Philadelphia Arts and Letters: Murals, Melville, and Magnificent Meals

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WHY GO: Of course there are a million reasons to visit Philadelphia, one of this Maven’s favorite cities. But this Getaway introduces readers to art masterpieces that will never see the inside of a museum, books so precious and rare you can look but don’t touch (except for exclusive “Hands On” experiences),  a restaurant with a froufrou name but a young, innovative chef, and a recently re-designed Five Diamond hotel.

Things to Do in Philadelphia PA

The Jewelry Box, on Towey Center, Mural Arts Tour, Philadelphia PA

TOUR: Mural Arts Tour. The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has overseen the creation of over 3,800 pieces of art painted on sides of buildings. Of those, 2,000 are still viewable by the public, making this collection the “World’s Largest Outdoor Art Gallery.” Seven different tours are offered on trolleys, by foot, in private cars, and on trains. Yes, the incredibly popular tour for romantics, The Love Letter Train, takes place on SEPTA, the elevated railway. Renowned artist Stephen Powers created fifty murals, like Berma Shave signs, that together form a love letter from a guy to a girl.  It’s like a treasure hunt along the train tracks. Trolley Tours $30 adults, $20 children, Walking and El Tours $20 per person. Contact Mural Arts for Private Tour pricing.

Rosenbach Museum and Library, Delancy St., Philadelphia PA

VISIT: Rosenbach Museum and Library. When Maurice Sendak visited the Rosenbach Museum and Library, a few blocks off Rittenhouse Square on a leafy Philly street, to see the books and manuscripts of one of his favorite authors, Herman Melville, he decided then and there to leave the bulk of his work here as well. Though he had no connection to Philadelphia, Sendak donated many of his illustrations, hand-written letters and thousands of papers to join with the works of Melville, James Joyce, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Robert Burns, Jane Austin and hundreds of other authors. This place is a book-lovers utopia.

A docent-led tour of this historic four-story brick townhome owned by Jewish merchant brothers Phillip and Abraham Rosenbach in the mid 1900’s, takes you through grand 18ft. high first floor rooms and to the 3rd floor library.  While Phillip focused on decorative arts, Dr. Abe collected and sold rare books -many purchased en masse in England and Ireland for bargain prices when Europe was in the throes of economic depression.

Maurice Sendak Room at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia PA

Those who know and research women poets thrill to the first book of poetry ever written by an African American woman, the 1773 First Edition (both UK and US) Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley, a slave from Senegal owned by the Boston Wheatley’s who taught her how to read and write. You’re also privy to the complete recreation of Marianne Moore’s 35 W. 9th St. New York living room. Moore, who loved Yankee’s baseball so much she was once asked to throw the opening day pitch, ran in elite literary circles.  The footstool was a gift from T.S. Elliot, and one of the paintings a present from ee cummings.

On the third floor, Brit Lit and American Lit shelves are organized in chronological and alphabetical order: Byron, Burns, Dickens, Dracula (including Bram Stoker’s original notes). A copy of James Joyce’s original Death Mask sits amongst his first edition books. There’s a Hebraic Exhibit with ancient texts and interpretations, tiny pocket-sized travel guides from the 1800’s, and “Captivity Narratives” written by women kidnapped by Native Americans and then released, proving that harrowing memoirs have always had a place in American literature.  $10, adults, open Tues ,Fri. Noon – 5pm, Wed, Thurs noon-8pm, Sat, Sun Noon-6pm. One Hour “Hands On” tours Fridays and Sundays at 3pm, rsvp required.

Where to Eat in Philadelphia PA

Jon Cichon, Chef - Lacroix Restaurant, Philadelphia PAA

EAT: Lacroix at the Rittenhouse. If ever there was an artist of stove and plate, it’s young Jon Cichon, Executive Chef of Lacroix in the Rittenhouse Hotel. He turns cobia (fish), grapefruit and hearts of palm  into a wreath of outstanding scrumptiousness, and a golf ball shaped lamb sausage into the centerpiece of a composition that includes a small cut of Elysian Fields Lamb and a swoosh of watercress puree.

Lacroix Restaurant Appetizer, Philadelphia PA

Cichon is the King of the Amuse Bouche – dispatching to each table little food trinkets throughout the evening: Black Rice Chip with Salmon Tartar, a round of Honeycrisp Apple with Roe, a thumbnail portion Potato Truffle. The kitchen sends food scraps to Green Circle Farm as feed for the chickens procured for the menu in that seasonal, sustainable, and local Green Circle of life central to high-end restaurants. As such, Lacroix menu changes weekly, but based on my own experience and that of so many repeat diners, you’ll be guaranteed an exceptional meal any time of year. In addition to a la carte, Lacroix also offers a $105 multi-course tasting menu (additional $85 for wine pairing).

Vegetarian meatball "Noni" - Marabella Meatball Co., Philadelphia PA

EAT: Marabella Meatball Co.  On the other end of the spectrum, this bare-bones shop features balls-out-great meatballs of all sorts – beef, meat combo, chicken and veggie.  Get them in a bowl ($7.75 for three) or on bread ($9 for 4 on sub or $6.75 for 2 on round roll). Unless you’ve got your own Italian grandma to cook for you, these are the next best things.

Where to Stay In Philadelphia PA

Library Bar, Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia PA

STAY: Rittenhouse Hotel. This contemporary tower is the last place you’d expect an old school, just renovated hotel to be housed.  But when you do find this Five Diamond pearl of hospitality, you’ll be happy you did. The lobby’s color scheme is muted Dorothy Draper: all charcoal, chartreuse, and bumblebee yellows. Sunlit in daytime it is the perfect spot for the popular traditional Afternoon Tea. The new Library Bar, backlit bookshelves, black walls with black glass chandelier is a stunning and impressive place to sip a wake-up Cappuccino or before-dinner cocktail with friends. Larger rooms, of the less-is-more variety, reflect the hush and elegance of Old Money. Blue medallion carpeting, ecru leather headboard over white, pinstripe-edged duvet, cream-colored marble bathrooms, it’s classic décor at its best.  Room rates $290-$1600 (for suites) include complimentary wi-fi, coffee (in lobby from 5am-8am), overnight shoe-shine, morning delivery of newspaper of your choice. Read complete review here

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