts, if you choose. If not, just add cash or your credit card to pay for the remaining balance. Your ticket will be returned, which you will use to exit both the special RTM parking area and then the garage.

The Market is looking at a plan to simplify this and do away with both the need for tokens and parking in a special area. The parking might even be free! Details to come if the Merchants Association approves the deal.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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rlibkind and Katie: great posts.

Every saturday that I am in town, I do my weekly shopping at the terminal (usually supplemented by a stop at Chung May, and a Sunday morning trip through the Italian Market for dibruno's, sarcone's, first oriental, lupita's, etc).

Other places of note:

1. The Tea Leaf: I love these people. Yeah, there are better tea places in the city, with more selection, etc. But they're so damn nice, and for the basics, they have a ton of stuff.

2. Old City Coffee: great coffee roasters. Try their Bolivia coffee--light, winey, NOT overroasted.. it's no espresso or starbucks-style roast, but there's a ton going on there.

3. DiNics is my favorite sandwich in Philadelphia.

4. Haltemann's--the Amish ones, not the Asian ones (although they're really nice too, and have better prices on a lot of stuff than Godshall's does). If I run out of their bacon (I usually buy ends for cheapness and because they're more useful than strip bacon), I start to panic. They also hooked me up with a crown roast of pork for 10 people that was just a great hunk of meat.

5. Martin's--while their steaks don't stand up to Harry Ochs, they are seriously kickass sausage makers, on par with D 'Angelos for variety and quality of their sausages; D'Angelo does better with the various Italian and game varieties, but Martins has great andouille, chorizo, etc.

6. 12th St Cantina--I don't like their food all that much, but we buy Cotija cheese and tortillas there all the time, and they have a great variety of dried chiles, masa, corn husks, chocolate, dulce de leche and all kindsa other mexican stuff.

7. Right next to there is that kinda weird hippy dippy supplement and natural food place--but they have great organic grains and stuff. That's where I buy nearly all my dried beans and lentils and things.

8. Across from there is what used to be Stoltzfus meats, who have my favorite ham in the market; better than Haltemann's.

9. Lancaster County Products or whatever it's called, right there as well, has expensive but generally good produce, but more importantly all of those central PA preserves I grew up with, like pickled watermelon rinds, pickled beets and eggs, tomato jam, etc.

10. Dutch Eating Place: if you're looking for a culinary epiphany, you're not going to find it here. But remember what I said in #9, there? It's all the stuff I grew up with: open faced turkey sandwiches with gravy, overly sweet "bbq" beef, chicken corn soup (although lacking rivels), and GOOD GOD THE APPLE DUMPLINGS..... ok those might be an epiphany if you've never had one.

11. ESH EGGS ARE FRESH EGGS. That's where I buy all my eggs if possible. And I eat mayonnaise and caesar dressing and poached eggs and whatnot all the time.

OK I've gone on too long, so I'll wrap up by saying:

12. southerners are known for cooking ribs, but the amish also know how to cook up some ribs (down by the 12th & arch corner)

13. fosters, even with their expanded shop, crams more stuff into their space than most anywhere else. And you have to admire their blatant markups--when something has a sticker that says MSRP $8.99, they don't even bother to cover it up with their $10.99 pricetag--they put it right next to the MSRP.

14. Don't forget that besides OK food, you can also get Thai ingredients from the Thai place--she'll sell you kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, mirin, curries, whatever.

OK really that's it for now. I have more to say about how I love the place, but it'll have to wait for another time. I've babbled on too long already.

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Ooh! 12th St Cantina has an awesome Cuban Sandwich. It takes forever for them to make it, but I wait patiently because it is worth it. I too buy my mexican cheese from them, as well as tortillas and their salsas.

And if you get there early enough in the day, Metropolitain bakery has cannelles. Eee!

Iovines always has great prices on produce. They have a great turnover rate - everything is fresh, reasonably priced and their cashiers are lightning speed.

Lastly, before I had a pasta-roller, I used to buy fresh sheets of pasta from By George- Pizza & Pasta. THat stuff was GOOD.

Edited by ellencho (log)

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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We go to RTM every weekend sometimes during the week as well. Generally we walk, but for some reason i've been driving there a lot lately. Parking is to be had if you keep heading north past the vine. Maybe a little shady for some of you and a bit of a haul with heavy bags but i've always found space up there and I enjoy the walk. I generally stop into a few of the grocery stores in Chinatown on the way.

Iovines is my favorite spot as well as a few of the cheese places and the cook book store. We get there early and the crowds are non-existent even on the weekends.

