Soak Up the Art Scene in Philadelphia

1. Where to Stay

The mosaic-decorated sunroom at French Philly.Photo: Courtesy of French Philly

Find Art Deco touches mixed with contemporary furnishings like a recycled white-glass fireplace at Hotel Palomar (from $189), a slick, 230-room Center City property housed in the 1929 Architects Building. All the rooms are stylishly appointed with original artwork; ask to stay on the eighteenth floor to enjoy the tallest ceilings and views of the skyline. For something similarly stylish but brand-new, splashy sister property Hotel Monaco opens in October.

Escape to a quiet side street just off Rittenhouse Square at Rittenhouse 1715 (from $160), a century-old former carriage house with 23 spacious guest rooms featuring marble bathrooms and antique-style furnishings. Homey touches round out the comfortable French-inflected décor like board games, continental breakfasts, and iron balconies accented with flower boxes. Before heading out to dinner, enjoy complimentary wine in the drawing room, offered each evening.

Spread out on the second floor of an 1853 row house at French Philly (from $120), a bed and breakfast run by a friendly couple in trendy Northern Liberties. The space includes a private bathroom and art-filled library, but you can also make use of the downstairs sunroom, decorated with a wine-themed mosaic by local artist Isaiah Zagar. Be sure to mine the owners, who are 30-year residents, for tips on the area like where to fine the hidden Maxfield Parrish Mosaic.

2. Where to Eat

Melograno (left) serves Roman cuisine in a cozy setting; the dramatic dining room at Zahav (right).Photo: Courtesy of Melograno (L); Jason Varney (R)

Watch James Beard Award–winning chef Michael Solomonov cook your ten-course tasting menu ($90) from a seat at Zahav’s new Kitchen Counter, where you’ll try innovative Israeli dishes like a salad of heirloom tomatoes, pistachio ice cream, and purslane; or veal tongue with plums and cabbage. Only eight spots are available per weekend (book on the first of the previous month), but the family-style Mesibah menu ($48 per person), featuring whole roasted lamb shoulder, is an equally worthwhile undertaking.

Arrive before 8 p.m. for a seat at refined pub Stateside, which doesn’t take reservations on Friday or Saturday. Its experimental small plates and list of more than 50 American whiskeys have attracted a growing clientele since opening last November, especially after the chef won a Best of Philly award from Philadelphia Magazine. The seasonal menu features lots of pickled vegetables, rich meats, and house-made cheese; think duck terrine with melon-rind pickle ($10) or golden-beet soup with smoked trout ($9).

Pick up a bottle of wine at the local state store (the only place wine is sold in Pennsylvania) before dinner at longtime neighborhood favorite Melograno, a welcoming Italian BYOB near Rittenhouse Square. Roman chef Gianluca Demontis cooks trattoria classics in the open kitchen, like light sautéed lemon calamari ($12) or earthy paparadelle with wild boar ragout ($18) while his wife greets guests and maintains the convivial atmosphere.

3. What to Do

Crane Arts is an artistic hub of galleries and artists' studios.Photo: Courtesy of Crane Arts

Explore the thriving contemporary-art scene in Northern Liberties and Fishtown, especially Crane Arts, the area’s hub for almost a decade. Formerly a plumbing warehouse, the massive brick building is home to dozens of studios and arts organizations, as well as galleries (open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, from noon–6 p.m.) like the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Indigo Arts, and the University of Delaware’s art department. Coming to the area in September is a new outpost of Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward, which offers workspace to artists and art classes to the public.

Devote at least an afternoon to the city’s major museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Start out at the new location of the Barnes Foundation ($18), which houses one of the finest Impressionist and early modern collections—181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, and 46 Picassos—in the world. The paintings have been placed exactly as they were in Albert C. Barnes’s Merion home, but the new building, opened in May, has abundant lighting that makes the collection look fresh. Afterward, visit the newly reopened Rodin Museum ($8), where 150 of the sculptor’s works line garden paths and airy galleries.

Watch art being made at the Fabric Workshop and Museum ($3), whose acclaimed artist-in-residence program invites painters, performers, and designers to try new techniques with the help of in-house technicians. The current exhibit by multimedia artist Mark Bradford closes in mid-September, but the permanent collection includes work from big contemporary artists like Louise Bourgeois and Anish Kapoor.

Learn the stories behind some of the city’s murals, of which there are more than 3,500, from members of the Mural Arts Program, which offers weekend trolley tours ($25) to different neighborhoods from April to November. The West Philadelphia route, for instance, stops by the 3800 block of Melon Street, where 30 house façades were painted to draw attention to youth homelessness.

4. Insider’s Tip

The Trestle Inn is where gallerygoers revel after monthly First Friday events.Photo: Courtesy of The Trestle Inn

First Friday has been a fixture of the Old City art scene for decades, but recently it’s spread to the Loft District, the upstart nightlife destination north of Chinatown, where it runs much later, until 11 p.m. or so. Check out the galleries housed at 319 N. 11th Street—Vox Populi, Grizzly Grizzly, and Tiger Strikes Asteroid—before taking the party down the block to hip new go-go bar the Trestle Inn.

5. Oddball Day

The Race Street Pier offers green space in the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.Photo: Courtesy of Friends of Race Street Pier

Shop your way across the city’s historic core for quirky discoveries and retail bargains. Start by queuing early at South Philly’s Federal Donuts, where lavender or chile-flavored pastries (from $1.25 each) are fried to order and usually disappear by 11 a.m. Then walk north through the old Italian neighborhood, passing the lively Headhouse Farmer’s Market on Sundays (10 a.m.–2 p.m.), where you can round out breakfast with fresh produce from more than 30 stands. Cross Market Street to browse the cluster of tasteful boutiques in Old City (one Pennsylvania perk is tax-free clothing). On 2nd Street, you’ll find racks of vinyl at AKA Music (27 N. 2nd St.; 215-922-3855) and handmade dishes at the Clay Studio. One block over, 3rd Street is jammed with smartly curated racks of designer and vintage clothing. Stop into Sugarcube to score Dunderdon waxed-canvas parkas ($199) and Pendleton wool camp blankets ($140), or Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction for unusual accessories, like local artisan Peg and Awl’s cedar desk caddy ($70). Take a break by walking out over the Delaware River on the Race Street Pier, an impressive park that opened in 2011 next to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Afterward, stroll up 2nd Street through hip Northern Liberties—ducking into eco-minded Arcadia Boutique—to Girard Avenue, for a juicy suckling-pig Italian hoagie ($8) at Paesano’s. Frankford Avenue, with its bars and shops, is five minutes away: Visit Adorn for handmade jewelry, and then spend the rest of the afternoon at Frankford Hall with outdoor ping-pong and one-liter steins of Victory Headwaters Ale ($10). You can eat there, but it’s nearby Standard Tap that has long set the standard for Philadelphia’s gastropubs, with a changing blackboard menu of oysters ($2.50) and chicken pot pie ($12). End your night by heading west to the Loft District for a concert at the new venue Underground Arts, whose upcoming lineup includes Hot Snakes, Damian Lazarus, and Vacationer.

6. Links

For the latest news on all facets of the city’s cultural life, read through recent posts on Uwishunu.

Foobooz follows all details about the city’s dining and drinking establishments.

Nonprofit Inliquid offers a comprehensive guide to the local art scene and maintains online portfolios of area artists.

Old City Arts and Frankford Avenue Arts keep tabs on galleries in their respective neighborhoods.

Soak Up the Art Scene in Philadelphia