Some people claim Philadelphia is the 6th borough (of New York). I would argue that the Philly swagger is a completely unique brand of individual attitude, and that the two hours separating New York and Philadelphia is enough distance to appreciate their not-so-subtle differences.
At the heart of Philly, for example, the Kimpton Hotels have a friendly rivalry that pits their superior customer service and deluxe amenities against each other. The Palomar and The Monaco unofficially compete against each other for local awards, and at the time of my visit, it was expressed with delight that the Monaco staff owed lunch to the Palomar employees for having won a recent bet for the most reviews on a prominent travel website.
True to Kimpton’s reputation for exceptionalism, the Palomar received nearly as many votes as the Monaco. Still, for this thoroughly impressed traveler, there was no need for competition between the two, as both exemplified levels of elegance, sophistication, and outstanding customer service so high, that there was no room for choosing wrong.
My first night in Philadelphia started in the ritzy Rittenhouse Square district at the Kimpton Hotels’ Palomar. Housed in the old Architect’s Building between a handful of small, local restaurants and one of Center City’s main shopping thoroughfares on Chestnut Street, the Art Deco building had been immaculately restored in an environmentally friendly style (the only hotel in Philadelphia touting LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council). This is true standout in the hotel world, and we applaud Kimpton for their industry innovation and demonstrating their concern for our natural resources in a way that most in the industry do not.
Beyond being kind to the earth, the Palomar is easy on the eyes as well. The main lobby area welcomed me with its quirky art installations (see the triple colored busts of Ben Franklin and metal solders rappelling down the wall) and polite, attentive front desk staff members who promised to promptly deliver bath salts to my room. Once in the room, the I happily received the complimentary bath salts in anticipation of the luxurious soaking I would experience, taking advantage of the cavernous jacuzzi tub. But before my bath, I blissfully eased in to the lush, classically modern room. The queen size bed passed my personal stringent comfort test, and the view from the 15th floor of the Schuylkill River, West Philadelphia and its horizon was breathtaking at sunset.
Going beyond the expected high-class and tasteful décor of the room, the Kimpton folks provided luxuriously fun surprises such as a bowl of truffle oil popcorn, lush bathrobes for relaxed lounging, and the generous opportunity to raid the well-stocked, complimentary mini-fridge. In addition, each guest is given a card for a complimentary glass of wine from the extensive collection at the hotel’s elegant restaurant/bar, Square 1682. The well-appointed restaurant attracts a large swath of Philly’s most fashionable, so be sure to get there early to grab a seat, as seeking out the signature craft cocktails and outstanding new American cuisine, seems to be quite a coveted evening affair. The menu offers a thoughtful takes on classic American cuisine, while the ambience of both The Palomar and Square 1682 embody the sophisticated, energetic Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. (And, the Palomar’s location makes late night dancing in Center City an easy choice!)
The Palomar’s cross-town rival, The Monaco, certainly takes things to a different level. To start, the hotel is in the impressive historic Lafayette Building, a stone’s throw away from popular Philadelphia visitor hot spots like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and a few blocks away from Old City’s diverse shops and restaurants.
In the grand hotel entrance, an outrageous crystal chandelier in the shape of a wide-sailed ship guides guests to the main lobby area. A collection of paint brushes from around the world – donated by the interior designer’s personal collection – line the wall behind the reception area. Here, a handsome, whimsically large desk is the only thing separating you from the reception staff, ensuring a close and sweetly personal interaction when checking in and out. The main lobby area is called the “Living Room.” It is brightly decorated, and coffee table books on design, color and fashion are provided for casual perusal while people watching.
Wine tastings every evening at 5pm for guests are a big draw, and with the commencement of the holiday season, hot toddies were served as well. In addition to the excitement provided by the company party that was in full swing in the ballrooms, there is also a popular rooftop bar/lounge that turns in to a veritable night club on the weekends – The Stratus Rooftop Bar. Expect to see Philly’s glammed-up locals patronizing this spot.
But one wonders why how long a visitor would want to explore the historic sites or hang out with a cocktail under the heat lamps on the roof deck when there is the opportunity to luxuriate in the lavish, vibrantly decorated hotel suite? My rooms were colorful and whimsical (with light-hearted high end touches such as a Dalmatian dog lamp and Liberty Bell wallpaper), the bed passed my test (again with flying colors), and the walk-in shower and huge soaking tub indeed had me taking my time getting to my appointments. The view from my room at the Monaco was again stellar. The timeless brick facades of Old City to the east and south spread before my eyes, and below me was quaint and quiet Signer’s Square, where a statue of a man representing all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence looks up to the heavens. (Or was he looking at me?!) I also truly appreciated the dedication the Kimptons have for green luxury, with its comprehensive EarthCare program that ensures stringent, environmentally friendly practices are a part of the entire visitor experience – reminding us that green hotelling doesn’t mean sacrificing sophistication.
But the Monaco, like the Palomar, offers far more than elegance and lux-quirkiness. The staff members provided top notch customer service, were attentive to all of my needs, and they seemed to honestly enjoy answering my excessive inquiries about entrance to the rooftop lounge, the history of the building, and the amenities available to guests. While I did not get to experience the Monaco’s restaurant, Red Owl Tavern, we heard rave reviews from other travelers about the gourmet seasonal cuisine served up here. The Kimptons made my weekend unforgettable! I cannot wait to come back to Philadelphia.
– Shira Siegel