Tag Archive | "Philadelphia"

Philadelphia by the Book

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"Everything is Going On Brilliantly: Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia" at the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia

“Everything is Going On Brilliantly: Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia” at the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia

By Eleanor Berman

Ever since the 1700s when Ben Franklin published the nation’s first best seller, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Philadelphia has been a haven for writers and literature lovers. 2015 will be a banner year for books with four exhibitions marking the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland as well as a celebration of Oscar Wilde, and a day-long reading of Ulysses.

But any year is a good time to see the newly renovated museum devoted to Ben Franklin and his printing office, visit the home of Edgar Allen Poe, and admire two world class collections of rare books, first editions and manuscripts that can be seen only in Philly.

The Ben Franklin Museum in Philadelphia.

The Ben Franklin Museum in Philadelphia.

A good place to start is the Benjamin Franklin Museum, reopened in August 2013 after a two-year total “re-imagining” of the former Underground Museum built in 1976. Now as vibrant as the man himself, it uses interactive exhibits to portray the many facets of this remarkably versatile Founding Father—inventor, writer, publisher, politician and patriot.

Franklin wrote under many pseudonyms, including Richard Saunders, whose Poor Richard’s Almanac sold nearly 10,000 copies a year, an astronomical number in its day. It made Benjamin a wealthy man who could retire at age 42 to pursue other interests.  When he compiled some of the Almanac’s maxims into a volume called The Way to Wealth, the book was translated all over Europe and reprinted countless times, becoming the first international best seller. Despite the fame they brought him, Franklin did not and never claimed to have invented the sayings we associate with him like “Early to bed, early to rise…” He wrote “Why then should I give my readers bad lines of my own, when good ones of other people’s are so plenty? ’

The house where Poe lived in Philadelphia.

The house where Poe lived in Philadelphia.

Edgar Allan Poe was not as fortunate in having his work recognized during his lifetime He had a hard time scaring up the rent for the modest house where he lived for six years, writing macabre classics like The Gold-Bug, Tell Tale Heart and The Black Cat. Now a property of the National Park Service, the home has a colorful guide who is a Poe fanatic and loves telling scary tales that include a stuffed black cat in the chimney

It is said that Poe may have been inspired for his most famous poem by seeing “Grip,”a stuffed raven belonging to Charles Dickens, who met Poe when he visited Philadelphia in 1842.  “Grip” now resides in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, along with the only known copy of The Raven in Poe’s own hand, and the manuscripts for Annabel Lee and The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

They are part of the Poe Collection of Richard A. Gimbel, one of many bequests that make this department richly rewarding for anyone who loves books. The letters of Charles Dickens, letters of the Presidents, and one of the largest collection of Beatrix Potter memorabilia including 100 watercolors and drawings, are among the treasures to be seen here along with a remarkable assemblage of earliest books. Holdings include Early American children’s books, first editions of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Bernard Show, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and dozens more.  A highlight is the lovely reconstructed 62-foot long Georgian paneled library of William M. Elkins, whose bequests also included major collections of Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens and important Americana. Dickens’ own desk is displayed in Elkins’ library.

Guided tours of the Rare Book Department are offered at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Rosenbach Library. Photo by Eleanor Berman.

Rosenbach Library. Photo by Eleanor Berman.

An even more amazing trove of rare books can be seen at the Rosenbach Library, an elegant  1860s townhouse holding the personal collections of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876-1952) one of America’s most influential rare book dealers who helped build many of the nation’s great libraries. Rosenbach’s prize possession is James Joyce’s hand-written manuscript for Ulysses, but the collection also includes Shakespeare’s 1664 folio, 600 Lewis Carroll books, letters, photos and drawings, first editions of Don Quixote, notes and outlines for Bram Stocker’s Dracula and most of poet Marianne Moore’s manuscripts and correspondence.

