Thursday, December 3, 2015


Over the past year, Philadelphia has become the only East Coast city that even comes close to New York in my heart. I fell in love with a guy who lived there, and consequently fell in love with Philly, too. After I stopped seeing the guy, I wondered how my relationship with the city would change, if going back would feel like returning to a chapter of my life I wasn't too keen to revisit. 

When I had the opportunity to go back with the Independent Collection in November—for the first time post break-up—I decided that it was rather silly of me to let one person from my past have ownership of an entire metropolitan city. So I packed my weekend bag, steadied my nerves and decided to make some fresh memories in Philly.

Sure enough, some things did sting. Revisiting places that drummed up memories was tough, but not world-shattering. What helped the most was the whirlwind of brand new restaurants (Zahav! Ela!), bars (Bud and Marilyn's!) and museums (Independence Hall!) that we visited over a couple of days—oh, and the Old Fashioned supplies I had at the ready in my suite at The Independent Hotel

To me, Philly is like if some of the best parts of DC's Georgetown, Brooklyn, Boston and the East Village here in New York got together and built themselves up around one of the most historic places in America. It's incredibly easy to get around, charming as hell and each neighborhood has a distinct personality. Philadelphia is much less expensive than New York too, which makes it a fun, delicious and easy weekend getaway spot.

Click through for a smattering of my favorite places and experiences in Philadelphia, including trendy dinner locales, dive bars, brunch spots and plenty of arts and culture to see in between meals. I promise, I'll keep my emotional musings to a minimum...

// EAT, EAT, EAT //

Eating is my favorite thing about Philly. Like New York, it's full of fancy little boites and burger-centric dives, ethnic specialties and plenty of brunch spots. Below I will try and limit myself and share a few of my very, very favorites with you.

When I was frequenting Fishtown and Northern Liberties, I loved to start the day with the 'Hudson' bagel sandwich and a cold brew coffee at a cool and cozy little place called One Shot. Trust me when I say this bagel will change your life—or at least your day. (They also have vegan donuts and brunch-y things, btw.) Jerry's Bar is another Northern Liberties breakfast hour gem, stop by have your Sunday brunch (and Bloody Mary) with a side of live jazz. I'll also toss High Street On Market and Talula's Daily into the daytime mix because both do really excellent breakfast/lunch things and are in prime locations to work them off with a scenic stroll after.

Named after his mother, chef Jason Cichonski's four-year-old Ela is one of the most delicious and date-worthy restaurants I've ever been to—anywhere! In our party of six, we tasted everything from octopus to duck confit, cocktails, wine and the kind of desserts that you jokingly-but-not-that-jokingly suggest might be better than sex. Chef Cichonski is hot, but the cookie dough dessert is kskdjfjlkierk.

Moving on... The only advice I could give you upon securing a reservation at Michael Solomonov's Zahav is to order everything and wear something without a waistband. The courses will just keep on coming, but you'll feel ready to quit if you get too excited about the salads and hummus, which are divine. Then comes kebabs, crudo, kale salad, eggplant—and then comes all kinds of meat... And it's all so so good. Also, everyone who works there is either a delight, attractive or both.

If you're a real food junkie and hankering for some old school ice cream or fudge made by the Pennsylvania Dutch, don't skip Reading Terminal. You could spend half a day wandering the aisles of fresh fish and produce, plus kiosks that serve everything from crepes to fried chicken to grilled cheese to, you guessed it, cheesesteaks. (We got the famous roasted pork and broccoli rabe sandwich from Tommy DiNic's and it was completely overwhelming but also quite tasty.

// DRINK //

Drinking is my second favorite thing to do in Philly. Again, it holds a lot of the same variety as New York, but on a smaller, quirkier scale—and with it's own "Citywide Special," of course. And there's (arguably) no better place to have one than Bob & Barbara's—just one of Philly's plethora of awesome dive bars, and perhaps the originator of The Citywide. On a similarly 'Classic Philly' note, don't miss the opportunity to catch some live music at Johnny Brenda's—a neighborhood institution over in Fishtown. While I'm gunning to actually see a show there sometime, it's also just a really fun, laid-back place to hang out and have a beer.

Philadelphia Brewing Company is also a great place to hang out and have a beer. I spent an afternoon there once watching the snow come down throughout a tasting and tour—and it was totally lovely. Just show up on a Saturday between noon and three and prepare to get a little nerdy about ales and lagers and whatnot. (Also good for beer nerds: Bottle Bar East.)

