Philly Marathon Included in Forbes Article About the DNC Coming to Philadelphia This Summer
40 years ago, Philadelphia’s most famous fictional character, Rocky Balboa, rose up from the streets, got his shot at the big time, got the girl, and eventually went on to become Champion of the World (in the sequel). The real life Rocky, then unknown actor Sylvester Stallone, enjoyed a similar success story – he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for his script, Best Actor for the role, and his homegrown movie won Best Picture, while becoming the highest grossing film of America’s Bicentennial. In short, Philly helped both Rocky and Stallone live the American Dream.
40 years later, Stallone and Rocky are making their first return trip to the Oscars, with a Best Supporting Actor nod for Creed, and 240 years after the Founding Fathers gathered here at Independence Hall to sign the Declaration of Independence (they also adopted the Constitution in the building), the DNC is coming to the City of Brotherly Love to hold its nominating convention (July 25-28), which is already shaping up to be more interesting than many pundits thought it would be.
In an earlier piece I took a look at why Cleveland, a city enjoying a dramatic rebound and impressive tourism growth, was a great choice for the Republicans and the RNC Convention. So how about Philly?
From a political point of view, the city has an outstanding track record, starting obviously with the First Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. But it has also hosted the DNC twice before, and the RNC an impressive six times, including the party’s very first convention in 1856. From a media and audience perspective, a whopping one-quarter of the U.S. population lives nearby, within a five-hour drive. For the Democratic faithful, then presidential hopeful Barack Obama delivered one of his most famous speeches, “A More Perfect Union,” at the National Constitution Center here in 2008. All this makes the city a pretty good backdrop for political theater.n Valley have in common?
The Convention will attract a lot of visitors, some of them first timers, and lot of national media attention. From a tourism perspective, Philadelphia deserves the national stage. It has a treasure trove of iconic American historical attractions rivaled only by Boston, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park, Carpenters Hall, the National Constitution Center, Declaration/Graff House (where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence), the Betsy Ross House, Congress Hall (the old home of the U.S Congress), and Christ Church, where Colonists broke away from the Church of England. The newest addition is the One Liberty Observation Deck on the 57th floor of One Liberty Place, with wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling windows, interactive kiosks about Philadelphia landmarks and other exhibits, just opened at the end of last year.
From a culture perspective Philadelphia is an art mad city. Movie fans know its famous steps fromRocky, but the Philadelphia Museum of Art has quite a bit inside as well, a world class collection spanning more than 2,000 years, including sculptures, paintings, textiles, arms and armor, photography, prints and drawings. The Barnes Foundation relocated to its new Philly home less than four years ago, but dates to 1922 when Albert Barnes established it to promote education and appreciation of fine arts and horticulture. It has one of the world’s most important collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings, along with Old Master works, Native American jewelry, antiquities and African sculpture. In recent decades, Philadelphia has become known as the City of Murals, with the most influential mural arts organization in the world. Started as an anti-graffiti initiative in the 1980s, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has created 3,800 public works throughout the city and is truly one of a kind. Every March, the city blooms, literally, with the nine day Philadelphia Flower Show, a huge attraction that is easily the largest flower show in the United States, a massive production dating back more than 186 years. It is held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The city is also home to the National Museum of American Jewish History, a Smithsonian affiliate.
I’ve always had a personal soft spot for Philadelphia, where I ran the most successful marathon of my long recreational running career. I’ve written quite a bit on the subject, and always recommend Philly as great first marathon for those just moving up to the distance, and it is held concurrently with a wonderful half. It is among the most attended, best organized, and most rabidly fan supported-races in the nation, but is much easier to get into than New York or Boston. The route, flat and always ranked in the nation’s top ten for marathons, showcases some of Philly’s less obvious but impressive tourism sites, running along beautiful paths flanking the Schuylkill River, and through the nation’s single largest municipal park complex. Fairmount Park spans more than 10,300 acres with gardens, Japanese gardens, trails, and museums. It includes the Philadelphia Zoo, the country’s very first, renowned for its captive breeding programs and consistently rated among the best.
Whether you run or not, you’ll want to work up an appetite for Philly’s underappreciated food scene, something I have covered a lot in my writings on American regional cuisine. While best known for the ubiquitous cheesesteak, which first time visitors simply have to try, the city’s real contribution to America’s sandwich canon is the Italian pork sandwich. This is sliced roast pork dripping broth with broccoli rabe and provolone, it is uniquely Philly, and it is utterly delicious (I recommend John’s Roast Pork, but Tony Luke’s and DiNic’s are both excellent alternatives). DiNic’s is in the Reading Terminal Market, a must for food lovers, one of the nation’s best established food halls. It is home to every major Philly specialty and Bassett’s Ice Cream, America’s oldest purveyor of America’s most beloved dessert, since 1861. The other famous Philadelphia food specialty is the soft pretzel, and the city also has a great craft beer scene.
What many foodies do not know about is the city’s amazing BYOB scene. Liquor laws here are especially convoluted, so many restaurants forego booze altogether. The result is two-fold: most obviously you save a lot of money by bringing your own wine. But because restaurants nationwide make a lot of money on liquor margins, there is a theory, to which I subscribe, that Philly restaurateurs simply have to do their food better in order to survive, making their revenue on food and only food. This elevates every kind of cuisine in the city, while making it a bargain place to eat well.
The one meal you should not miss while visiting Philly is City Tavern, arguably the oldest restaurant in the United States, where George Washington and his fellow patriots would meet regularly to plot. Chef Walter Staib is the Emmy Award winning host of the PBS series A Taste of History, the author of four Colonial era cookbooks, and for more than 20 years he has cooked up historically accurate Colonial food, including Martha Washington’s chicken pot pie recipe. It is very good food in a truly one of a kind setting, like a trip back in time – wait staff even wears period clothing.
Since the Four Seasons closed (a new one is opening in 2018), The Rittenhouse has firmly assumed the mantle of top luxury hotel in Philadelphia, with great service, great food, and an unbeatable location. It has a Forbes 4-Star rating, the city’s only Forbes 4-Star restaurant, and was just awarded AAA 5-Diamonds for the 25th straight year. The other classic choice is the Ritz-Carlton, and newest luxury player is the just opened Logan, part of Hilton’s design centric Curio collection. The Logan is in the heart of downtown with a broad selection of attractive food and drink outlets, including a rooftop lounge opening this spring, an art gallery, and a full spa. Other top choices include the incredibly pet friendly Loews, Le Meridien, Sofitel, two Kimpton Properties (Monaco and Palomar), and the Rittenhouse 1715, a boutique hotel set within a 113-year old mansion.
All of this explains why Philadelphia was named the first and only UNESCO World Heritage City in the United States last year, and why it is a pretty good choice for a big, high publicity event like the DNC.