The brand-new LeMeridien in Center City
TODAY BEGAN WITH COFFEE AND A CROISSANT at the Reading Terminal Market, an indoor foodie paradise the likes of which no city should be without (though I know of no other such place anywhere) — scores of stalls, from butchers and bakers to candlestick makers, literally. There are outposts of old-school Italian bakeries, Amish cheese makers, stalls selling Provençal linens and beeswax scented candles, handmade chocolates and unusual flowers — everything varied and fresh and reasonably priced.
We stopped in to the Wood Turning Center in Old City, a unique gallery whose current exhibition, “Magical Realism,” features a major work, above, by Randall Rosenthal, my neighbor in Springs – one of Randy’s extraordinary, carved-from-one-piece sculptures. This one is a creative jumble of pads and notebooks, so realistically carved and handpainted you could well mistake it for the real thing.
Then Nancy and I drove 30 miles south into Delaware’s Brandywine River Valley and spent the afternoon at Winterthur, above, the well-known 200-acre estate belonging to Henry Francis DuPont. His 175-room mansion is crammed with important American furniture and antiques. It’s more museum than historic home (H.F. removed bathrooms and kitchens to make more room for the display of objects). The interior of the house, which was built in the late 1800s and twice added on to before H.F.’s death in 1969, is intentionally a pastiche of styles, with little architectural integrity of its own. A fanatic collector, DuPont salvaged moldings and paneling and floorboards, even staircases, from various sources, composing some rooms in Federal style, others in Colonial fashion, and so on.
For me, the highlights of our hour-long intro tour of just two of the seven floors were the rooms with wraparound scenic wallpaper – one with Chinese vernacular scenes of the 1700s, above — and the big blowsy flower arrangements, specifically required by H.F. in his will.
We took a tram tour of the grounds, which are gorgeous — all rolling hills and meadows with grazing sheep and ancient cherry trees and sycamores. As an arboretum, Winterthur is unsurpassed, but overall, the experience paled in comparison to yesterday’s exhilarating visit to Chanticleer.
Returning to Philly in the late afternoon, we drove up to Fishtown for a look around, and had a beer at Standard Tap (I’m not much of a beer drinker, but the beers at this place are all local and on draft). We had dinner, on my son Max’s recommendation, at Southwark in Queen Village, a civilized change from the noise and madness we encountered the night before at El Vez, Steve Starr’s gimmicky, wildly popular Mexican restaurant in Center City.
We’re camped at Le Meridien, a sleek two-week-old hotel in a 10-story Georgian Revival building that has been done up by the Starwood chain in mod Eurostyle, top, above, and below. It’s fun walking into the lively lobby bar and reception area, where the building’s original carved decoration is set off by crisp 21st century furnishings, dramatic lighting, and abstract art. The hotel’s location couldn’t be more central – it’s right behind City Hall and next to the park with Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow: a visit to several small private gardens in the Mt. Airy section, where I’ve never been (participants in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program), and a final stop at Greensgrow Farms in Kensington on the way back up 95, where I hope to find some out-of-the-ordinary annuals.