AT LIBERTY IN PHILADELPHIA
Byline: Thom Cardwell
PHILADELPHIA — “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” joked W.C. Fields back in the Thirties when a reporter asked him what he wanted for an epitaph. “Once I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed,” he snorted another time about his birthplace.
Bashing the City of Brotherly Love is now a pastime as outdated as Fields’s attire. These days, the nation’s fifth largest city is drawing admiring visitors experiencing not only the well-maintained historic landmarks, but also the robust cultural and recreational side of the city.
A few years ago, when the City Council rescinded the ordinance that no building could be taller than the peak of William Penn’s hat on the figure perched atop City Hall, Philadelphia literally began to grow up.
The leader of the city’s growth and development has been and continues to be Mayor Ed Rendell. The subject of Buzz Bissinger’s bestseller, “A Prayer for the City,” Rendell has spearheaded the dramatic changes in everything from the redevelopment of the riverfront, the creation of the Avenue of the Arts and the city’s restaurant renaissance to the completion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Visitors to the NACDS Marketplace convention will have lots to explore and enjoy, as WWD discovered.
Philadelphia boasts a rich historical legacy. Acting as the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800, many of the buildings then used by the U.S. Congress and the federal government’s Executive Branch can still evoke for visitors the sense of pride and adventure that the founding fathers felt as they began forging a nation here.
Begin a tour of what could be America’s most historic square mile, Independence National Historical Park, by viewing “Independence,” an award-winning short film directed by John Huston screened at the Visitors Center at 3rd and Chestnut Streets.
Then take a ranger-led tour (with tickets issued free on the day of tour) of Independence Hall on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets, the site of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the writing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Cross the street and see the Liberty Bell in its own pavilion on Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets.
Other historic sites nearby include Congress Hall on 6th Street, the meeting place for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives from 1790 to 1800; the Old City Hall on 5th Street, the home of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791 to 1800, and Carpenters’ Hall between 3rd and 4th Streets, the site of the First Continental Congress in 1774.
For information about Independence National Historical Park, call (215) 587-8974. Buildings in the park are free and open to the public. For information about Carpenters’ Hall, call (215) 925-0167.
Visit Betsy Ross House at 239 Arch Street, where the first American flag was made. The house provides a history of both the American flag as well as insight into the lives of the working classes during the Colonial period. For information, call (215) 627-5343.
No more than a mile from Independence Hall is Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site at 532 at North 7th Street. The famed American lived there from 1843 to 1844.
Experience history on a guided tour of historic sites with Historic Philadelphia Inc. One of the most popular is “Liberty Tale,” a one-hour guided story walk through the birthplace of American democracy.
Art and Architecture
Architecturally, Philadelphia offers much for the senses. It’s a planned city, like the District of Columbia, based upon the grid pattern, which may account also for its slightly European tone. Its Benjamin Franklin Parkway, named for its most famous historic resident, is considered by many Philadelphians to be their own Champs-Elysees.
Some of the nation’s finest museums are located along the Parkway.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art at 26th Street and the Parkway is home to many world-renowned treasures, including Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” Monet’s “Water Lilies,” Duchamp’s “Nude Descending the Staircase” and works by Cezanne and Picasso. For information about museum admission and hours, call (215) 763-8100 or visit its Web site at http://www.philamuseum.org.
At the nearby Rodin Museum at 22nd Street and the Parkway, art lovers are greeted outside by the “The Thinker,” Auguste Rodin’s quintessential sculpture. Inside the jewel-box museum is the largest collection of the renowned French sculptor’s work outside of Paris, including “The Burghers of Calais” and “The Gates of Hell.” For information about hours (admission is by donation), call (215) 763-8100.
Philadelphia’s City Hall is the largest city hall in the country. It was built in the grandiose French Second Empire style of architecture and has among its embellishments over 300 public sculptures created by the grandfather of Alexander Calder, a Philadelphia family of artists. There are free tours daily, and its recently restored tower can be visited on weekdays only. For information, call (215) 569-3187.
Other architectural jewels that have been completely restored are Market Street East, a splendid cast-iron structure that was once Lit Brothers Department Store, on Market Street between 8th and 7th Streets, and Thirtieth Street Station, a glorious homage to the Art Deco period and the luxury of a bygone era of train travel, which is now home to Amtrak, at 30th Street and Market Streets.
The Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts, at Broad and Cherry Streets, is the nation’s oldest art museum and art school. For information on admission and hours, call (215) 972-7600 or visit their Web site at http://www.pafa.org/pafa.
The internationally famous Rosenbach Museum and Library at 2010 Delancey Place is a 19th-century townhouse with art collections, antiques, and decorative accessories. Its library has more than 130,000 manuscripts and 25,000 rare books. For information, call (215) 732-1600.
Philadelphia’s art gallery area runs from Walnut Street or Rittenhouse Row, between Broad and 20th Streets, where galleries exhibit 19th- and 20th-century European and American art. Decorative arts, including pottery, glass and jewelry, can be found at The GK Collection, at 1422 Walnut Street, one of the newest galleries in the area. For information, call (215) 545-6955.
