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The Millennium Philcon

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August 2001

Gardner Dozois's Ad-Hock Guide to Philadelphia Restaurants and Tourist Stuff


Good restaurants near the Marriott and the convention center:

There's a MCCORMICK & SCHMICK'S, a good Seattle-based seafood chain, about a block away from the Lowe's hotel, down Market Street on the corner nearest City Hall (which you can't miss; cuts right across the end of Market Street, the street the Marriott is on). Two blocks from there, down Broad Street (which runs at right angles to Market, and which is the city's broadest street, appropriately enough), is a CAPITAL GRILLE, an expensive D.C.-based steakhouse chain (we ate at one in Chicago). Another block or so from there, around the corner west on Walnut Street, is MORTON'S OF CHICAGO, another good, though pricey, steakhouse chain. Further west down Walnut Street, about four or five blocks total, is THE STRIPED BASS, an upscale, pricey seafood restaurant (if you saw THE SIXTH SENSE, it's the restaurant Bruce Willis's wife is eating in). Also on Walnut Street are the famous LE BEC FIN, which I believe is our only four-star Michelin restaurant, (but you may need to make reservations weeks in advance, and it is price fixed at about $80 to $100 per person, wines not included), and its somewhat more informal cousin, THE BRASSIERRE PERRIER. Not far away is PASION, a good Nuevo Latino restaurant (which is the latest hot restaurant wave to hit Philly—there's another good one, CUBA LIBRE, on Second Street between Market and Chestnut Streets, a bit closer to the hotel), the continental restaurant LE DEUX CHEMINEES, for which you probably also need to make reservations well in advance), and the restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, THE FOUNTAIN ROOM, for which ditto.

The convention center sits right on the edge of Chinatown, which also gives you a wide range of dining options. There's a good Asian Fusion restaurant (the LAST hot dining wave to come through town) called JOE POON'S, within two blocks of the convention center (there's another, more expensive, and for which you'll probably need a reservation well in advance, a bit further away, called BUDDAKAN), and good dim sum is available daily at THE IMPERIAL INN, also two blocks away from the convention center; there are also Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in Chinatown these days. And right next to the Marriott is the Reading Terminal Market, one of the oldest farmer's markets in the country (housed in the bottom of the old Reading Terminal railroad terminal building, with part of the convention center extension built OVER it), with dozens of food stands, where you can get anything from Pennsylvania Dutch food to cheesesteaks (it's closed Sundays, though). Also in the front part of the Reading Terminal Market building, the Market Street side, is a bistro called THE INDEPENDENCE BREW-PUB; a fairly ordinary upscale bistro/brew-house type of place, but one convenient to the convention center (actually in the extension of the convention center, or the walkway from it, anyway, to Market Street), and one which is enough tucked-away from sight that it might be less busy than the Marriott coffeeshop and sports-bar for lunch, until the fans find it, anyway; be warned, or notified, depending on what you like, that it features "live music" on weekend nights. (If you actually WANT to try a cheesesteak, the best one in the city is at JIM'S STEAKS on South Street—the city's hick "bohemian section"—at the corner of 4th Street; if you listen to George R.R. Martin and get talked into going to PAT'S STEAKS instead, in the Italian Market, either go by day or get somebody to drive you—do NOT walk there at night, as the neighborhood can be fairly dangerous late at night.)

The best old-style Jewish deli in the city (although not, strictly speaking, a kosher deli) is FAMOUS DELI, on the corner of 4th Street and Bainbridge Street, a block south of South St. It's only open during the day. For those of you so inclined, 4th Street between South Street and Bainbridge Street is also Philadelphia's center for tattoo parlors and piercing places, which line the street on both sides.


