I wanted to find out what a concierge might tell people about Philly and where to hang out, so I sent some questions to Albert Lee, concierge at the Independence Visitor Center at the corner of 6th and Market. Here’s what he wrote (my questions are in bold):
Where do you send visitors when they want to have a drink near the Visitor Center?
All this sightseeing is hard work and nothing soothes the soul better than a little liquid refreshment. Wine lovers will gladly embrace Ristorante Panorama, an Italian restaurant and wine bar located at Front & Market Streets inside the Penn’s View Inn. With 120 wines by the glass served daily, the hardest part is where to begin. If beer is more your drink of choice, stop by Triumph Brewery at 117 Chestnut Street for some homemade brew. Nothing quenches the thirst like beer made just for you!
How about when they want a light/casual lunch?
Whether its sunny skies or dark clouds, Fork is the ideal picnic lunch, just indoors. Freshly baked artisan breads coupled with fine cheeses and oh so sweet desserts make this little nook in Old City the perfect place to stop and recharge.
Where do you tell couples to go if they’re looking for something (a restaurant or a drink) romantic?
One word: Chifa. From the mind of Jose Garces, the newly crowned Iron Chef, this Peruvian & Chinese infused eatery serves up the heat in their downstairs lounge. Surrounded by a fury of red lanterns and a spread of plush couches, romance is merely a drink away.
Preparing for an evening of gossip, dress up and Kodak moments? Start here: Martinis are great, especially when they are served from the 37th floor of a high-rise condominium. R2L (Restaurant at 2 Liberty) has skyline views of our major metropolis to go along with specialty cocktails such as the Millionaire and the Velvet Rope guaranteed to put you on Cloud 9. Dinner is served at Matyson, one of Philadelphia’s premier BYO’s. Specializing in New American cuisine, the joyful combination of sweet and savory is sure to provide a party for the palate. But be sure to make room for dessert at the Naked Chocolate Café. Voted by USA Today as one of the top ten best chocolate destinations to visit, this is as close to dessert heaven as humanly possible. Can’t go wrong with their Aztec chocolate, for a little decadence here goes a long way. And now it’s time to dance off the calories with a trip to G Lounge. Located on the lower level of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, this ultra chic lounge provides VIP service, pulsating dance music and a bevy of beautiful people to groove with into the early morning.
Hi-fives, handshakes, and chest bumps are good signs that men are at play. Here is where I suggest the “frat” should go. Why enjoy one thin slice of Prime Rib when a buffet of succulently sizzled meats awaits you at Chima Brazilian Steakhouse? Embrace the inner “caveman” as gauchos roam the dining floor with 16 different rotisserie meats ready to be ravaged and enjoyed. Once the plate has been cleaned, it’s time to gather the brosephs for some good ol’ fashioned sing along. Jolly’s Piano Bar on 21st and Chestnut serves up the perfect blend of beer and song. Yes, there are dueling pianos that play everything from the classic Neil Diamond to the hip-hop beats of Jay Z. Conclude the evening or morning at Lorenzo’s Pizzeria. No toppings, no credit, no seats, no problem. Where $2.75 buys a behemoth sized slice of cheese pie guaranteed to soak up all the day’s remains.
Where can people go for a good local vibe?
There is just something about Northern Liberties. Maybe it’s all the independent boutiques or unique culinary flavors but No Libs has local written all over it. Named the first “suburb” of Philadelphia, this closely knit area has tourist highlights but with a neighborhood setting. Be sure to visit the Piazza at Schmidts, a converted brewery turned open-air plaza with free year-round entertainment complete with artists’ studios, boutiques, restaurants and even apartments. Barely a 10-minute walk from the Visitor Center, it’s history of a different kind.
Where do you like to go out?
Singing is not my forte but I love watching others do it, badly. Yakitori Boy in Chinatown doubles as a Japanese restaurant and karaoke bar. Amateurs who can barely carry a tune perform while downing saki bombs for the shared amusement of the crowd. And if I can’t resist blasting out in song, they have private rooms to soundproof my shrieking.
Do people often ask you about cheesesteaks (where they can get the best one, if it’s worth trying, etc.)? If so, what do you tell them?
Where to eat an “authentic Philly cheesesteak” is always on the tip of their tongue. To me, it’s really more about what direction they are headed towards rather than the actual pilgrimage. No matter where one orders this steak and cheese, it’s the real deal. I will say though, standing in line at 2 A.M. at Pat’s or Geno’s (whoever has the shorter line) is very much a celebrated tradition dating back to my high school graduation. But I do believe one should have a bite because this sopping greasy mess of a sandwich is worth trying once. If you are near the Visitor Center, stop by any of these locations to grab your own “Philly cheesesteak”: Grande Olde Cheesesteak inside the Bourse Food Court, 21 South 5th St.; Campo’s Deli at 214 Market Street; and Sonny’s Famous Steaks at 228 Market Street. After all, you are in Philadelphia.
What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
I would have to say the people. We are often called the City of Neighborhoods. Mount Airy, Northern Liberties, Queen Village, and Chinatown, to name a few, all have their own vibe, their own culture, and their own spirit. Surrounding these neighborhoods are murals created and decided on by their residents. It’s this collaboration that provides the fuel that makes the world take notice.
Philadelphians are not New Yorkers or Bostonians because we’re just simply Philly. A booming metropolis with a blue collar attitude, our people are every shade of the rainbow. This urban city has been my home my entire life. I’ve watched it grow to accept some amazing accolades, including being acclaimed as the next great city by National Geographic. Wait, it already is. Talk to any one of us; you’ll see why.