Ring, ring. Ring, ring. That’s the sound of freedom jingling through the hallways and rooms of the Independent Hotel, a new breed of lodging in downtown Philadelphia that is, frankly, liberating.
The 24-room hotel in a particularly gay-friendly section of Center City does not fit squarely inside a well-defined box. Simply put, it’s a mutt of a place. Open for three years, the hotel serves comestibles such as cheese, fruit and muffins, but it does not have a kitchen, thereby disqualifying it from carrying the full-service label. (If you need to cook a mini-mart meal, the rooms come with microwaves and fridges.) It also lacks a fitness center but provides free passes to a multi-level facility around the corner. Parking is also nearby, and the staff point you to the cheapest lot. Listen to them.
Standing at only four floors tall, plus the ground level where you catch the elevator, the Independent offers the homeyness of a bed-and-breakfast without treading on its guests’ personal space. Breakfast, for example, is a behind-closed-doors affair: Upon arrival, I received a card with a list of a la carte items (cereal, fruit, yogurt, juice, etc.) and a check-here box beside each one. Come morning, I heard a quiet thud outside my door; breakfast was served. Yet unlike B&Bs, with their preset chow times, I could eat my meal inside at my leisure. And, best of all, I could choose my own a.m. company — myself and HBO.
The Independent characterizes itself as a boutique hotel, and while the decor leans toward broodingly arty, I did not feel as if I were trapped inside MoMA or a starving artist’s head. I could knock around the room like a bull in a shop of unbreakables. The lamps were solid, the dressers capacious, the bed frame sturdy enough for a brief trampoline session.
In the 1920s, the Georgian Revival building housed a printing press, and the hotel incorporates some of the old industrial elements into its new design: hardwood floors, brickwork that runs through some of the bathrooms, and ceilings so high I imagined clouds would eventually float by.
Though it would take a sharp eye to notice, no two rooms are alike, thanks to such subtle differences as the placement of the furniture and the angles of the ceiling. And while I peeked into some of the other rooms, including the queen loft suite (fit for high-maintenance royalty), I didn’t feel booker’s remorse. I liked my room just the way it was, a tasteful confusion of shiny black curtains with a velvet crest pattern, an animal-print rug and furry brown pillows that speak to all of us who still maintain a closet of stuffed animals. The tall arched windows overlooked the neighbor’s courtyard, and the hum of chatter drifted up to my room, allowing me to feel social without having to actually utter a word.
I crawled out of my swanky cave for the evening cheese, cracker and wine soiree, held in the living room-esque lounge, where an ensemble of couches gathered around a fireplace. The seats filled up as the bottles of malbec and pinot grigio slowly emptied out. One natural conversation piece is the fetching 30-foot painted mural of Independence Hall by Kim Senior, which climbs like ivy on the wall behind the check-in desk. For deeper discussion, you can chat about the photo collages of iconic Philly scenes that dress up the elevator rotunda and the rooms.
When I asked Rob, who was working at the front desk, for help in finding some of these landmarks, he showed me their whereabouts on a map. Then sent me off on my own. Free again.