Center City Chic: A Pleasure-Filled Visit to the New W Philadelphia Hotel

In a recent Hallmark holiday movie, a character from Vienna asks one from Philadelphia just what her city is like, and the latter answers, “It’s kind of like the Vienna of America.” Funny thing is, she may just have a point, when you think of both cities’ deep connection to their glorious histories. Indeed, each was once the capital of an empire – and now both are more dedicated to the art of good living than to cultivating political influence.

Speaking of good living, it does seem as though we have been waiting for a decade at least for W to make a home in Philly – even though it would appear to be a marriage of destiny. After all, the city has a vigorous nightlife scene, yet was very much lacking for a hotel that can regularly draw in the party people. Of course, no one knows how to crank up the fun like W does – and following the “at last” opening of the W Philadelphia in November, we quickly made plans to check in and check it out.

And upon entering the lobby on a brisk December morning, we couldn’t help but but feel an immediate sense of W-ness all around us. Clusters of shiny giant Christmas balls were arranged as if perhaps imagined by Jeff Koons, and three massive, quite surreal looking columns sprawled up onto the ceiling like fossilized prehistoric sea creatures. One had to marvel at the sheer theatricality of it all.

Then, as we checked into our plush corner suite, and switched on what was obviously designed to be mood setting lighting, it was hard not to hear a sultry ’70s funk riff playing in our head. Bright lights are for workaholics, after all – and the W clearly wanted us to put down our phones and get down, even at 10 in the morning. This was made especially clear by the extravagantly stocked mini-bar (more like maxi-bar, in this case). And the views also demanded attention – out the window in one direction were the iconic 1929 PSFS building and the Schuylkill River – in the other and almost close enough to touch was Philadelphia’s majestic City Hall.

Said views were best enjoyed whilst twirling about in the stylish “swing” chair positioned near the floor-to-ceiling windows – though we were careful not to swing over into the imposing column seemingly holding up the ceiling nearby. In the also moodily let bedroom, the bedspread was amusingly done up in an original creation called Philly Toule, with cheeky images of a muscly Ben Franklin. We quickly made good use of the prodigious freestanding soaking tub, which you could almost fall out of bed into.

Then touring around the hotel a bit, one thing that was immediately noticeable was the sense that this was perhaps a somewhat new paradigm for W, feeling a little less nightclubby, and definitively more grown up. To wit, the pinkish, 7th floor AWAY Spa (aesthetically inspired by Sofia Coppola‘s Marie Antoinette) felt like a destination unto itself, and could literally be your whole reason for checking in. The year-round pool down the hall also seemed designed more for a health-conscious swim than as just a place to enjoy a floating cocktail. The beauty zone even featured some serious art: large scale wallpaper prints of Marilyn Minter’s neo-feminist works Kicksilver and Goldkicker.

Enough can’t be said about the hotel’s location on Chestnut Street in Center City, putting it right between the perpetually happening restaurant scenes of both S. 18th Street and S. 13th Street. But the W offers every excuse to stay on the property, which is exactly what we did. The signature Living Room lobby lounge, for instance, was a abuzz even in early evening, with its extravagantly eclectic design including high-backed Shaker “granny” chairs that actually looked like they should rock, but probably only really do after a few too many La Toxia tequila cocktails. All the cleverly mismatched furnishings most definitely brought to mind Philippe Starck, while the glittery banquettes and dozens of Damien Hirst looking skulls behind the bar reminded us that we were definitely not at a Park Hyatt.

It was also a nice touch that they dedicated a section of the drinks menu to “Citywides,” which are all mixed using locally brewed and distilled beers and spirits – for instance, the Side Jawn, made with Love City Lager and Dad’s Hat Rye. But with winter’s chill just outside the front door, we went for The Cozy Up, which sublimely appealed to our love of all things nutmeggy and whatnot. We kept it local too, with the cheese steak egg rolls, accompanied by a ketchup hot enough to probably detox your entire body. (There was actually something very Philly about the brashness of it.)

But we didn’t want to overdo, as through a doorway on the other end of the super vibey lobby awaited Dolce, the W’s sophisto Italian eatery, a spinoff of the Miami restaurant of the same name. In addition to the urbane crowd and energetic bar scene, Dolce offered what we needed most of all since being cut off from European travel: it felt like being in Italy…specifically Fellini’s Italy. To be sure, the flecked flooring, dark wood paneled walls and retro globe lamps really did give the place a cool, retro feel, like it was air-dropped from 1960s Rome’s Via Veneto.

What caught our attention first was the wine selection, as a trendy restaurant with most wines by the glass under $15 is a genuinely classy move in these inflationary times. (Though if you’re feeling flush, the Brunella Donatella Colombini makes for a nice splurge at $40.) And while we perused our options, we particularly enjoyed that the flakey, sfogliatelle style bread so mellifluously soaked up the olive oil. There was a terrific complement of specials, from PEI mussels to duck tortelli en brodo w/ kabacha squash, and a speciality pizza w/ rosemary bechamel and toasted wild mushrooms. But as the wisdom goes when eating Italian, pick a simple pasta dish whenever possible; and we ultimately paired our crisp glass of Vermentino with an impressively flavorful truffled spinach ricotta ravioli w/ brown butter sage sauce…and it was nothing short of absolutely sublime.

As we stood up to exit, in the background we could hear Sting imploring Roxanne not to “put on the red light,” and then we noticed a fellow diner wearing a “Pain Fear Irony Despair Death” t-shirt (it’s from The Crow, should you not immediately recognize that particular bit of nihilist manifesto). And we thought that, yes, the W had managed to cultivate exactly the sort of scene we love to come to Philadelphia for.

No doubt, we hope to reschedule a cancelled 2020 trip to Vienna to this year – as well as get back to our general all around Euro hopping. But for that moment, we couldn’t have thought of anywhere else we’d rather be.

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