Now part of the Free Library, the Rosenbach holds continuous exhibits. Bescribled, Nibbled and Dog-Earted: Early American Children’s Books, featuring its enormous collection of children’s literature is on through January 18, 2015.  It will be followed by Everything is going on Brilliantly:: Oscar Wilde and Philadelphia from January 21 to April 26, 2015, highlighting Wilde’s connections to the region through rarely seen material and works held by local institutions and private collectors.

"The Dream of Wonderland: Alice Turns 150" at the Rosenbach Library

“The Dream of Wonderland: Alice Turns 150″ at the Rosenbach Library

The Dream of Wonderland: Alice Turns 150 celebrates the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, featuring the Rosenbach’s unmatched Carroll collections. They include more than 600 of his letters, his early drawings, his own copy of the first edition of Alice and the book’s original woodcut illustrations by artist John Tenniel.  One of the most delightful of the exhibits on Alice in Wonderland is Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk: Lewis Carroll’s’ Riddles Puzzles and Games, showing off the whimsy and wordplay the author loved.

For over 20 years the Rosenbach has celebrated Bloomsday on April 16  with a free, all-day outdoor reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses (the book is set on that day in 1904) This has blossomed into a citywide celebration with readings and musical performances all over Philadelphia, an unusual people’s celebration of a great work of literature in a town that loves books.

Eleanor Berman, a New York freelance writer and award-winning author of a dozen travel guides, has covered 82 countries and all 7 continents. She has written for many national publications, including Travel & Leisure, Ladies’ Home Journal, Diversion, Robb Report, Boston Globe, Atlanta Constitution, Denver Post, Miami Herald, and the New York Daily News. Among her guide book awards are a Lowell Thomas award for Traveling Solo, Thomas Cook Book of the Year for Eyewitness Guide to New York, and Independent Publishers IPPY award, best guide of the year, for New York Neighborhoods.

Eleanor Berman, a New York freelance writer and award-winning author of a dozen travel guides, has covered 82 countries and all 7 continents. She has written for many national publications, including Travel & Leisure, Ladies’ Home Journal, Diversion, Robb Report, Boston Globe, Atlanta Constitution, Denver Post, Miami Herald, and the New York Daily News. Among her guide book awards are a Lowell Thomas award for Traveling Solo, Thomas Cook Book of the Year for Eyewitness Guide to New York, and Independent Publishers IPPY award, best guide of the year, for New York Neighborhoods.

Philly’s Neighborhood Necklace

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Savvy travelers to Philadelphia head for the newly vibrant neighborhoods that ring Center City

Cedar Park Milk & Honey

Annie Baum-Stein at Cedar Park’s Milk & Honey

Story and photos by John Grossmann

Milk & Honey Market co-owner Annie Baum-Stein is holding court behind an alluring array of honey jars, each with a different five-digit number on the lid.  Emblematic of the new breed of Philadelphia’s creative neighborhood shopkeepers, the petite brunette is offering tastes of the hyper-local honeys she sells under the brand Urban Apiaries and explaining why she and her husband opened this café and gourmet food shop in 2009 here in the Cedar Park neighborhood, across the Schuykill River west of Center City.

“We were very impressed with the sense of community.  It’s a neighborhood you can walk your kids to school in,” she says.  “There’s a park for community events and a farmer’s market. But before we opened, there wasn’t a food market in walking distance.” Living previously near the city’s legendary Italian Market, in the Philly neighborhood known as Bella-Vista, Baum-Stein and her husband Mauro Daigle knew that a neighborhood without good food is barely on the map.   “We wanted to bring that here,” she says.  “We want this to be a neighborhood people don’t have to leave on the weekend.”

