Not SET in its ways: the Philly outpost of NYC’s SET opens in NoLibs

SET NoLibs is the “neighborhood restaurant and sports bar that brings together Asian-fusion elevated bar and comfort food.”

For its first location out-and-away from its home market in New York City, the not-so-casual eatery, cocktail-er and sports bar, SET Hospitality, pops its top mere inches away from the Piazza – at the one time home of the famed Bar Ferdinand location – at 1020 N. 2nd Street for SET NoLibs.

Open to the public on Friday, August 21, the SET “neighborhood restaurant and sports bar that brings together Asian-fusion elevated bar and comfort food,” is starting with its outdoor expanded seating (the interior is ready for indoor dining when allowed, possibly week one of September) in the Liberties Walk courtyard, with additional sidewalk seating and dining on a freshly carved out new parklette of sorts.

Though I couldn’t get to the press opening, I’m familiar with the NYC SET and its Thai Chili Sriracha Wings and Bahn Mi Chicken Tacos. Along with a wide-ranging menu, the Philly SET will feature an extensive brunch menu including Steak and Eggs Skillet and Fried Breakfast Wontons. Another nod to the locals (designed by Anne White of AGW Interiors) is its recognizable local art images. Why give it away?

SET Hospitality/SET NoLibs Managing Partner Michael Tang talked with dosage MAGAZINE before opening day.

A.D. Amorosi: Starting as you did in NYC, what made Philly – NoLibs in particular – amenable to the SET concept? 
Michael Tang: When visiting Philadelphia and dining out here many times over the last few years, I really enjoyed and appreciated the food scene. From really authentic Vietnamese cuisines to high-end steakhouses and unique bars, I felt like the level of restaurants and hospitality groups was definitely on par with what we have in NYC. What really drew us into Philadelphia was the city’s unique camaraderie and culture. I felt that the city’s acceptance of ethnic cuisines was a well-blended melting pot for everyone. Expanding was already in our plans and an opportunity was presented to me in Northern Liberties. I fell in love with the area and felt like our concept and unique culinary offerings would be a great addition to the area. Most importantly being a neighborhood restaurant/bar concept rather than a commercial/generic establishment, our chances of expanding and fitting in felt right in Philadelphia. We also felt that the neighborhood was the perfect spot to open our concept. It is meant to be a neighborhood restaurant and sports bar – and we wanted to be in a neighborhood where we could get to know the locals and create a home away from home for them when they want a relaxing night out – a place where everyone knows your name but with a modern twist. 

A.D. Amorosi: How is your Philly menu for SET different from your New York operation and what is your exact title for the food that you serve?
Michael Tang: The menu has additional vegan options and seafood options – including dishes you can only get in Philly like Charbroiled Oysters, Cajun Garlic Buttered Clams, Mussels, Vegan Jalapeno Cheeseburger Spring Roll, Beyond Meat Vegan Tacos and more. The lettuce wrapped beyond meat taco with hoisin sauce is delicious! We felt that the community in Northern Liberties had a greater demand for vegan options. We also wanted to expand into seafood with our special Asian-fusion twist. 

A.D. Amorosi: What made you finally decide to open after all this time of having the space? It’s been slowly building since winter. 
Michael Tang: We have been ready for several months and waiting to see how indoor dining would be handled. We have a great and beautiful space we can’t wait to show off – but as indoor dining continues to be postponed, it didn’t make financial sense to wait anymore. We built a beautiful streetery and parklette – and with that now finished the timing seemed right. Cocktails to go also helped with our decision – plus we saw all the energy around outdoor dining at Liberties Walk and on N. 2nd Street and the timing just felt right.

A.D. Amorosi: What were and are the design and culinary challenges of having a SET in Philly? 
Michael Tang: One of the biggest challenges was keeping on pace and on track with all the changing guidelines due to COVID19 in both cities and states. The rules and recommendations are very different in New York as they are in Philly. And in both cities, they keep changing. That meant more attention was needed in both places. And we had to split our resources especially as guidelines changed rapidly. Design-wise we found a great partner in interior designer, Anne White and she helped connect us with local artists. Our chef from New York also had to split his time and right now is traveling back and forth to guide our team for the opening. So it has been very long and stressful days as comes with the territory of the restaurant business, but, it will all be worth it.

Images: Kory Aversa, Society Hill Films

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