Philadelphia for the Thirsty–and Hungry
By Kurt Jacobson
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
It’s tough duty being a travel writer. There are times when we have to chug beer, sip wine, and down cocktails to gather intel for our dear readers.
However, when an email message said that I was invited to historic Philly as a pinch hitter in place of editor Max Hartshorne, I was ready to step up to the plate.
Philadelphia is my neighbor an hour and forty-five minutes-drive north. Every trip I’ve had to the city of Brotherly Love has been memorable. Since this trip was a beer, wine, food, and cocktail-fueled theme, what was not to love? I was not aware there was a substantial craft beer scene in Philly and was ready to check it out.
The temperature upon arrival at 3:30 p.m. was a scorching 99°. The Renaissance Hotel located one block from Independence Hall was our lodging.
This recently renovated pleasure-palace was perfect for our travel writing adventure.
As soon as I entered the hotel, I noticed the bar was front and center, a sight that would be replicated often during my stay.
Once we all were checked in and settled, the lead tour guide assembled us in the lobby for the first taste. A bus was waiting to take the seven of us writers to the south side.
A Beer-loving Culture
Dock Street Cannery and Tasting Lounge is no stranger to the Philly beer-loving population. This craft beer was launched in 1985, making them Philly’s first such brewery in modern times. Notably, this woman-owned brewery and restaurant occupy an old firehouse on South 50th Street.
Known for excellent pizza and craft beer to wash it down with, the crowd was loving life as we entered and proceeded to drink up and eat up. I loved the Summer Haze Pilsner-type beer and it paired well with their buffalo chicken pizza. After dinner and plenty of beer we headed off to explore the cocktail culture of Philly.
We arrived at an old South Philly building, called Edward Bok Vocational School. At the Bok Bar located on the 8th floor, we beheld a full-on view of the Philadelphia skyline in all its glory.
The large crowd was loud and filled up most of the outdoor terrace in a colorful celebration of Friday.
Sadly this was not to be, as just after arriving on the terrace, the dark foreboding clouds unleashed an alcohol-squelching downpour that chased us inside where some 100+ partiers tried to stay dry in a lobby area meant for about 30 at best. We instigated plan B and summoned our bus for a trip back to our hotel.
Back At The Bar
The Franklin Lounge inside the Renaissance was classy and quiet. We indulged in cocktails and conversation while a solo performer belted out vocals on top of recorded instrumentals for our small group.
The well-stocked bar had wines, cordials, and ample mixers for creative cocktails. They even had my favorite Grand Marnier 1880 for $35 per snifter! Around 10:30, most of us departed the lounge to get some rest.
Saturday morning started warm and moist, typical for July. We were undaunted by the weather, being professionals at this type of summer travel.
Off to Chester County
Our big adventure this day would be a drive to the wine country of Chester County, south of Philly.
Sporting 14 wineries and just under 20 craft brew choices, there’s lots to see and drink up in this pastoral part of Pennsylvania. Paradocx Winery was our only stop on this Chester County visit. Started by two docs, hence the name, this place cranks out several varieties of wine.
It’s important to note that most Pennsylvania wineries also sell craft beer and distilled spirits! If you have a beer/distilled spirits loving friend or family member that doesn’t like wine, they won’t feel left out as you visit wineries in the Keystone State.
Time For A Tour
We took a short tour and tasted their pinot blanc, oaked chardonnay, merlot, and tea-infused wine. Paradocx Vineyards got my attention when they told us some wines come in paint cans.
Instead of using a box for the 4-bottle bladder, they use paint cans with classy artwork by Alice, one of the owner’s mom. Too cool!
We had a delicious four-course lunch and wine that was surprisingly good. The chef, Elizabeth plied our palates with shrimp and arugula salad, intense mushroom soup, penne ala vodka sauce, and an egg custard dessert that was fabulous.
Paradocx has a Sunday brunch for $17.95 that draws a crowd each week.
After our trip to the countryside, our bus took us back to Philly to re-group at the Renaissance Hotel. Our next stop was the Independence Beer Garden, a large open-air party spot.
Over 100 happy beer lovers were drinking up the cold beer ignoring the hot weather.
Just as we reached the steps to the beer hall, the dark skies opened up and started raining in hurricane-like fashion. A wet trend was starting to develop when we approached a drinking stop on the tour.
We huddled near the center of the beer hall to stay dry as the crew scrambled to find all eight of us a dry table at this partially covered outdoor venue.
Cooler Weather Ahead
One good thing about the rain was it lowered the temperature to a comfortable 80°. We ordered beers, chicken wings, fried pickles, and pretzels to eat drink and be merry until it was time to head out to dinner.
The rain quit some 30 minutes into our beer stop allowing me to wander around and get some photos of the party crowd.
There were customers playing ping-pong, corn hole, and drinking games all around the expansive beer hall. The location is easy to find. It’s just across the street from the Liberty Bell.
Philly has a long history of beer making, something to be expected when you see how much they love pretzels here. I wonder what came first, their love of beer or pretzels?
With the rain gone, the crowds of tourists resumed covering Independence Square. Camera in hand I walked about shooting photos of all the historic buildings and happy tourist.
The historic district is in full swing in summer. Visitors come from all over the world to see the birthplace of liberty.
Next Stop, French Fare
With the beer hall checked off the list we walked to our next stop. , The Royal Boucherie French restaurant is the product of chef/owner Nicolas Elmi.
Nick is a two-time James Beard-nominated chef of undeniable talent. We loved the charcuterie platter containing three kinds of foie gras creations, cured meats, and spreads.
Due to the rain, we didn’t get to eat in the outdoor courtyard upstairs. But we did get to savor entrees like lobster rolls, uni and crab spaghetti, and steak frites.
Royal Boucherie is open for lunch, dinner, and brunch. Their wine list is a mostly French-themed affair, with wines to please the most discerning guest.
Another Cocktail Stop
With dinner over, we boarded our group bus again for a trip to Manatawny Still Works Craft Spirits Shop and Tasting Room on Passyunk.
By now I was feeling mostly full and satisfied. Since I rarely drink distilled spirits, I bailed out just five minutes into the Manatawny stop and relied on reports the next morning for opinions.
Back at the hotel, I wasn’t ready for bed at 10 p.m. so I sauntered into the Franklin Lounge. There I indulged in a snifter of Grand Marnier 1880, a rare splurge, and thought about the wonders of Philly.
The City of Brotherly Love is genuinely welcoming. Our Canadian friends in the group recounted an incident where they witnessed a fallen pedestrian in the street and saw several bystanders rush to help.
They told us about a similar incident in Canada near their home when no one came to the aid of a similarly stricken pedestrian. When visitors from another country say how impressed they are with Philly, that says a lot.
Safe And Fun To Walk
I walked through the city for two and a half days feeling welcomed and safe. There is so much to see, do, eat, and drink in this friendly place, no wonder people brave the heat of summer to visit.
To finish up in style, my wife came up on the Megabus and we had brunch together at Talula’s Garden.
This local’s favorite was just a ten-minute walk from my hotel to Franklin Square. To have Talula’s baked goods, amazing entrees, and sides with a mimosa is as good as brunch gets.
The trip was so much fun I hope to return in fall when warm days and crisp nights are perfect for wandering Philly conducting further research. After all, two and a half days in Philly were not enough!
Disclaimer: Even though my trip was sponsored by Visit Philadelphia, my opinions are my own.
Kurt Jacobson lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent many years as a professional chef. Now he travels the world and shares his stories here and on other travel websites.