Such is the renaissance of Philadelphia’s colorfully named neighborhoods that not only are the locals staying put more, but visitors to the city—savvy ones anyway—are venturing beyond Center City, especially after they’ve experienced its venerable historic sites. Lately, many of the city’s hot new restaurants, brew pubs, art galleries, parks, and bustling streetscapes are not downtown, but rather in the many low-rise neighborhoods such as East Passyunk, Northern Liberties, and Fishtown that ring Philadelphia’s urban core like a necklace.  Restaurateur Stephen Starr’s modern take on a German beer garden, with pretzels and ping-pong?  You’ll find Frankford Hall in newly hip Fishtown, a rebounding community hard by the Delaware River, where early generations of Philadelphians caught once plentiful shad.  The city’s new $4.5 million skateboard park?  Head for the Fairmont neighborhood near the Art Museum.  For avant-garde art, climb three foot-worn flights of stairs in a former cigar factory to the Vox Populi galleries in the Callow Hill loft district.  That’s just for starters.


Spring Garden Cafe

Spring Garden Cafe


Best of all, planning a several-day, several-neighborhood visit to Philadelphia is as easy as tapping into the wealth of insider tips provided by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp at: www.visitphilly.com/neighborhoods The GPTMC website provides thumbnail sketches of 14 well-vetted, “visitor-ready” neighborhoods; suggests great cafes and restaurants, many of them BYOB; points to must-poke-around-in-shops; and tells you how to get to each neighborhood be it on foot, taxi, or via bus or light rail.   Philly’s neighborhoods also display the majority of the city’s more than 3,000 outdoor murals.

You’ll never leave the city’s skyline behind.  And chances are you’ll return to Center City at the end of the day, as most of these 14 Philly neighborhoods don’t have hotels.  One neighborhood that does is University City, just across the Schuykill River and easily reachable by Amtrak trains to 30th Street Station.  Named for the adjacent urban campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, University City has both a Sheraton and the four diamond Arts and Crafts style Inn at Penn. The latter provides an iPad in every guestroom.


Two neighborhoods west of University City, on shop-lined Baltimore Avenue in Cedar Park, the buzz is back to bees, the ones that supply the rooftop hives of Urban Apiaries.  “Our first year we had five locations,” says Baum-Stein.  “We now have three to 14 hives at seven locations and we’ve found variations in taste and color from only three blocks away.”  Accordingly, the honey is processed and jarred by zip code.  A beekeeper drives in from nearby Berks County and goes rooftop to rooftop collecting this sweet, new neighborhood agricultural product. “Our biggest expense so far,” she jokes, “has been parking tickets.”

In some neighborhoods, the star stores are not new, but iconic spots that have defined their ethnic districts for decades.  In Queen Village, there’s the venerable 4th Street Delicatessen.  Opened in 1923, this corner Jewish deli plates corned beef sandwiches seemingly made from an entire brisket.  Like most savvy politicians, President Obama pressed the flesh here during campaign season, and may or may not have ventured by the dessert case, where the chocolate éclairs are nearly as big as footballs and apple turnovers are the size of a tri-folded American flag.  To walk off lunch, stroll down of Fabric Row, a run of third-generation Jewish fabric vendors, and smart shops like Bus Stop, which, in the words of owner Elena Brennan, “sells unusual designer city shoes that last.”

Fante's in Bella Vista

Fante’s in Bella Vista


In Bella Vista, perhaps still best known for its Italian Market, awning-topped sidewalk produce vendors, seek out Isgro Pastries, where they’ve been handing filled-to-order cannoli across the counter for more than a century, and Fante’s, a legendary cookware shop. Before there was Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table, there was Fante’s—which sold mostly giftware when Mariella Esposita started worked there as a teenager after school in 1970.  When her family bought the business a decade later, she and her brothers changed the focus. “Fante’s used to be mostly china and glass.  First to go were the Hummel figures.  I hated dusting them,” she says.  “We decided to expand the small corner of the store that always did well—cookware and kitchen gadgets, like garlic presses.”

Today, the offerings range from pepper mills (scores of them) and oar-sized wooden spoons to a $1,900 kite-shaped copper pan for poaching turbot. With but a little prompting, Esposita can tell stories of the many celebrated chefs pictured on her walls–James Beard, Julian Child, and Emeril—and of the neighborhood, which has changed its ethnic cast in the last decade or so. “South Philly used to be known for clothing factories,” she says. “A bell would ring at 4 o’clock. When that bell rang, everyone in the Market would get ready.  But when the factories closed, the Market started shrinking.  As people who owned the stalls started dying off, their kids didn’t want to continue the business.”

