June 18, 2018

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Downtown Philadelphia: Where to Eat, Relax, and Explore

From Moon Travel Guides

PLA 2018

Welcome to the City of Brotherly Love: America’s first UNESCO World Heritage City, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, and home to the 2018 Super Bowl champs (fly, Eagles, fly!). Philadelphia is an exciting, bustling metropolis that’s loaded with history, art, food, and charm. There’s perhaps no better time to explore it than right now, and—lucky for you—the Philadelphia Convention Center is smack dab in the middle of some of Philly’s greatest hits.

After a day of panels, author chats, and snagging galleys at PLA, take some time to get to know Philadelphia. From brews to bookstores, here are some nearby local favorites.

Conveniently located next to the Convention Center, the Reading Terminal Market is well worth a visit. This historic market has survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the decline of the railroads, and is as much of a marvel today as it was when it opened in 1892. Nowadays, Amish merchants with some of the best baked goods, meat, and produce are joined by vendors selling everything from Vietnamese cuisine to classic cheesesteaks. Non-food goods are available as well, including jewelry, books, candles, cookware, and crafts from around the globe.

For a dose of literary history, stroll over to the Library Company of Philadelphia: the country’s very first lending library, founded in 1731 by a 25-year-old Benjamin Franklin. In its original Old City location, it served as the Library of Congress during the time that Philadelphia was the nation’s capital. The only intact colonial-era library and the oldest circulating library in the nation, it was also the largest until 1850. In its current location on Locust, it remains an incredible resource on 17th– to 19th-century American society and culture, with more than half a million rare books, graphics, and manuscripts, plus an array of artwork, prints, and photographs of early Philadelphia. Keep in mind: it’s only open Monday–Friday from 9 am to 4:45 pm. The print room is by appointment only, but the free revolving exhibits are open to the public.

For some retail therapy, head down South 12th Street towards Lombard, and you’ll find a number of top-notch shops, peddling everything from designer threads to vintage tees. Giovanni’s Room stands out as a local favorite. Founded in 1973, this bookstore has become a mainstay on its prime corner location in the heart of the Gayborhood. One of the largest bookstores in the world that specializes in feminist, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender literature, it also regularly hosts speakers and readings. Beyond being an incredible bookstore and a de facto community resource center, it’s run by the non-profit Philly AIDS Thrift—meaning proceeds are distributed to local organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

When it comes to food in this part of town, look no further than the nearby corner of 13th and Chestnut. Since 2002, powerhouse duo Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have been on a mission to revitalize this whole block of Center City, opening one successful restaurant after another. Bud & Marilyn’s is an homage to the Wisconsin restaurant chef Marcie Turney grew up in, with a warm, hospitable vibe and simple, well-prepared comfort food. At Jamonera, you’ll find Mediterranean standards, tapas, and an impressive selection of charcuterie (including the eponymous, mouthwatering jamón iberico). Head over to Lolita for the much-lauded modern Mexican cuisine and, per Philadelphia Magazine, the city’s best margarita (heads up: Thursday February 22nd is National Margarita Day!). Barbuzzo is a chic, lively spot offering wood-fired Mediterranean specialties made with farm-fresh ingredients. And last, but certainly not least, is Little Nonna’s: inspired riffs on classic Italian-American dishes in a cozy trattoria with an open kitchen.

For a little pick-me-up, walk over to Old City Coffee. Since 1984, this popular coffeehouse has been roasting and brewing what many locals consider the city’s best java. It’s warm and cozy inside, but if it’s a miraculously pleasant February day, the outdoor seats are great for people watching. They also offer a few breakfast and lunch options, a selection of baked goods, and (hallelujah) free Wi-Fi.

If you find yourself needing to unwind post-conference, you’re in luck: just a few blocks from the convention center sits McGillin’s Olde Ale House. This historic bar is the oldest continually operating tavern in Philadelphia; opened by Irish immigrants in 1860 (yep, the same year Lincoln was elected), it’s been serving up reliably delicious pints and bites for over 150 years. Philly is also home to some amazing local breweries: check out the rustic-chic Second Story or the lively Roy-Pitz Barrel House, or head to Good Dog Bar or Monk’s Café to sample one of the many local brews on tap.

For a nice dinner that won’t break the bank, make a reservation at Parc in Center City West (locals refer to this neighborhood as Rittenhouse—the name of the park where this restaurant sits). The 300-seat Parisian-style brasserie is a Francophile’s dream come true, from the delicious escargot to the black tie service. The menu features classics like crab galette, steak frites, and charcuterie plates, all executed perfectly. The delightful drink menu includes the potent (and delicious) Sazerac, and the iconic Kir Royale. Best of all, the floor-to-ceiling windows offer unbeatable views of the lovely park outside.

For exceptional Italian food, head to Mercato: this tiny, cash-only, BYOB restaurant is always a rollicking good time, due to close tables, an open kitchen, and its immense popularity with the locals. Choose from an array of pasta, fish, and meat dishes that combine old-world Italian slow cooking with updated flavors and preparations. While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, favorites include the whole grilled artichoke and the pan-seared scallops over risotto. Note that they don’t take reservations, so show up a little on the early side, or be prepared to wait. Trust us, it’s worth it.

This year, Moon Travel Guides celebrates 45 of broadening your world through travel, with unique experiences, local insight, and unforgettable memories. For more insider tips, head to moon.com, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @moonguides.


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