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Stephanie Davis Smith | Photo: Courtesy of the Rittenhouse | May 10, 2019
A storied past meets a modern future in the zenith city of Philadelphia. Spend this spring in one of America’s richest locales—flush with culture, cuisine and cache.
What’s a rittenhouse? I’d never heard the lyrical word before coming to Philadelphia. I soon learned what the locals know: It’s many things, including a scenic square surrounding a charming city park, one of the wealthiest urban neighborhoods in the country—chockablock with vintage brownstones—and the name of an exquisite luxury hotel. The Rittenhouse (rooms from $349, suites from $549) is as elegant and refined as the historic area where it sits. Like a resplendent grande dame, its 118 guest rooms are some of the largest in the city and recently underwent an opulent design overhaul. If the hotel were a lady, it now most certainly looks like it would have its pinkie in the air while drinking afternoon tea. So it’s no surprise the hotel also hosts a beloved traditional afternoon tea service in its Mary Cassatt Tea Room every afternoon (reservations recommended).
If you never left the property to venture around this highly walkable city, you would still have a fine time indulging in a signature massage in stately The Rittenhouse Spa & Club (where Paul Labrecque has set up a salon); or toasting with a world-class mixologist’s talents at The Library Bar off the lobby; or partaking in an inventive wine list and five-star dining experience in Lacroix Restaurant, with its wall of windows overlooking... what else? Rittenhouse Square, which is one of five picturesque squares in town. Each month ubertalented executive chef Jon Cichon constructs a $115 prix fixe menu (wine pairings for $90 and $150 are also available) inspired by a singular seasonal ingredient. While I was there, the focus was on corn. Currently, it’s Liliaceae, a member of the lily family. An amuse-bouche of delicate raw scallop with toasted coconut began the experience and escalated to corn agnolotti with shiitake, cotija and truffle, as well as foie gras with toasted barley, strawberry and creamy corn. Six courses in all.
Across the park is AKA Rittenhouse Square (suites from $350), a luxury hotel—located in a historic 1912 Beaux Arts building—that specializes in weekly and monthly stays. Its 77 suites are equipped with full kitchens, a 24-hour doorman and laundry facilities, but it’s the hotel’s chic decor—exclusively in shades of gray, white and black—that make it feel as if you’re staying in a stylish friend’s expensive apartment. The property recently underwent a renovation of its residences, including custom-designed modern furnishings, marble bathrooms and custom artwork, all of which will be revealed this month. Downstairs, a.kitchen + a.bar is a fabulous spot to grab bright seasonal cuisine featuring beautiful produce that helped land the kitchen on several of the city’s top 25 restaurants lists in 2018.
Foodies will find the dining scene is on fire across all of Philadelphia, not only in Center City. Part of that is due to the Schulson Collective behind local restaurants such as Double Knot, Sampan, Giuseppe & Sons and Osteria, among others. Chef and owner Michael Schulson’s Harp & Crown presents upscale global comfort food. The two-story space has a lively steampunk-inspired dining room upstairs and the coolest of dimly lit speakeasies with a two-lane bowling alley downstairs. Here, the menu dances across cultures as hamachi with green apple shares the menu with lamb meatballs in green yogurt, as well as a hearth-roasted whole cauliflower covered in toasted bread crumbs or Spanish octopus over rice cake.
For sports fans, landing a table at Harp & Crown before or after a Phillies game will be a feat starting this month (the home opener is March 28 against the Atlanta Braves). Snag seats in the Diamond Club at Citizens Bank Park for a true VIP vibe that includes in-seat wait service and high-end dining. The tickets ensure exclusive experiences no one else in the ballpark will enjoy, including access to a private entrance and lounge.
After seeing the word rittenhouse again and again, I discovered it stems from David Rittenhouse, an 18th-century Renaissance man and “friend of the American Revolution,” as it says in the Philadelphia history books. But throw a tea sandwich in any direction in the City of Brotherly Love and you’ll hit something named after one of our country’s earliest heroes. There’s William Penn’s baptismal font, Benjamin Franklin’s gravestone, a tavern where George Washington enjoyed a tipple, Betsy Ross’ adorable cottage, and many more plaques and buildings that paint the picture of our country’s earliest days. With all that history, the Museum of the American Revolution, which celebrates its second year in Old City this month, captures it all beautifully. Spend a few hours ogling carved powder horns, Washington’s headquarters tent and Continental currency, and learn about how this founding city was built. Then, head into the streets of a modern Philadelphia and delight in all it has become.
Originally published in the April/May issue of Silicon Valley