La Virtu in East Passyunk

La Virtu in East Passyunk

Increasingly, the “Italian Market” shows the impact of Mexican immigration to the Bella Vista neighborhood.  “When we opened, we were the third Mexican restaurant in the area,” says Juan Carlos Romero, owner of Los Taquitos de Peubla, a popular storefront taqueria.  “Now there are 15 to 20 Mexican restaurants in this area.”  They’ve not only brought home cooking to the neighborhood’s new Latino population, said to number 15,000, but also, of course, to city visitors clued in that a Chuleta Ahumada Con Quesco awaits them on South 9th Street, where once the more likely choice would have been Rigatoni Marinara.

So, kudos to the Greater Philadedelphia Tourism folks for serving as tour guides to Philly’s changing and revitalizing neighborhoods.  To set off for Philadelphia without delving into its detailed neighborhood web notes and recommendations would be as foolish as not exploring at least several of those very neighborhoods on your next trip to Philly.


jg  John Grossmann has written about food and travel for Gourmet, Cigar Aficionado, Saveur, and SKY. He was a finalist in the food journalist category of the 2010 Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. He is the co-author, with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, of the book One Square Inch of Silence, (Free Press).

The Barnes Foundation: Everything — and Nothing — has Changed

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"The Dance," by Henri Matisse, artfully installed at the new Barnes Foundation

By Bobbie Leigh

Architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien’s new Barnes Foundation in downtown Philadelphia is never referred to as a museum, but rather a campus. The modernist building, glass and stone, crisp and cool, has two personalities: one- 21st century and the other, a time warp recreation of the original galleries in Barnes’s mansion inMerion,Pennsylvania. The new building and landscaping is so stunning that it is easy to wish that Judge Stanley Ott, who ruled that the collections and paintings could be moved, had gone one step further.  One more change would have broken the rigid arrangement in the galleries and made it possible to appreciate the collection in terms of genre, period, or nationality. But the opposition to such a change was overpowering.

Exterior of the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

The fight over the move from Merion to downtown Philadelphia was bitter and long. Judge Ott agreed  to amend the trust agreement, allowing the collection to be moved. You can only guess that having won that battle, the trustees were not prepared to tackle another. In fact, they received permission to amend the trust providing they would scrupulously replicate the original symmetrical floor-to ceiling configuration of paintings, furniture, pottery, and metalwork.

Barnes was an enthusiast—not just for  French paintings, but Pennsylvania German chests, cupboards, tables, chairs, ironwork, brass, tin, ceramics,  Navajo jewelry, Buddhist Boddhisattvas, and much more.  He orchestrated each gallery so that the various paintings, furniture and objects related to each other in terms of color, line, and form. He was convinced that the patterns observed in fine art reflected those in craft, especially wrought iron.

"Henriot Family," by Renoir

In the new building, the jaw-dropping collection is hung from eye level to ceiling in an almost an exact replica of its Merion home.  Some of the subtle gallery changes are glare-reducing lights instead of window shades, skylights, and indirect cove lighting. Yet, in spite of the changes, there are challenges for the viewer.  You still need a ladder or maybe binoculars to study the paintings hung way above eye level. In the very first gallery, Renoir’s Woman with a Glove, is hung so high you can barely see it.  Luckily, Cezanne’s Madame Cezanne with Green Hat is at eye level, but above one door is Renoir’s Henriot Family.  The standout in this first gallery is the exceptional Matisse, The Dance, artfully placed in three large semi-circular lunettes. Barnes commissioned Matisse to paint the mural to decorate the lunettes above the French windows in Merion.  In their new home, they look better than ever.

The new Barnes has a split personality.  You enter along a pathway lined with brilliant red Japanese maples and a flowing reflecting pool covered in Mexican beach pebbles. The façade is soy-milk colored, etchedNegevstone, softened by surrounding greenery.  The building has what every museum needs — a library, a restaurant, an indoor-outdoor café, an auditorium, and study rooms. You enter into a “Light Court,” a huge space for social occasions where light is deflected from a translucent glass roof.

