By Everett Potter
Forgive me, Philadelphia, but you got lost in my East Coast shuffle between DC and New York City.
The backstory: it had been decades since I last set foot in the City of Brotherly Love and when I visited a couple of weeks ago, the city bore little resemblance to what I remembered. A sage reminder of why we go back.
I’m a big fan of the big city weekend getaway, especially in a winter like this where the lack of snow has made outdoor snowy pursuits virtually non existent in much of the country. And Philadelphia, lying a mere 90 minutes or so by Amtrak train from New York, fit the bill perfectly. Here are five reasons that I’m glad I went.
1. The Reading Terminal Market, housed in an old train station, is a culinary mosh pit of Philly: Jewish deli meets Amish dairy meets Italian food in varieties endemic to Philly (if not the boot), not to mention fish shops and flower stalls and enough bakeries to start rivalries. All in a setting that still has a few rough edges – bring on the grittiness, it’s a food market, not a food court. It is, in fact, one of the most vital, engaging food markets I have visited in years, with communal tables and chairs to enjoy the fare. So go for a roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s or a corned beef from Hershel’s and save room for a little desert from 4th Street Cookies.
2. We met Betsy Ross. At least she said she was Betsy Ross, and with her clipped, early American accent redolent of 18th century England and her formal manners, not to mention her dress, she was Betsy Ross, especially to my enthralled daughter. Living history is a great reason to come to Philadelphia.The Betsy Ross House is a great place to start. Add on Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell, and you’ve only begun the historical immersion that the city can offer.
3. Old City = more history. The light-filled Christ Church (circa 1695) , with a helpful docent who told my daughter to please sit in the pew where Benjamin Franklin had sat and explained umpteen details about the building and the parishioners (George Washington among them). Then a stroll down Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in America. Its diminutive houses seem like doll houses on steroids, all brick and wooden shutters and tiny windows and doors and cobblestones. But it’s not Disney. These houses are still private homes. Continue to walk and wander in a neighborhood filled with quirky shops and good eateries (Fork) that reminds me a bit of SoHo in the early 80’s, a place still emerging.
4. A bit of Paris in Philadelphia. That was our meal at Parc Brasserie, which overlooks always stately Rittenhouse Square. The lights around the square gave it a festive air while Parc had a menu and décor akin to a Parisian brasserie. The swinging doors, the light fixtures, the tilework and woodwork were charming and well-sourced. As for the food , the moules frites and steak frites and a great wine list with a decent selection of affordable bottles was terrific. And unlike that city where we live, tables were far enough apart for privacy. Stop the presses.
5. We cozied up at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. Yes, it’s a luxe cocoon, but like most big city East Coast hotels in mid-winter, it is inclined to relax its rates. In this case, doubles start at $244. Apart from enjoying luxury digs for middle-of-the-road prices, we had a great pool at our disposal, a near mandatory requirement with a nine year old. We also had an ideal location just down the street from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, where we strolled on Sunday morning. The hotel is also close to the new Philadelphia branch of the famed Barnes Foundation and just blocks from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station.
Not by me, not anymore.
For more info on, go to Visit Philly.