Philadelphia: The Hedonist
Feel the brotherly love in Philly
Saturday 05 July 2014
It's early evening on a Saturday and I can hear the strains of a harp wafting in from the lobby as I pull up a stool in the Library Bar at the Rittenhouse Hotel (pictured right; 001 800 635 1042; rittenhousehotel.com). Everyone knows that Philadelphia is a city of history, of Benjamin Franklin and the Liberty Bell, but few seem to remember that actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly once walked the streets of Brotherly Love.
Franklin may have got the museums, but Kelly is commemorated exactly the way I'd like to be: with a cocktail. The rose-petal, vodka and champagne say it all – bubbly and elegant. I knock back the rest of my pink drink and decide it's time to put a little hair on my chest.
Exiting the Rittenhouse Hotel, I walk under the trees of Rittenhouse Square, past the locals who've come to people watch, read and walk their dogs. I walk down 18th Street and duck into Tria (001 215 972 8742; triacafe.com) at 123 South 18th Street. Wine and cheese dominate the menu, but I settle on a beer and some fancy bruschetta: Apple Tree goat's cheese with pesto and pistachio-herbed ricotta with lavender honey. Young professionals sit at the bar in front of the long row of taps – the cosy space and limited tables allow most to make a friend or two at the bar. Then, in walks my date for the evening.
I'm satisfied with the brew and bruschetta, but she wants a glass of wine. I can't argue. Tria has received six Best of Philly awards from Philadelphia magazine, and its wine service has been nominated for several awards, too. Down it goes, and around the corner we disappear into A Bar (001 215 825 7035; akitchenandbar.com) at 18th & Walnut Streets, which, despite its large windows and street-level views, shelters and comforts with dim lighting and a lounge-like atmosphere. Oysters are piled high at the raw bar and demand our attention. Next door, its sister restaurant, A Kitchen (001 215 825 7030; akitchenandbar.com), serves food cooked on hardwood charcoal, but I'm more of a traditional, campfire guy at heart.
I can smell Vernick's (001 267 639 6644; vernickphilly.com; 2031 Walnut Street) claim to fame almost immediately, the smoky scent of the wood-burning oven streaming out of the open kitchen. Given the giant stacks of wood sitting in the middle of the restaurant, it's hard to order anything but something from the oven. We split the roast chicken, and in between bites, the Hanky Panky cocktail – gin, vermouth and Fernet Branca – kicks in. I suggest that we skip the nightcap and make our way back to the Rittenhouse Hotel.
After a night in one of the most comfortable hotel beds I've ever slept in, we head to lunch at The Lounge at the Four Seasons (001 215 963 1500; fourseasons.com) on Logan Circle for some Philly cheese steak spring rolls. All at once, it feels wrong, eating the city's classic blue-collar dish in a businessman's cocktail bar. But then it all clicks. Once a rough and tumble town, Philly has found a sophisticated Jekyll to go with its traditional Hyde-like reputation. Rittenhouse Square may now wear a white collar, but its willingness to remember its roots is why I'll be going back.
A Hedonist's Guide to... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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