Leaving the spacious, rather grand court, you enter the galleries through two massive 2,000 pound bronze and glass ornamental doors, brilliantly designed by Tsien. They pivot open and you’re in a Barnesian retreat from the 21st century. The galleries are just as they were in Merion, faithful to Barnes’s ideals. His   goal was to overturn traditional distinctions among fine, decorative, and industrial art. Barnes created plans and spatial arrangements for his objects and paintings that he thought would bring out the best in each that demonstrated how they related to each other.

Interspersed with the paintings are the ardent collector’s objects ranging from Navajo jewelry to Greek and African sculpture.  In almost every gallery, crowning or surrounding the great paintings, are wrought-iron locks, hinges, door handles, and even a pot rack. When asked about the idiosyncratic arrangement, architect Todd Williams says that over time. he has “come to love the hardware and the ensembles” where the disparate paintings, objects, and hardware “support one another.”

Mr. Barnes

Barnes may have been what some called a “misanthrope” or a “crank” but he still had a great eye and the funds to buy 800 paintings. Among them are 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos and 16 Modiglianis.

“No cubists?” you might ask.

In a 1947 letter on view at the special exhibition adjacent to the Light Court, Barnes wrote  in a letter to his friend Leo Stein a stinging condemnation of Picasso’s cubism admired only  by “nincompoops like Alfred Barr et al.”   Who would write like that today?

Barnes along with his Director of Education, Violette de Mazia (1899-1988), considered the Foundation primarily an educational institution, dedicated to guiding students to a greater appreciation of art and aesthetics. Now that the Barnes is up and running, we have another great museum and what  can be hoped, as Barnes and de Mazia believed, is that visitors will find that art is important and can contribute to the art of living.

Some 250,000 visitors annually are expected to visit the Barnes Foundation in its first year, roughly four times more than in its original leafy, suburban home.

Reservations to visit the Barnes are a must: www.barnesfoundation.org; 866-849-7056. Open Wednesday through Monday,9:30-6 and until10 pm on Friday.


   Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

5 Reasons to Visit Philadelphia This Winter

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A room (at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia) with a view. Photo by Gayle Conran

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.

Reading Terminal Market

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.

Betsy Ross, unflagging in her enthusiasm. Photo by Gayle Conran.

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.


Christ Church. Photo by Gayle Conran.

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.

Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia

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.

Philadelphia overlooked?

Not by me, not anymore.


For more info on, go to Visit Philly.


  Everett Potter is editor in chief of Everett Potter’s Travel Report

Philadelphia: Hip, Hip, Historic

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Philadelphia's Old City District


By John Grossmann

What you need to understand about Philadelphia is that better than in any other American city, the old and the new co-exist splendidly, offering a winning mix of the historic and the hip.

Nowhere is that enticing blend more prevalent than in Philadelphia’s recently revitalized Old City District, often called the most historic square mile in America. Home to such icons of Colonial America as The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Betsy Ross House, this neighborhood tumbled into hard times in the waning decades of the last century, when most of the lights went out after the day’s last tour bus reloaded and departed.

To be sure, some rough edges remain, like the brash discount clothiers on Market Street, but in recent years an influx of art galleries and chic restaurants has brought a renewed vitality to Old City, Philly’s intriguing, in progress version of SoHo—so far, blessedly minus chain stores.  Here, in the easily strolled few blocks north and south of Market Street from Front Street to 6th Street, one can walk the same cobblestones as America’s founding fathers, then duck into Wi-Fi equipped Old City Coffee, where 50¢ buys an extra shot of its heady, six bean espresso; enter the church where the nation’s first president often worshipped from 1790 to 1797, then dine on duck confit across the street at Fork, a favorite spot of locals; honor local icon Benjamin Franklin’s birth by visiting his grave in the Christ Church cemetery at 5th and Arch Streets, then toast him with a perfectly made mojito, margarita, or martini at any number of nearby au courant eateries.  Who wouldn’t absorb plenty of early American history with rewards like those awaiting?