The gallery scene has expanded to Old City. This area is loosely bordered by Front and 4th Streets, between Market and Race Streets. Dealers concentrate on modern and contemporary art. On the first Friday of every month, the Old City Arts Association coordinates the area’s 40 gallery openings, usually from 5 to 9 p.m., to create a festive atmosphere. For information, call (215) 238-9576.
For the past five years, Philadelphia has experienced an increase in the number of restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisines, ambience and prices in several areas of the city.
Ten of the nation’s top 100 recognized restaurants are located in Philadelphia, particularly along Rittenhouse Row, where restaurateurs have led the way for the city’s renaissance.
Without doubt, the most famous of these is George Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin, at 1523 Walnut Street. Elegant and intimate dining rooms serve exquisite French cuisine . For reservations, call (215) 567-1000.
A less-pricy alternative is Brasserie Perrier, at 1619 Walnut Street, where the wonders of this world-renowned chef’s cooking can be consumed. While reservations are still a must, it isn’t booked weeks in advance, as is the case at Le Bec-Fin. For reservations, call (215) 568-3000.
Striped Bass at 1500 Walnut Street offers an innovative seafood menu with fresh daily specials, an extensive wine list and impeccable service in a palatial bank building. Lunch is less pricy and a good value. For reservations, call (215) 732-4444.
Circa, a turn-of-the-century bank turned restaurant at 1518 Walnut Street, offers innovative American cuisine in an elegant, but hipper setting. For reservations, call (215) 545-6800.
Susanna Foo, an elegant, recently renovated Chinese restaurant named for its chef and owner, is located at 1512 Walnut Street. Foo won a James Beard Chef Award in 1997. For reservations, call (215) 545-2666.
Just off Rittenhouse Square is Opus 251 at 251 South 18th Street, located in the Philadelphia Art Alliance. The distinctive menu blends American cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influences. For reservations, call (215) 735-OPUS.
Sunday jazz buffet brunch in The Dining Room is offered at the Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia at 17th and Chestnut Streets. Breakfast and lunch are also served in an elegant Federal-style building. Check out The Grill and Grill Bar for macrobiotic and heart-healthy menus. For reservations, call (215) 563-1600.
TreeTops features regional American cuisine created by Chef Jim Coleman and breathtaking views at The Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 West Rittenhouse Square. For reservations, call (215) 546-9000.
Founders Dining Room at Broad and Walnut Streets in the Park Hyatt Philadelphia, formerly the Bellevue, offers an eclectic menu in an elegant old-world setting with cityscape views from the 19th floor. For reservations, call (215) 790-2814.
In the heart of the Avenue of the Arts, Bonaparte has recently opened at 260 South Broad Street. Contemporary American cuisine is served in a comfortable and unpretentious dining room. For reservations, call (215) 735-2800. The nearby Palm Restaurant is inside the Park Hyatt Philadelphia at 200 South Broad Street. Classic American cuisine is served to the city’s power brokers and others who want to be seen, especially at lunch. For reservations, call (215) 546-7256.
In the hotel’s lower level, Zanzibar Blue offers live jazz while serving an international menu in an attractively appointed dining room. For reservations, call (215) 732-5200.
Next to the Pennsylvania Convention Center is The Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch Streets. An outstanding farmers’ market, it has 23 eateries offering ethnic foods from Pennsylvania Dutch (taste the pretzels and fruit pies) to Southern soul food (try the collard greens). Breakfast and lunch only, Monday through Saturday. For information, call (215) 922-2317.
South Street is an 11-block area adjacent to Society Hill. There are approximately 60 restaurants and eateries — cafes, bars, bistros — among the shops where Philadelphia’s more free-spirited natives intermingle with suburban weekenders and international tourists.
For turbo-charged American food, eat at Bridget Foy’s South Street Grill at 2nd and South Streets. For information, call (215) 922-1813.
For an authentic Philly cheese steak, try Jim’s Steaks at 400 South Street. For information, call (215) 928-1911.
For a family-owned bistro, discover Montserrat at 623 South Street. For information, call (215) 627-4224.
For Southwestern food with a margarita bar frequented even by the neighbors, drop by Abilene, at 429 South Street. For reservations, call (215) 922-BLUE.
Many new and interesting restaurants are located in Old City.
City Tavern at 2nd and Walnut Streets is an authentic 18th-century colonial tavern. For reservations, call (215) 413-1443.
La Famiglia, at 8 South Front Street, offers authentic northern and southern Italian cuisine and an extensive wine cellar. For reservations, call (215) 922-2803.
Rococo, at 123 Chestnut Street, is classic American fare in a trendy, restored bank building. For reservations, call (215) 629-1100.
In search of the perfect martini, visit The Continental, at 138 Market Street. For information, call (215) 923-6069.
Martini’s Lounge, at 1836 Callowhill Street, has a name that speaks for itself. For reservations, call (215) 557-9533.
Eighth Street Lounge, at 8th and Callowhill Streets, offers contemporary American cuisine and martinis in a cleverly converted warehouse. For reservations, call (215) 925-1900.
