Irish Independent, February 9th, 2013
It’s a case of Guppy Love for Thomas Breathnach in Philly.
The first time I drove through Philadelphia, I was a fresh-faced J-1er under strict local counsel to lock all car doors and avoid eye contact. It seemed a little alarmist but this was a city infamous for its yellow crime scene tape and neither Springsteen nor Jazzy Jeff had been doing much to boost its PR image. A decade on (from my Vanilla Ice comeback concert), I made a stopover in the Big PA to see if the City of Brotherly Love was indeed worth an encore.
Bedding down in the leafy Rittenhouse district, my Hotel Palomar base, a revamped 1920’s art-deco landmark, was the latest in a wave of directional-designed hotels with aspirations of becoming urban it-spots. Not without its quirks, complimentary yoga mates were on hand; the hotel manager leads morning jogging sessions and a goldfish room-service facility was available for those feeling a little lonely. Guppy Love? Hopefully, that was a Star-9 call I wouldn’t be making.
Sprawling a metropolis of over 6 million, America’s fifth city was remarkably chilled – and walkable: I ambled though the city’s vibey LOVE Park, Old City, gay village and Italian district within a morning. Unlike tourist-swarmed NYC and arguably, buzz-free Boston, edgier Philly offers an more unspoilt and authentic flavour of the great American city – but that’s not its only USP. The nation’s original capital boasts tax-free shopping, an open-air arts scene (including 3000 murals) and the red-bricked townhouses of Elfreth Alley make for America’s oldest (and prettiest) neighbourhood. That’s without mentioning the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Rocky Steps, where decades after Stallone’s iconic air-punch, I still found it alive with fitness fanatics, dropping and giving twenty.
Following a tip-off, for dinner I headed to Butcher & Singer, a luxury homage to the 1940’s American dining experience. Although initially abashed by the $52 steak price-tag (and the 20% gratuity dollar signs in my waiter’s eyes), my 18oz Delmonica rib eye, served with a mouth-watering side of green bean amandine was the most exquisite meal of my life; the first mouthful rendering an audible sigh of ecstasy. I’d simply reckon with the Mastercard bill later.
Back at base that evening, I’d succumbed to curiosity. Gingerly approaching the receptionist, I leaned over his desk, and as if I were providing a password to an underground nightclub in 1980’s Manhattan, I hesitantly mouthed the words: “Can I order a goldfish?”. “Absolutely, Sir”, was the nonchalant response, as if I’d just requested a late check-out. This, was going to be interesting…
Being the city of brotherly love, I left Palomar to join the city’s sports-crazed fraternity (and sorority) at Citizens Bank Park, to take in a baseball game with The Phillies – hoping my support would bring them out of their recent spell of barren. Like any baseball game, it seemed as much about the occasion as the spectacle; the waft of my Philly cheese steak gaining more attention from fellow grandstanders than local pitcher Roy Halladay getting his groove back. We did beat the Washington Nationals however. “Right out of the park!”.
My Philly swansong ended at Chris’ Jazz Bar on Sansom Street; nightcapping with a Pennsylvanian corn whisky while enjoying the James Collins Band, a group of local uni-grads who were tinkling and tromboning to the city’s next generation of jazz lovers. Moonshined and mellow, I retired to Palomar, gingerly unlocking my room door for what awaited. And there he was. My PETA-approved, gold-fish companion complete with bowl and blood-pressure lowering credentials.
Quid pro quo, Nemo. I’d just enjoyed the perfect day in Philly but with New Jersey just across the river, there was always a risk I’d end up sleeping with the fishes.
Rates at funkily-appointed, downtown Hotel Palomar start from €77pps – goldfish: no charge. (Tel: 001 215 563 5006; hotelpalomar-philadelphia.com)