Downtown "Center City" Philadelphia is set up on a grid plan, with numbered streets running north-south, increasing in sequence as they go from east to west (so that 12th Street is west of 11th St., and so forth) and named streets (many named after kinds of trees) running east west. The area is bordered by the Schulkyll River on the West, and by the Delaware River on the East, and, for our purposes, by Arch Street to the North and South St. to the South. Market Street is the main east-west street, and it intersects Broad Street, the main north-south street; the City Hall complex sits at the place where they cross each other (Broad Street would be 14th Street, if it was a numbered street. Directions are often given as "West of Broad St., East of Broad St., etc. The Marriott is on Market Street, between 12th Street and 13th Street, right next to City Hall. The Convention Center is a block north of Market, on Arch Street, between 12th Street and 11th Street.

Most of the Historic Tourist Stuff is to the east and south of the Convention Center and the Marriott, and almost all of the most famous Historic Tourist Stuff is within an easy walk of either. First thing you'd come to, headed east down Arch Street, away from the Convention Center, after passing through Chinatown, is the African American History Museum, at 701 Arch Street. A block or so from there is the Jewish History Musuem (closed on Saturday) at 55 North 5th Street. Walk south from Arch Street, and you'll see a long green section of park to the south. Independence Hall is the colonial-style building with the clock tower you'll see rising up in the distance, but the first thing you'll come across, just off of Market Street between 5th Street and 6th Street (so you could get here by walking straight east down Market Street from the Marriott as well, if you want to skip the History Museums), is the Liberty Bell, Philly's most famous tourist attraction, now housed in a low plastic-and-glass building that looks vaguely like a Taco Bell stand. I've never understood all the fuss about the Liberty Bell myself, especially as it was so undervalued by the colonials and post-colonials that they tried to sell it for scrap on several occasions, but if you must see it, there it is. If there's a long line to get in to see it, I'd recommend skipping it myself, but that's your call, and it is the one thing that most people want to see in Philadelphia, for some odd reason, even if they see nothing else (you can get pretty close to it once inside, although not as close as you could before some nut-case attacked it with a sledge-hammer a few months back). Continue walking south, through the park, to reach Independence Hall, which IS worth a look-around, and even a guided tour, if the line for such isn't too extreme. Independence Hall fronts on Chestnut Street, between Fifth Street and Sixth Street. Behind the Hall south, there's a nice shady square, and you can walk slantwise south across Walnut Street from there if you'd like into Washington Square Park, one of the original four city parks designated during the planning of the city; it's only a block wide, but nicely green and shady. Space nuts will want to note that at the beginning of the Park, on the corner of Walnut Street and Sixth Street, there's a "moon tree," planted from seed taken to the Moon and back by astronauts; it looks just like any other tree in the park, but tourists stop every day and look at it and read the plaque anyway. The old Curtis Publishing building, across Walnut Street to the north, has a glass mural by Maxfield Parrish in it. MOST tourists, however, are going to want to turn east down Chestnut Street from Independence Hall, to where the bulk of the historic stuff is. Much of the whole area south of Chestnut Street, between Chestnut and Walnut Streets, from Independence Hall east to the Delaware River, is actually a National Park, the Independence National Park, complete with Park Rangers. The most-hyped tourist attraction here is The Betsy Ross House, which, in my opinion, is a major rip-off (once you pay to get inside, they admit that it's not REALLY Betsy Ross's house, but one that's probably "a lot like it"). If you want to tour historic buildings, tour the ones in Independence National Park, or go to the Todd House at the corner of 4th and Walnut Streets; it's a guided tour, but tickets can be bought at the nearby Visitor's Center. You don't need tickets to tour Franklin Court, just off Market Street between Market and Chestnut Street, between 3rd Street & 4th Street (314-322 Market Street); Ben Franklin's House is no longer there, exactly, but it's represented by a hollow OUTLINE of his house, done in plastic girders. It's very postmodern; Bruce Sterling LOVED it. There's lots of historical artifacts in the museum there, and you can peer into Ben Franklin's actual privy pit: what more could you possibly want? Well worth a visit. A few blocks further east, almost to the river, walk north up 2nd Street a few blocks (about four, I think; you may have to pass Arch Street) to come to Elfreth's Alley, a block-long street that's been "preserved" as it was in colonial times, with people in colonial costumes offering house tours; also well worth a look. (A note to British visitors: Philadelphia is loaded with stuff about our Proud Struggle against the tyrannical British; this may or may not be bad history, but it's the way it's told here in the City of Brotherly Love, and you're just going to have to brace yourself for it!)

