A self-confessed Yankophile like myself can never get enough of the buzz of NYC, the manic glitz of Vegas, the charm of New Orleans, the energy of Chicago or the glamour of Los Angeles. But I discover an intriguing sense of place on the Eastern seaboard in three cities where a rich past seamlessly weaves itself into a vibrant present. A quick peek under the surface of lesser known Washington, Philly and Boston.
The Evergreen State
Washington, a city of impressive monuments and boulevards resonates with a distinct Parisian sensibility. We are at the beautifully located Four Seasons Hotel and naturally we budget time to enjoy their 1,600 pieces of original art on display, impeccable service and in-house dining (Seasons for high-powered breakfasts and Bourbon Steak for the bestWagyu steak and grills).
But just outside, charming Georgetown (where the Kennedys once lived) with its labyrinth of food and shopping are waiting to be explored with our lovely guide Alicia Malone. We stop at Hu’s Shoes and check out Marlene Hu’s handpicked inventory from around the globe, The Phoenix – a 50-year-old, family-owned boutique with stunning fine jewellery, grab a key lime cupcake at Georgetown Cupcake, get Instagrammed on the infamous The Exorcist stairs from the 1973 horror flick. Then head to the museums before closing hours.
At the Museum of American History, part of the impressive Smithsonian complex, Victor Bonilla, the chatty docent takes us on a one-on-one tour dishing the dope on everything from Abraham Lincoln’s top hat to the first StarSpangledBanner, the Inaugural Ball gowns worn by first ladies including Michelle Obama’s red chiffon number by Jason Wu and the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
The Source, a fine restaurant headlined by Wolfgang Puck in the Newseum Complex is a must visit. Their menu is quite spectacular — spicy clouds of raw tuna in delicate seaweed sesame cones, suckling pig tender enough to fall off your fork and homemade chocolate chip cookies. For Indian food chef Nilesh Sanghvi at The Bombay Club works his spicy magic with his mushroom and corn samosas and lamb vindaloo.
The Newseum, a sleek six-story building with a fascinating array of fast-paced exhibits conveying the true spirit of journalism over five centuries. It was tough to tear ourselves away from the stunning exhibits of Pulitzer prize-winning photographs and 127 newspapers from around the world with breaking stories from the last century. You can spend all day at their 15 theaters, 14 galleries, two state-of-the-art broadcast studios and a 4-D time-travel experience.
Local restaurateurs offset the drag of expensive liquor licenses by encouraging a happy BYOB culture, our guide informs us as we check out The Fork – a delightful tavern run by Ellen Yin who reportedly changed how Philadelphians dined when she opened in 1997. Their menu covers unusual salads, (we tried an excellent medley of root veggies in pear vinaigrette), daily-changing house-baked breads served with unusual butters and soft cheeses, excellent duck, rabbit and steaks.
The City of Brotherly Love
Philadelphia is steeped in history and boasts of a rocking dining scene that covers four centuries. A tour of the Liberty Bell and Assembly Hall where the American Constitution was actually drafted will give history buffs a big kick and it is easy to do if you are staying at the comfy, well-located Wyndham Philadelphia-Historic District hotel, just minutes away from America’s most historic square mile. The two museums we checked out were amazing.
First, the Barnes Foundation with its mind boggling art collection courtesy Albert C Barnes that has 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses and dozens of Old Masters, set in spacious gardens which unfortunately for us were covered in snow. In the evening, we joined local art lovers at the Great Stair Hall at the impressive Parthenon like Philadelphia Museum of Art for ‘an art after 5’ Friday evening, when the whole place comes to life with singers, musicians and couples spontaneously dancing amidst the stunning art displays. One of the touristy things to do here is to take a picture on the impressive Rocky steps next to the larger-than-life statue of Rocky Balboa himself.
For some period culinary drama, chef Walter Staib’s City Tavern replicated from 1773 to the last detail, tops the list. The candlelight dining here is delightful as you dive into the richly flavoured pepperpot soup, colonial turkey pot pie, roast duckling or Thomas Jefferson’s sweet potato biscuits washed down with ales made from George Washington and Benjamin Franklin’s recipes — all served by costumed wait staff.
I could personally spend everyday at The Reading Terminal Market eating and people watching – a place with over 80 food and produce stalls.It is really hard to choose between the stuff from Amish merchants and their demure bonnet clad daughters making fresh pretzels, cookies, pies and sticky buns, Dinics award winningly delicious hot roast beef and pork sandwiches, gorgeous lozenges of sushi-grade ahi that could make tuna freaks weep, tubs of cooked crabs and mussels, Peking duck , sweet potato fries and strange chocolate covered onions. All with a pianist playing everything from Chopin to ragtime in the background.
City On a hill
Boston is a great walking city,easy to explore in fine weather with comfy shoes and a subway Charlie card. History is everywhere — traces of Paul Revere’s ride, the Battle of Bunker Hill and the infamous Tea Party — still linger among the cobblestone streets, pretty red brick lanes and gas lights of neighbourhoods like Beacon Hill which our guide Maria Speridakos describes as ‘Boston at its most Bostonian’ — 19th century elegance yet home to hip boutiques, trendy restaurants, and young, affluent professionals.
We stayed at Taj Boston with the feel of a luxurious private residence and an unbeatable view of Newberry street. There is so much to see in Boston but on a limited schedule and a host of literary tours we set off for a 360 degree aerial view of Boston from the Skywalk Observatory, stopping on the way at the Magnificent Boston Public Library, filled with art, murals and sculptures set around a Renaissance-style courtyard.
Ivy League calling
Even if you are not looking for admission, a short train ride away is Harvard University, set in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To get a real sense of its impressive halls, iron gates, ivy-covered walls, and historic student societies, we took a student-led tour. Vince, our young guide, a senior at Harvard majoring in Japanese culture, astrophysics and ancient Greek history, among other things, kept up a steady stream of anecdotes and information. Among other things, we learned that John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard, merely a donor, and his statue in the centre of the square, with groups of tourists clicking away, is not really his but that of some random nephew, and it’s not a great idea to copy the crowd and rub his foot either which has been buffed to a nice shiny gold.
He did advise us to pop into Harvard Coop, their bookstore that also carries a wide selection of Crimson-themed gear, artwork, and expensive souvenirs — we loved the books, not the overpriced crimson memorabilia.Vince also suggested we check out the student hangout – Greenhouse Café in Havard square just for the cool vibe. But we opted for The Beat, an upscale pub where burgers nestle in fluffy buns with aioli and crisped onions, lamb ribs are smoked to crisp tenderness and a big bowl of seafood cioppini arrives bursting with tender scallops, giant shrimp, fresh mussels and calamari in a thick tomato onion and fennel broth with grilled french bread.
Parker House Rules
Back in Boston, we head for the sculpted bronze doors of Omni Parker House, America’s first luxury hotel, a Boston landmark since 1855. At the fabulous Parker’s Restaurant, with its sparkling Waterford crystal chandeliers, we get a serious case of the goosebumps as we discover that almost every American President dined here – John Kennedy made his first public speech at seven, announced his candidacy for US Congress and proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier. It is also the place where Longfellow drafted Paul Revere’s Ride, Dickens gave his first American reading of A Christmas Carol and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh served as a baker. The famous Boston cream pie, Parker House rolls and Boston Scrod (made with the fresh catch of the day) was invented here. Now the chef deliciously combines classic New England cuisine with contemporary-American flair—fresh lobster rolls, blue point oysters and fresh arugula salad.
Text by: Jackie Pinto (The writer was invited by Brand USA)