If you do decide to park up past vine and have a lot of heavy bags I suggest a couple beers at the independence brew pub before you start. ;)

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Wow, you guys pretty much covered the whole place! I tried the new Indo-Pak place this week, called nanni's, I think. $5 gets you either a meat or veggie combo platter, not bad (try the kofti). I get ground turkey for the restaurant at Halteman's (Amish) and sticky buns from Beiler's (Arch St. side). The shoeshine guys (by the restrooms) are very, very good and quite colorful as well. And only $2! ANytime I need a pick-me-up, I get something with extra ginger from 4 Seasons Juice Bar. I'll third the praise for Iovine's. If you're looking for a real throwback meal, try something at the oyster bar, especially snapper soup and/or fried oysters/chicken salad. Andro's looks great, but I haven't tried it yet.

owner, Rx

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More on Martin's: good place to buy lamb and very good prices. Lamb breast at $1.99 a pound! But it sells out quickly, he rarely has it by the time the weekend comes.

In my first post on this message string I wrote about the Swiss truffles now available at the Pennsylvania General Store, made in by a Swiss native in Lancaster County with local milk and cream, but Swiss chocolate. You can read more about it in Rick Nichols 3/14 Sunday Inquirer Image section piece.

John Yi's had great fresh sardines late this past week. I picked up half a dozen and went through them all too quickly -- should have bought a dozen. Cheap: $1.99 a pound, less than half the price charged by Whole Foods. But you have to clean them yourself. Not a big deal, since they're already scaled and definned. If you're squeamish, cut off the head and the innards (hardly any at all) practically pop themselves out. Brush with olive oil, salt and pepper and run 'em under broiler. Yum.

Edited by rlibkind (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I am a college student from the area currently at school in Vermont. I recently checked out eGullet (I can't remember now where I heard about it...) and have been following the PA forum. When this thread came up I was inspired to register and start posting - RTM is probably my favorite place in the city.

Anyway, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Termini Bros. so far (at least I don't think anyone has). I can't compare their RTM location to the South Philly one since I have only been to the RTM spot, but regardless, those cannolis are good! I prefer choc. chip or vanilla - the chocolate filling doesn't really taste chocolatey to me.

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Nice to read your post, Papaya. Welcome!

The sweets I indulge in at the RTM tend to be the chocolates. Or Bassetts ice cream.

I will occasionally pick up something at Termini's (more likely the sfogliatelli than anything else during cooler weather), but I prefer Isgro's in the Italian Market for pastry. Not that Termini's is bad, just a preference.

Also, Andros carries some wonderful French style items made by a patisserie in NJ (not Miele's). Go for the Pyramide.

Beiler's, the Pennsylvania Dutch bakery in the 12th & Arch corner, is a pretty good commercial bakery. Traditional, sticky Pa. Dutch stuff. Also, I think some of their doughnuts are above average.

Nothing wrong with some of the other sweet items at LeBus or Metropolitan. And Old City Coffee has a killer Jewish apple cake. LeBus used to make a killer chocolate cake, but I haven't noticed it lately.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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So I visited RTM this morning and stopped by Martin's for some breakfast sausage, and perhaps I never noticed this before, but those folks handle money AND meat with bare hands. Granted, you do cook the meat before consuming so that cuts down on some of the risks of foodborne illness but I was a bit taken aback. Has anyone else noticed this?

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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They do it everywhere at the terminal--the meat places, the fish places, the poultry places. It always makes me think twice. And then I put it out of my mind because it's never actually caused me any problem.

To make a kind of inappropriate analogy, it's like those couple of times a year when for no explicable reason I crave a big mac or something. I just put aside my objections and do what I gotta do.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think I must be getting over my aversion to bare hands touching my money and my meat because I came home with ~8 lbs of sausage from RTM. Deeelicious. We are bbqing them next week in NY for my little bro's birthday BBQ. I bought both the smoked and fresh kielbasa from Martinis, and a bunch of 'wursts' from Dutch Country Meats.

And of course I couldn't leave RTM without buying some overpriced canneles from Metropolitain bakery. Damn I wish I knew where you could get canneles for cheaper in Philly.

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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I stopped at RTM late today too. I had to pick up some items for Passover eats and I hit Iovines produce pretty hard. Also stopped for some pan fried dumplings at Sang Kee Peking Duck. They really hit the late afternoon snack spot.