Writer Fred Ferretti once described Philadelphia as “a city of subdued scale that challenges its constituent parts.” Its human scale allows for a sense of intimacy, friendliness and well-being.
Physically removed from the skyscrapers on Market, Chestnut and Walnut Streets, the adjacent areas remain downscaled.
Walking is one of the best ways to appreciate many of Philadelphia’s splendors. Visitors can really absorb a little history mingled with local color from neighborhoods as diverse as Washington Square West, Society Hill, Queen Village, Italian Market, Chinatown and Old City.
One of the oldest continuously occupied residential streets in the nation is Elfreth’s Alley. Thirty-three Colonial- and Federal-style houses are representative of the quaint side streets that reflect Philadelphia’s genuine charm in Old City.
Strolling through Society Hill will familiarize visitors with such historic treasures as Physick House, at 321 South 4th Street, the home of Dr. Philip Syng Physick, “Father of American Surgery”; Presbyterian Historical Society, at 425 Lombard Street; Powell House, at 244 South 3rd Street, the home of Samuel Powell, Philadelphia’s first mayor, and Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial, at 3rd and Pine Streets, named for the Polish patriot of 1797.
Walkers who wish to travel with a guide and group can contact Philadelphia on Foot. For information, call (800) 340-9869.
Visitors can take a 90-minute historic trolley tour with an all-day pass. Or go back in time with a horse-drawn carriage tour to the major historic sites, Society Hill and Head House Square. For information, call Philadelphia Trolley Works at (215) 925-TOUR and American Trolley Tours at (215) 333-2119.
Phlash is a convenient shuttle minibus service that makes a downtown loop from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to the city’s most popular tourist destinations, including Penn’s Landing and the Delaware River. Buy an all-day pass. For information, call (800) 4-PHLASH.
For general travel information, contact Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau at (888) 90PHILA, or visit their Web site at http://www.libertynet.org/phila-visitor.
In the last few years, Philadelphia’s nightlife has improved considerably. Many of the following establishments are located near each other along Columbus Boulevard near the city’s riverfront:
Egypt, at 520 North Columbus Boulevard, was the first club to begin Philadelphia’s nightlife renaissance. It’s got class and just enough attitude to have fun and bear it. For information, call (215) 922-6500.
Katmandu, at 417 North Columbus Boulevard at Pier 25, offers live music and nightly dancing in season. For information, call (215) 629-1101.
Dave and Buster’s, at 417 North Columbus Boulevard at Pier 19, is clearly a family affair. For information, call (215) 413-1951.
Rock Lobster, at Piers 13 and 14 on Columbus Boulevard, is opened seasonally. For information, call (215) 627-ROCK.
Other hot spots include Shampoo, at 7th and 8th on Willow Street, where everyone from gay and lesbian to hip-hop and preppies gyrate to golden oldies or house music. For information, call (215) 922-7500.
Nearby, 8th Street Lounge attracts a late-night crowd recovering from Shampoo. For information, call (215) 925-1900.
Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty, celebrates Fourth of July with more than 50 free events scheduled over a 10-day period. From Friday, June 26, through Sunday, July 5, the “Welcome America” festival culminates with a spectacular celebration of our nation’s independence on Saturday, July 4, with fireworks displays and a free concert at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Parkway. For information about “Welcome America,” call (800) 770-5883 or visit their Web site at http://www.americabirthday.com.
While everyone knows that Philadelphia is steeped in history, it’s still a fairly well-kept secret that the city is a treasure trove of antiques and collectibles. Decorators and collectors will enjoy exploring the many shops along Historic Antique Row on Pine Street between 9th and 17th Streets. Conventioneers can easily walk from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, since Pine Street is only six blocks away.
Two blocks below Pine, shoppers can experience the many antiques shops in the vicinity of South Street. A converted synagogue houses a large co-op, with dealers selling everything from the refined to the funky in vintage clothing, home accessories, furniture, jewelry and art, at South Street Antiques Market, 615 South 6th Street. For information, call (215) 592-0256.
The area also boasts about 17 individual shops with dealers offering country to modern. The dealers’ group here even provides its own free brochure with map. For information, call (215) 922-3377 or (215) 592-9014.
Shoppers seeking the finest women’s collections from European and American designers need to visit Tony Lerner at 117 South 17th Street off Rittenhouse Square. For information, call (215) 568-5760.
The equivalent retailer for men’s apparel is Boyds, at 1818 Chestnut Street, where suits, casual wear, formal and footwear are offered from Armani to Zegna. For information, call (215) 564-9000.
Lagos, Philadelphia’s own internationally famous jewelry designer, has recently opened a new shop at 1735 Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square. For information, call (215) 567-0770.
The Shops at The Bellevue inside the Park Hyatt Philadelphia is a shopper’s paradise. The charming boutiques here include Nicole Miller, Rizzoli Bookstore, Polo/Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co.
Designer shops can be found at The Court and The Plaza at the King of Prussia mall, a short ride outside the city. Versace, Hermes, Bally, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton and Oilily are just some of the area’s exclusive boutiques. For information, call (610) 337-4752.