Although I live down the shore now, I was born and raised in and around Philadelphia, and still consider it my first home. There’s so much to do and see that I can’t share it all in one post, so today my goal is to tell you about one little slice, the area just north of Rittenhouse Square. So many shops, restaurants and great architecture abound here; but I want to direct you to some of my favorite places.
Below is a map of the general area, just to give you a better idea where you are. Please open in another window if you’re like me and want to follow along on the map.
Let’s start at Rittenhouse Square of course.
One of William Penn’s original four squares, Rittenhouse has always been quite a beautiful spot. Stroll through the square and check out the fountain, beautiful greenery, and the people. Just east of the square is a restaurant called Rouge. Nothing really special about it now, although they do have a great burger, but this is ground zero of the sidewalk cafe; al fresco dining got its foothold right here on the square, and what a difference it made for the restaurants and nightlife here. A little piece of Philly history!
Moving north to Walnut St you find the Anthropologie store. (A little history of the building here.) Although there’s always some clothing item to covet, and don’t miss the home shop in the basement, the attraction here is the building. Built in 1901 by a Drexel (yes that Drexel) daughter, it is full of amazing architectural features, including a stained glass dome, and a portrait ceiling (Venetian doges no less). This is one of my favorite buildings in all of center city, and that is saying something!
Moving west down Walnut, and right on 19th street, we find La Colombe, the best coffee place in the world as far as I am concerned. (It is served in many of the best restaurants in Philly and NYC.) The coffee is roasted a couple miles away, so the beans are always fresh, and they don’t clutter things up with flavored syrups. This place offers coffee, cappuccino, and latte, so if you want some coffee imitation, find yourself a Starbucks, please! They do offer decaf, but that’s about it. Coffee purists rejoice!
Go back out onto Walnut St and cross at the light, turn to your right and you’ll see Church of the Holy Trinity. Have a look inside at the stained glass windows and beautiful architecture, and check out the outside on the Walnut St side.
A bit further west on Walnut and across the street is a little shop called Dahlia’s, a treasure box of hand crafted jewelry, gifts, and Judica from Israel. The owner is wonderful and will answer any questions you have; this is her labor of love!
In the interest of keeping this a small area, we will turn north on 20th St here, although if you are looking for a Guinness, the Irish Pub is just a bit west of 20th St on Walnut.
Turn north on 20th Street, and walk up a block to the corner of Sansom, where you’ll find the Shake Shack (with yummy shakes), and on the opposite corner, Capogiro gelato. Even though I do recommend the Shake Shack, if you have time or calories for just one dessert, please make it Capogiro! Another labor of love; the owners went to Italy to learn how to make gelato, and it shows. Lots of flavors, rotated seasonally to use the freshest ingredients, make this a must! And they even have sorbet that is just as delicious for anyone with a lactose problem. Can’t decide on a flavor? Just step up and ask for a sample or two. Amazing stuff!
Across the street from Capogiro are Tinto and Village Whiskey, two offerings from one of Philly’s uber chefs, Jose Garces. I’ve never been in Village Whiskey, but I can vouch for the tapas at Tinto. Stroll up to Chestnut St and turn left; yes a little detour, but so worth it. The Mexican place called El Rey (the first of several Stephen Starr restaurants in the area) is on the site of a landmark Philly lunch counter/hole in the wall, and they serve killer margaritas and tacos at happy hour. They also kept the counter as their bar, which adds to the unique charm. Ole! If you go around the back of El Rey to Ranstead street, you’ll find a speakeasy type place called The Ranstead Room. I haven’t been there yet but it sounds like a cool spot. If you get there before I do, please tell me all about it! (More on Philly Prohibition era spots and new speakeasies, including the Ranstead Room, here.)
There’s some interesting architecture in the next block, but keep walking east on Chestnut, cross 18th street, past the eyesore that is the Sameric Theatre (it’s a sad story; not torn down but not restored either) to Boyd’s. This used to be the toniest men’s store in the city, well its still tony but now they also have women’s clothing and shoes. If you want to salivate at some Manolos, stop in, because they have all the Italian brands. The biggest attraction here, however, is the building; the architecture is gorgeous inside and out. Well worth a look.
The next corner is 18th Street, where we find the Continental Mid-Town, another Stephen Starr outpost, and a hot spot in the area. The food is funky tapas style, and like all Stephen Starr places, it is always busy, with good food, drinks and service. The Philly Sephora store is on the next block, in case you are in need of some makeup, fragrance or beauty items, along with two consignment clothing shops, Buffalo Exchange and Second Time Around, and some interesting architecture. Also on this block is the Rittenhouse outpost of the South Philly stalwart Di Bruno’s. All kinds of fresh food, cheeses, meats, baked goods, etc are found here, and a lunchtime stop upstairs is highly recommended. Don’t miss this place!