I got to RTM at about 4:45 PM and it seemed that all of the "local produce vendors" at the tables in the center were either pretty cleaned out or already gone. I didn't see any of the people listed in the Fair Food Farmstand newsletter I'm now receiving via e-mail every week (thanks to rlibkind). Was I in the wrong spot or just there way too late? :hmmm:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Was I in the wrong spot or just there way too late?

Probably too late, Katie.

What was great about the RTM this Saturday was that there were three, count 'em, three, local food producers/vendors in the center court.

  • I knew spring was here because Earl Livengood arrived after a 4+ month hiatus. He had his spinach, and some tender, young garlic shoots (I bought the latter). Earl is located opposite Philbert the brass pig.

  • Fair Food Farmstand, which last year operated only on Fridays, is now at the market Saturdays, as well. Ann Karlen has located the stand at right angle to Livengood, opposite John Yi ("Eat Fish, Live Longer").

  • Green Valley Dairy, producer of artisinal, organic raw milk cheeses is located at right angle to Fair Food, opposite Mezze.

BTW, the RTM has added FREE WiFi coverage. It's apparently part of the Pennsylvania Convention Center's coverage.

Edited to fix spelling of Ann Karlen's name.

Edited by rlibkind (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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annexk8, consider not driving! if you live near penn, you can walk or train down and train back with all your loot. this would give you way more than a meter-parked hour to explore.

no one has mentioned the cookies from (the rtm outpost of) famous 4th street. now that's a cookie.

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Funny you should mention public transportation to RTM kieran - after living in Wynnefield Heights for ~3 years I only started taking the bus (rt 38) to RTM a month ago! I used to park and pay but jeez, four dollars for a round trip is MUCH easier. AND on the weekends the bus shows up ever 1/2 hr which VERY convenient.

Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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The bus is pretty easy, but remember, so is the train, since the Market East Septa station is essentially downstairs from the market (you don't even have to walk out in the rain).

Also, while parking in the area can get expensive, the Market has a program where you can park for two hours for just $4.50 at the covered Parkway Corp. garage (entrance on 12th Street opposite the market or on Filbert opposite the Marriott). Basically, you have to adhere to the following rules:

  • Do not insert a credit card into the entry gate device; just push the button and take the ticket.
  • Park in one of the areas assigned to the Reading Terminal Market. (Not a problem; and during times of high parking demand, a great convenience.)
  • Take your ticket with you to the market, and show to each merchant from whom you purchase at least $5 in goods. For each $5, you will get a token.
  • When done, use the machines in the parking garage's lobby as directed; when it gives you the price (probably $16.50), insert a token; this will bring the price down to $4.50. You can insert additional tokens and receive a 50-cent additional discount per token. Otherwise, feed cash or credit card into the machine to pay the balance.
  • WARNING: Don't overstay the two hours. If you exceed the two hours, you won't get that initial discount price of $4.50 vs. $16.50; instead, you'll be charged the $16.50 less 50 cents per token.

Full instructions on parking can be found at the RTM's website.

Admittedly, these rules aren't the easiest to use. I've seen many people look at the payment machines in the garage's lobby as if they were Dr. Floyd in in the film 2001 in the scene where he's trying to decipher the instructions on the moon shuttle's zero-gravity water closet.

Market management is aware of the daunting complexity of this system and is trying to streamline the process so it won't be as cumbersome. Might even be totally free parking for the initial period.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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funny thing about DiNic's....My dad got Lyme Disease the summer I was to graduate from Drexel. The disease affected a nerve in his heart--slowing down the beats--so he had to spend 2 weeks in the Pennsylvania CCU w/ this crazy pacemaker, while everyone waited for the antibiotics to fix him up. Everyday I visited, he'd insist I bring a DiNic's pork sandwich (w/ peppers and sharp provolone) from the RTM. I drove the nurses crazy w/ the awesome smell. Dad was healthy, and didn't require the usual heart-patient gruel, so a really good sandwich fragrance was something new to them. heh.

Dad's all better by the way, and DiNic Sr. still remembers me as the girl buying roast pork to help her dad get well.

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WARNING: Don't overstay the two hours. If you exceed the two hours, you won't get that initial discount price of $4.50 vs. $16.50; instead, you'll be charged the $16.50 less 50 cents per token.

Just wanted to repeat that part, and add: give yourself extra time, too. I was there one day when the machines were down, and there was a line to pay upstairs, and people were waiting 15-20 minutes in the line all told, and for several people the delay caused them to overstay the two hours by the time they got up there to pay.

There was a lotta yelling, is alls I'm sayin.

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