For something up-and-coming and a bit more upscale, try Bud & Marilyn's. This trendy little mid-century-themed spot is located right around the corner from the entrance to The Independent Hotel on 13th and Locust. We indulged in fried cheese curds and rum punch in a tiki glass. It was quirky and delightful and it's worth swinging through just to see the awesome interiors.

On our trip with the Independent Collection, we sat down for a decadent lunch at El Vez, a lively and well-regarded Midtown Village spot that's part of the Starr Restaurants empire (Fette Sau, Morimoto, Talula's Daily). However, I'd recommend popping in for drinks and some lighter fare—a blood orange margarita (or two) and the guacamole sampler are all you need and some of the best you'll ever have.

// SEE & DO //

There's more to see in Philly than you can really accomplish in one weekend, so I'd recommend peppering your eating, drinking, walking and biking with just two or three spots, and save the rest for another time. The highest on my list? The Barnes Foundation and Independence Hall. Returning to The Barnes was a real heartstring-tugger for me, but emotions aside, this is a museum not to be missed. The collection of post-Impressionist art (think Matisse, Modigliani and Renoir, for starters) is arranged in a famously unorthodox way, and you won't find any explanatory plaques next to the works. To truly understand what Dr. Barnes' mission was all about, and why everything is where it is, I'd highly recommend a guided tour (and if you're really invested, watch this documentary).

Coincidentally, a tour is actually the only way to see Independence Hall, so join a group and make like you're on a middle school field trip. The park rangers (yes, Independence Hall is a National Park) will quiz you with trivia about your favorite founding fathers as you peek into the rooms where American government began.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is also rather impressive, its prominent spot overlooking the Schuykill River notwithstanding. After you've jogged up the famous 'Rocky' steps, slow it down and take your time wandering through this gorgeously intimidating building—the third largest art museum in the country.

For those who want a their history with a side of spooky, check out Eastern State Penitentiary. Your guided audio tour here is led by none other than Steve Buscemi (most recently in Boardwalk Empire, y'all), which is fitting, given that this fortress, once "the most famous and expensive prison " in the country housed Al Capone, among others.

If you don't feel like lines, crowds or audio tours, just lace up your kicks and take a leisurely stroll. From Independence Hall to Betsy Ross House and Elfreth's Alley, there's no shortage of insanely historic landmarks and cool shops scattered throughout the Old City and Society Hill neighborhoods. You can see it all in an afternoon, without that dreaded feeling that you're drowning in ultra-touristy activities. (For starters: Art in the Age, United By Blue, and Lost + Found, all on North 3rd Street.)

// STAY //

The Independent: Comprised of just 24 guest rooms in a Georgian Revival building in Midtown Village, The Independent Hotel is that perfect mix of stylish, homey and luxe, and like most everything else in Philly—quite affordable. I was treated to the two-story queen suite, which had a lovely sitting area with a fireplace and TV downstairs and cozy loft-feeling bed and bath upstairs.  It was quite a bit of space for little ol' me, but as you can imagine, I made due. The hotel's location is also pretty clutch—there are tons of shops and places to eat just a stone's throw away on 13th Street, primed to discover at your leisure, and many of the above mentioned attractions are also walkable.


Amtrak runs a ton of trains to Philadelphia from New York (obviously) but they can run you between $75 and more than $150. Personally, I'd opt for the Megabus or Bolt that leaves from the Javits Center and takes about 2 hours. It lets you off at 6th and Market Streets or 30th Street Station—and won't cost you more than $17 each way, even if you splurge for reserved seating. Just cue up a good playlist and enjoy the view. 

Disclosure: My trip to Philly was part of a trip with Independent Collection, hosted by Brandman agency. Some of the recommendations were experienced as part of this trip, while the rest were culled from personal trips to the city to visit the aforementioned ex. 


  1. I've lived on Philadelphia's Main Line since college (and am a native of the Philly burbs). I love seeing our city spotlighted this way! I feel like so often Philly gets the short end of the stick as just a stop-over between New York and DC. The food and drink scene is incredible, and you can't beat the history, culture, and art. Yes, Philly can be a bit backwards and provincial, but it's also a scrappy city full of character and some of the most loyal and innovative people you could ever meet. Thank you for showcasing the city the way it deserves to be seen!

  2. When are WE taking a trip here I do inquire...