Continue east on Chestnut to the corner of 17th St for Liberty Place, with a food court and some chain shops. Turn left on 17th and enter on that side; a couple of stores in from the street is Bella Turka, a beautiful jewel box of a store chock full of original hand made jewelry from Turkey and environs. Beautiful!
Back outside, continue south on 17th Street (check out the building with the Rite Aid) down to Sansom. On the corner is the new Sofitel hotel, and across the street the Hotel Palomar, which occupies another architecturally interesting old building. The First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, an impressive pile of stone, sits across Sansom, (for more on architecture and history of Rittenhouse Square area churches and synagogues, click here) and on the fourth corner, a little shoe store called Head Start. If you are looking for well made shoes that you won’t find at Nordstrom’s, please check them out. Turn down Sansom to the west for one of the funkiest blocks in the area. One of the last remaining independent bookshops in the city, Joseph Fox, is on this block, along with several watering holes and a hair salon.
You should now be on the corner of 18th and Sansom; lots of good stuff here! One of my favorite Stephen Starr restaurants, The Dandelion, is on the northwest corner; please stop in for some British pub food, a beautiful interior, and amazing service.The bar is gorgeous, in the summer they open the front to the sidewalk so you can watch the world go by, and the front upstairs room looks like a British tea room.
Directly across the street is Tria Cafe, a great place for some wine and cheese (or other small bites). I’ve only been here once, but I really enjoyed my wine and cheese, and the service was very nice. Just north of Tria is Benjamin Lovell Shoes, a local chain specializing in comfortable and fashionable shoes. They have a wide selection of sensible footwear, and a staff that understands what its customers are looking for. Up the street on the other side, down a small flight of stairs, and behind a nondescript door is the Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company, a notorious former real speakeasy! There’s no paperwork to sign here, just deliciously unique drinks and a speakeasy vibe. (That link also gives more info about the Ranstead Room and other “secret” bars in Philly.)
Back on the corner of Sansom Street is an Italian place called Serafina. I have never been to this location, although my mom and I stop at the one on the Upper East side of Manhattan when we are at the Metropolitan. The food is good and the waiters cute at that location, but I can’t vouch for the Philly outpost. It got some rough reviews when it first opened, but maybe they’ve smoothed over the edges by now.
Heading south on 18th brings us back down to the square, which is never a bad thing, and past the Anthropologie store again. This time, turn left (east) on Walnut for a couple blocks of shopping and architectural heaven. Make sure you look up above the storefronts for some beautiful architectural elements and details. Unfortunately this block is just about all chain stores, so nothing is too tempting, although you may be attracted to the aroma coming out of Pietro’s Coal Fired Pizza. Worth a stop if you’re hungry, and the outside tables are great for people watching. (If you want pizza the way the local office workers do it, check out Joe’s Pizza on 16th just south of Sansom. But be prepared for a line on a weekday, and be ready to order as soon as you get to the head of the line, because this is no nonsense. The pizza, however, is fresh and delicious. Recommended.)
Further up the street, next to the Juicy Couture on the corner (not my kind of store, but my kind of building), is another gorgeous building that houses the local Blue Mercury store. Browse in here for upscale cosmetics; however the real attraction is the building. Take your time and soak it in, from the outside and inside. You can’t go upstairs, but the first floor is worth a look. Beautiful!
On the next block of Walnut is the best store for unusual cards, hand made papers and fun gifts; its called The Paper Source. They have a store down in Georgetown, so I was familiar with them and so happy when they settled here on Walnut. They have cards for all occasions, some hand made, and hand made wrapping papers that are so beautiful you could frame a piece and hang it on the wall!
Head west on Walnut back to 17th Street again and turn left (south). On this block is an antique jewelry store window (Richard Kenneth) to die for, and if you really must see something up close, ring the bell and talk to the owner. I normally restrict myself to slobbering on the window though! Treats of another kind are found at Miel Patisserie; everything is gorgeous and delicious. Also on this block are Manor Home and Gifts, Papyrus (for more run of the mill cards) and Kitchen Kapers. Walk down to Locust Street and turn right to head back to the square, but on your way take a look at Philadelphia institution the Curtis Institute of Music, formerly the Drexel Mansion.
Back on the square to close out our whirlwind tour. I know it seems like a lot; if you’re hungry, tired or in need of a drink there’s the Devon Seafood Grill, Parc Restaurant (another Stephen Starr location), or Rouge. All will have tables out facing the square if the weather is right. Also close by, with al fresco dining in a private garden, is the Rittenhouse Tavern, in the Art Alliance on 18th St just south of Locust.
I hope you enjoyed this slice of my Philly. I promise to show you more soon! Thanks for reading, and please pay us a visit!