Philadelphia Weekend: The Lokal Hotel Fishtown + a New Stephen Starr Restaurant

It’s no secret that BlackBook loves Philadelphia – we’d often make weekend visits centered around shows by the likes of PJ Harvey, M.I.A or The Strokes. So when a few post-Covid invitations were extended, we found ourselves enthusiastically boarding Amtrak at Midtown’s new Moynihan Train Hall, a gloriously welcome option to depressing Penn Station across the street, and were soon alighting at Philly’s equally elegant 30th Street Station. 

Our specific destination was the recently opened hotel Lokal Hotel in hipper than thou Fishtown, north of downtown and along the Schuylkill River. Though to call the Lokal a hotel is a bit deceiving, as it dispenses with many of the things we normally associate with a hotel – you know, like a lobby, front desk…and staff. Instead, it provides the independence of a rental apartment, while including the things you have in yours, like a kitchen with high quality olive oil. Plus it boasts the sleekest layout and design of any apartment you ever imagined yourself living in – unless you have lots of money and are an interior designer.

Housed in an old industrial building in the shadow of the El train, one accesses the Lokal, and the rooms, through a keypad using a code that has been emailed to you, and then in minutes is disappeared forever. Seriously, no one had actually seen us enter the place – we were staying undercover. 

Evidence of Fishtown’s increasing gentrification is its many brick-strewn vacant lots and construction sites, which we imagine will be morphing into fancy condos before long. But for now, they merely added to the slightly rough and tumble image of the hood.

That night, however, we were off to the posh, non rubbley part of town – notably Logan Square and the vigorously trendy Vernick Fish on the ground floor of the Four Seasons hotel, as we had been invited to a James Beard Foundation event that was part of their initiative to support local restaurants. Our special menu included snapper w/ lime, ginger, onion and peanut; prawns in tamarind, and black pepper–glazed skuna; bay salmon w/ green papaya and cabbage salad; aromatic coconut sticky rice and fresh cilantro – and though it was specific to the event, it was genuinely indicative of the experience on any given evening at VF. (Sample dishes from the everyday menu: saffron tagliatelle w/ spicy tuna bolognese, grilled black sea bass in lemongrass broth, whole branzino a la plancha…)

As a city with one of the richest histories in the nation – you know, the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, and all that – it’s no surprise that Philly has some of the best museums in the country (we’re particularly inclined towards the Barnes Foundation). But we couldn’t pass up a visit to the Franklin Institute – with all its scientific marvels – as our presence was requested at the world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition, described as the most comprehensive touring show ever presented about the Wizarding World. It’s a fully immersive experience, with props, costumes, and wall size screens – the absolute highlight being the Hogwarts Pensieve, where we think our life flashed before our eyes.

Much as we were tempted afterwards to return to Logan Square and practice our “Expecto Patronum!”, we can never really set foot in Philly without making a stop at the spectacular Reading Terminal Market, the massive, 130-year-old public food mecca fitted into a historic warehouse at 11th and Arch. Boasting 26 restaurants, plus an incredible selection of locally grown and exotic produce, locally sourced meats and poultry, seafood/sushi, cheeses, baked goods, confections, and housewares, we could have stayed there all afternoon – but instead just grabbed a quick and delicious salmon curry from the Little Thai Market.

Despite being the sixth largest town in the country, Philly is surprisingly walkable; and as the eastern riverfront area has been developed over the years to include a picturesque walkway, we found the three-and-a-half mile trek back to Fishtown an excellent afternoon activity. Plus it gave us a chance to check out the indie boutiques, vintage stores, and hipsterrific bars and restaurants in the area.

One of those was Stephen Starr’s new LMNO Philly, the 19th Philly entry in his considerable culinary empire. The frenetically buzzy hotspot was located just a couple of blocks north of the Lokal, and not only delivered on the food front, with an exciting menu of Baja Fusion – think lots of grilled fish and meats washed down with lots and lots of high-grade mezcal – it’s also an art gallery, bookstore, and music venue. In fact, we’d seen the current Night Fever exhibit of sexy pix from the Studio 54 disco era at NYC’s Museum of Sex awhile back – but it was just as electrifying the second time around. Sitting at the bar surveying the packed main room made us aware that Fishtown had indeed become its own micro-society.

Back at the hotel for a final night, we luxuriated on the handmade leather couch with a nightcap from the bar cart, trying to invent a reason to stay longer. Alas, it was not to be – but at least checking out of the Lokal was as simple as leaving one’s apartment.

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