While millions of tourists rightly pay
homage to America's birthright by visiting the Liberty Bell, the
National Constitution Center and the Betsy Ross House in
Philadelphia's historic district, a mile or so up the main stem a
posh neighborhood once known for its exclusivity has become a
popular destination for out-of-towners in quest of classy lodgings,
epicurean delights and cultural enrichment.
in question encompasses the residential and commercial
thoroughfares around and about beautiful Rittenhouse Square, one of
five original quads designed by William Penn for his 1,200-acre
"great towne" in 1683 and today an oasis of green and tranquility
in the heart of the city.
as Southeast Square and serving as a pasture for stray
cows, pigs and chickens, in 1825 the park was named for David
Rittenhouse, who was at once an astronomer, clock maker and the
first director of the U.S. Mint.
It wasn't long
before the adjacent Rittenhouse Square neighborhood evolved into a
fashionable and prestigious address for the city's upper crust. In
the early 20th century, the park was redesigned by Paul Phillipe
Cret, a noted Philadelphia architect and city planner.
Square visitors see today is pretty much as he envisioned it --
that is, if you discount Frisbee-catching dogs, picnicking office
workers on their lunch break and iPod-wearing joggers resting on a
weathered wooden park bench.
Also, the park is
a welcoming meeting ground for locals and visitors alike as well as
the site of glorious flower markets, exhibitions of all kinds and
eclectic art shows.
constrained by Walnut Street, 18th and 20th streets, Locust and
Spruce, Rittenhouse Square is bounded by handsome two- and
three-story rowhouses, art-deco high rises and an occasional modern
tower of concrete and glass, an eclectic mix of American
architecture that includes luxury hotels among the more than 10
properties that call the larger neighborhood home.
top-of-the-line lodgings include the Rittenhouse, a condo-hotel
that commands an impressive view of the park (see story, Page 50);
the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, several blocks away at One
Logan Square; the Westin, at 17th Street at Liberty Place; and the
Ritz-Carlton, a bit more distant at 10 Avenue of the
Those who prefer
the intimacy of a bed and breakfast can opt for the 16-room,
European-style Rittenhouse 1715 just off the park.
Park neighborhood is a foodie's paradise, with restaurants and
gourmet shops running from haute cuisine to trendy to high-style
takeout (or any combination of the three).
Fine dining is
well represented by Lacroix, the Rittenhouse's signature room.
Matthew Levin runs the kitchen there, having taken over the reins
from the restaurant's namesake, Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix, in June
2006. Cited as the "Best New Restaurant in the U.S." by Esquire
magazine in 2003 and still going strong, Lacroix features a unique
"plat-style" dinner menu, which allows the choice of any three,
four or five dishes and includes a selection of 20 artisanal
Wine, cheese and beer
And when it comes
to cheeses and more, two standouts, Tria, at 123 South 18th St.,
and DiBruno Bros. Rittenhouse Square, at 1730 Chestnut St., are
worth a visit.
the art and science of fermentation, so the focus of this
informally chic boite, naturally, is on beer, wine and cheese. The
excellent cheese selection at Tria comes from Murray's in New York.
The wines, all available by the glass, include hard-to-find
vintages organized into what Tria calls "user-friendly"
The wide variety
of handcrafted draft and bottled beers ranges from Belgian brews to
closer-to-home ales and lagers. It is worth noting that most items
on the menu, which include a selection of bruschetta, grilled
panini, salads and desserts, are priced at less than $10 each. This
place is good, inexpensive and deservedly popular, so it is not
surprising that the line for dinner forms early on the
the upscale offshoot of the homey original in Philadelphia's
Italian Market, is a gourmet's delight, offering fine cheeses --
500 varieties stored in a temperature-controlled, 300-square-foot
cheese cave -- charcuterie, smoked fish, caviar, coffees, pasta and
prepared dishes. A coffee/espresso bar and an attractive
cafeteria-style cafe cater to folks who want to eat and shop at the
Out for a stroll?
Gelato, the lower-fat Italian version of ice cream, has its own
walk-in emporium at Capogiro Gelato, located at 117 South 20th St.,
where husband and wife entrepreneurs Stephanie and John Reitano
create unheard-of frozen desserts redolent of cardamom, cilantro,
calvados and watermelon among other unusual ingredients.
Nuts to You, at
24 South 20th St., is not looking for accolades based on style or
panache. This small shop is crammed with bins of nuts, candies and
seeds. Among what seems to be an unlimited stock are raw, smoked,
sliced and blanched almonds; Bulgarian Ladynail pumpkin seeds;
powerfully flavored pistachios imported from Turkey or their
larger, blander cousins from California; and light-, medium- and
dark-roasted peanuts in their shells.
Also worth noting
are Monk's Cafe, at 16th and Spruce Streets, where steamed mussels,
frites and more than 200 beers of the world attract full-house
lunch and dinner crowds; the Bellini Grill (220 South 16th St.), a
family-run Italian restaurant featuring homemade pasta; and Alma de
Cuba (1623 Walnut St.), noted for its Cuban-style menu and great
Cradle of culture
As for culture,
the opportunities abound, what with the Rosenbach Museum &
Library, the Civil War and Underground Railway Museum, the Curtis
Institute of Music, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Philadelphia Art Alliance,
the Mutter Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the
Academy of Vocal Arts. All are within walking distance of the
Of these, the
occasionally overlooked Rosenbach, at 2008-2010 Delancey Place,
merits special attention.
includes the original 1865 brick townhouse home of the brothers
Rosenbach, A.S.W. and Philip. Collectors and dealers, the
Rosenbachs assembled a remarkable trove of rare books, manuscripts
the 800-page, hand-written manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses;
Lewis Carroll's copy of the 1865 edition of "Alice in Wonderland";
a baseball autographed by Mickey Mantle from the collection of poet
Marianne Moore; and more than 10,000 works of author and
illustrator Maurice Sendak, who chose the museum to the be
repository of his output.
visits are conducted by docents, the Rosenbach is remarkably open
to those who want individual access to research the collection.
"All you need is the interest and expressed desire to examine
something in the collection," one docent said. "That is all the
accreditation we demand."
information, go to www.gophila.com and www.philadelphiausa.travel.
To contact reporter Joe Rosen, send e-mail to [email protected].
details on this article, see "Rittenhouse takes pride in its