So off to class.   Tour Old City and you practically trip over historic superlatives. Stroll the block-long Elfreth’s Alley, putting pricey condo renovations and the 21st century at your back, and you’re flanked by modest brick rowhouses occupied continuously since 1713: America’s oldest residential street.   Nearby, at 2nd and Market Streets, stands the stunningly beautiful Christ Church, with its wine glass pulpit, often called “the Nation’s Church” or “the Patriots’ Church.” Its venerable congregation included President George Washington and Betsy Ross, whose pew is marked by a flag.  In 1754, when its steeple was completed, no building in America reached higher.

A few blocks north of Independence Hall you’ll find the National Constitution Center, a must-see museum of 160,000 square feet devoted to the creation and interpretation and endurance of the four-page document that begins “We the people…” For a more symbolic take on democracy and peace, visit the National Liberty Museum, another 2003 addition to the historic district.  Here, various glass sculptures, including a 21-foot high Flame of Liberty by Dale Chihuly, evoke the fragility of freedom.


Gallery hopping on First Friday.


Your artistic sensibilities piqued, it’s on to Old City’s galleries. Some of the best are north of Market on 2nd and 3rd Streets.  Don’t miss the  Moderne Gallery, featuring exquisite pieces by woodworker George Nakashima, including a dining room table with a six-figure price tag; and The Clay Studio, whose funhouse-like entrance hall dazzles with pottery gargoyles and a mosaic of mirror and pottery shards. Should your visit spill into the first weekend of the month, consider yourself blessed. First Fridays, Old City’s galleries stay open late and the area’s eateries reverberate with the added excitement.


Cuba Libra in Philadelphia


Ah yes, eats.  For a mid-afternoon gallery-hopping break,  The Franklin Fountain serves traditional phosphates, egg creams, ice cream sodas, and banana splits in an old-fashioned “ice cream saloon.” More serious Old City dining offers a culinary tour of the world:  Amada elevates Spanish tapas to new heights; Cuba Libre delivers the look and cuisine of Old Havana; the stunning, always packed Buddakan delights with haute Asian fare.  Historic culinary leap? Perhaps not, but certainly a hip one.


Old City Favorites:

Old City Coffee



FORK 306 Market Street, 215-625-9425 www.forkrestaurant.com

AMADA 217-219 Chestnut Street, 215-625-2540 www.amadarestaurant.com

CUBA LIBRE 10 S. 2nd Street, 215-627-0666 www.cubalibrerestaurant.com

BUDDAKAN—325 Chestnut Street 215-574-9440 www.buddakan.com

THE FRANKLIN FOUNTAIN 116 Market Street, 215-627-1800 www.franklinfountain.com

OLD CITY COFFEE 221 Church Street, 215-629-9292 www.oldcitycoffee.com


Christ Church, Philadelphia



NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER 525 Arch Street, 215-409-6600 www.constitutioncenter.org

NATIONAL LIBERTY MUSEUM 321 Chestnut Street, 215-925-2800 www.libertymuseum.org

ELFRETH ALLEY east of 2nd Street between Arch and Race Streets

CHRIST CHURCH 2nd and Church Streets

MODERNE GALLERY 111 N. 3rd Street, 215-923-8536 www.modernegallery.com

THE CLAY STUDIO 139 N. 2nd Street, 215-925-3453 www.theclaystudio.org


Omni Hotel at Independence Park

Where to Stay: Omni Hotel at Independence Park.  Though not itself historic (the hotel was built only two decades ago), the 14-story Omni has an old world charm and is the only full-service, four-diamond hotel in the Old City neighborhood.  The majority of guest rooms face Independence Park, as does the second floor dining room,
which boasts floor to ceiling windows.  There’s a full-service spa, where the treatments include a bamboo massage featuring live bamboo stalks soaked in essential oils, and a gem of a pool bathed in soothing low lighting.  And best of all, the Omni is steps from Independence Hall and  the Liberty Bell and an easy walk to all that Old City has to offer.
401 Chestnut Street. (215) 925-0000



For More Info:



John Grossmann has written about food and travel for Gourmet, Cigar Aficionado, Saveur, and SKY.
He was a finalist in the food journalist category of the 2010 Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. He is the co-author, with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, of the book One Square Inch of Silence, (Free Press).