Most of the Tourist Stuff nearest the hotel is history-oriented, but that's not all there is to see; there's also a lot of non-historical stuff, most of it to the west of the hotel, west of Broad Street. Philadelphia has a world-class Art Museum, at 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, sitting right across the end of the Parkway, which itself is Philadelphia's answer to the Champs-Elysees (quite deliberately so), so that you can see it coming up in the distance for almost a mile. In addition to paintings, the Art Museum features collections of arms and armor, and reconstructions of ancient buildings, such as a Chinese temple and a Japanese tea-house; the grounds behind and to the side of the Museum, the Alzala Gardens, are also lovely on a fine day. Although it would be a long haul these days for an old fart like me, I guess the Art Museum is technically within walking distance of the hotel. It'd be about a $7 to $10 cab ride from the hotel, and is also accessible by public transit. (A note: Philadelphia can be very hot and muggy in the summer; if you're intending to do extended walking outside, take a hat, sunscreen, and water.) On your way up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the hotel to the Art Museum, you'll pass through Logan Square, a large traffic circle with an impressive fountain in the middle of it, and Logan Circle is also ringed with Museums. The best-known one is probably the Franklin Institute, the Science Museum; I frankly never thought that it lived up to the standards of the Boston Museum of Science, which I was brought up on, and consider it faintly dull; there is a fair amount for kids to do here, though, including the most popular thing, walking through a giant replica of a human heart (the inner chambers of the human heart tend to be marred with graffiti and smell faintly of urine, it turns out, which explains a lot). Attached to the Science Museum is an Imax Theater, which I believe will be playing a Cirque Du Soleil presentation during the week of the convention, which might be worth seeing. Across the street from there, on the south side of Logan Circle, is the Academy of Natural Sciences; this is basically a stuffed zoo, agate-eyed animals in glass cases, but there's a good Dinosaur Exhibit on the ground floor which kids will love, with many if not most of the murals and paintings done by local dinosaur artist Bob Walters. On the north side of Logan Circle, in case you can't find enough to read at the convention, is the Main Library.

Another good museum, the University Museum, is just across the Schulkyll River on the edge of West Philadelphia, at 33rd and Spruce Street. The emphasis here is on archaeological exhibits; if you like mummies and Egyptian stuff, you'll like this place; there are also lots of American Indian artifacts. This is even further from the hotel then the Art Museum, but probably no more than a $10 buck cab ride unless traffic is rush-hour snarled. Also a longish cab ride (take your car if you have one with you), somewhere in the same price range, but definitely worth a visit, is the Philadelphia Zoo, at 34th and Girard, the oldest zoo in the country. This is a small zoo, but nicely landscaped and with some good exhibits, and the sight of rhinos lumbering about under old stone buildings with Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs under the eaves is one you can't get in any other zoo I've been to. (There is an Aquarium, across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, but while taking the water-taxi over there makes a nice outing, the Aquarium itself will not impress anyone who's seen the Aquariums in Baltimore or Monterrey.) Also well worth a visit, and one of the most unique museums in the world, is the Mutter Museum at 19th South 22nd Street; if you want to see rows of diseased penises bobbing in jars, bottles with deformed fetuses in them, giant cysts, photos of colons as big around as manhole covers, skulls with iron pipes stuck in them, bones with bullets still embedded in them, and a lot of stuff about Chang and Eng, the famous Siamese twins, this is the place for you. Believe it or not, this is one of the most popular museums in the city, and people have been known to detour hundreds of miles out of their way just to visit it. (Don't miss the gift shop, where you can buy the famous Mutter Museum calendar! Which is mail-ordered by people from all over the world.)

If you're REALLY bored with the convention, there's the usual range of music clubs, dance places, concert and theatre venues, movies, and so forth, but I'll allow you to look that info up for yourselves. More info about Philly tourism can be found on

Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction and the annual Year's Best Science Fiction collections, and is a resident of Philadelphia.

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