Do I Have a Museum for You

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National Museum of American Jewish History

By Shari Hartford

Approach Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell and you will see Philadelphia’s new National Museum of American Jewish History (a Smithsonian affiliate) looming straight ahead. The museum tells another American independence story – this one through Jewish eyes. In a city rich with tales of quests for a variety of different freedoms, the first Jewish American community was founded in 1740. So, some might say that this museum is a very long time in coming.

I recently had the opportunity to take a sneak peek before the official opening in late November. The building itself is a marvel. From the moment you enter the 85-foot-high atrium you follow a flow of interlocking staircases to exhibits that combine religious, cultural, historical and political stories. Two sculptures representing the past and the future: Religious Liberty (created in the 19th century) and Beacon (commissioned for the museum) stand to welcome visitors. While most other Jewish museums focus on immigration and the Holocaust, the NMAJH has created a portal into the lives of American Jews like myself, my parents and my grandparents.

The museum presents something for everyone to enjoy and ponder. Families can explore the story of the Brooks family, real pioneers who headed west in a covered wagon to build a new homeland. While listening to a soundtrack detail life on the trail, children can play with items that were typically taken on the journey. There are also model tenement apartments where young visitors can try on period clothing and set the Sabbath table.

Matchbooks from Catskills hotels.

The depiction of how a sweatshop would have produced clothing in the early 20th century—using actual equipment from the period—was sobering as it reminded us of a grittier path some traveled just a couple of generations ago.

Jewish summer camps, suburban kitchens with typical foods, Bar Mitzvah celebrations and the ubiquitous Jewish-American experience, the Catskill mountain hotels, are displayed in interactive settings, photos and film.

A baseball autographed by Sandy Koufax.

For me, the highlight of the museum was the Only in America Hall of Fame. Here, 18 individuals, among them Sandy Koufax, Jonas Salk, Leonard Bernstein, Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand, are celebrated with artifacts including Emma Lazarus’ manuscript of “The New Colossus” and Irving Berlin’s piano. These special lives and accomplishments are told in major film productions, testimonials and databases. This cornerstone gallery will continue to grow as new inductees are added.

Look for me on my return visit…I’ll be the one gawking at Barbra Streisand’s costumes.

For more information and hours visit National Museum of American Jewish History

Shari Hartford is the former managing editor for Diversion magazine, where she wrote about travel in the northeast and cruising. She is currently a freelance writer and editor based in her hometown of New York City.

The Artful Traveler: Who Was the Real Cleopatra?

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By Bobbie Leigh

In the final gallery of  the Franklin Institute's  new show, "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt," we get the Liz Taylor and Claudette Colbert popular imagination version of Cleopatra.  More fiction than fact,  Hollywood  portrayed her as cunning sex kitten who seduced two of the most  powerful  Romans of  her time. But in all the preceding galleries of  Franklin Institute's show, you get a much more fleshed out  view of the Hellenistic queen (69-30 BC), Egypt's last pharaoh.  With artifacts and film, the other galleries create a context for some understanding of how and where Cleopatra lived  and new insight into how she died.

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Three Great Days in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia. Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC.

By Shari Hartford

I've seen the movies: The Philadelphia Story, Philadelphia and Rocky; watched the television shows: Cold Case and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; admired native daughter, Grace Kelly; know the history; and can even hum the Elton John song, Philadelphia Freedom. So, why was it that although I live a mere two hours away in New York City I've never visited? My BFF and I recently decided to spend three days taking a long-overdue close look at the City of Brotherly Love.

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