Steermaster: Let Your Car Drive Your Itinerary
Libby used Digitalcity.com. She ran through a list of blues bars, jazz clubs, concerts and open mike nights. She put us on hold to call the Kimmel Center in search of symphony tickets and warned us away from a Japanese monster rock band called the Electric Eel Shock. "I lived in Japan for 20 years," she said. "You don't want to do this one." Finally she made her recommendation: "This sounds like fun," she said, and read: "The Continental Martini Bar, drawing wannabe models and professionals. You know, there's a martini bar near here where they serve chocolate martinis." In Dallas, she meant, not Philadelphia.
What We Found: The Continental was a fine place for a drink -- and even better for two drinks. An old diner at the edge of Penn's Landing, it's been converted to a trendy connoisseur watering hole with an upbeat attitude. The hip young servers are clad in stretchy black, like cat burglars, and the decor is sophisticated retro and deceptively roomy.
As we came into Philly, Dan got lost. It wasn't on purpose, but we were delighted. We hit the button and asked for directions to the Marriott. The OnStar operator fixed our coordinates and talked us -- control tower-like -- through every turn, down the Ben Franklin Parkway, around City Hall and practically into the hotel garage.
We barely had to time to call OnStar back with my question on art movie houses. John, from Los Angeles, never even put us on hold before coughing up the Roxy on Sansom Street. "They have 'Bowling for Columbine' and 'Dark Blue,' " he said. "You should see 'Bowling for Columbine.' I loved it. I think it's probably going to win the Oscar for Best Documentary."
We liked John and asked him to help with the crucial restaurant pick. Seafood, we agreed. "Well, the Striped Bass gets good reviews," he said after a few minutes of pointing and clicking on the West Coast. "It's in an old bank, unique decor, moderately expensive. For something more casual, there's also Benny the Bum's Crabhouse and Bar, but it looks like Striped Bass has all the buzz."
What We Found: The Striped Bass was a home run. It was stunning to look at, foodie without being off-putting and delicious from the mixed green salad to the seared scallops to the chocolate torte. The Roxy is a great old art house in the old Biograph or Key Theater mode, and "Bowling for Columbine" -- hilarious, frightening and relentlessly irreverent -- may well win Best Doc in two weeks.
The next morning, it was Concierge Julie who pointed us to the Blue in Green for breakfast and the Degas exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
What We Found: Blue in Green was a good combination of competent pancakes and comfort home fries in a trendy, Sunday-paper setting. The Degas exhibit looked like a fine, garden-variety blockbuster exhibit, but Dan didn't want to pay $20 to walk through it, so instead we paged through the souvenir catalogue in the gift shop.
Julie even came through with our request for a good independent bookstore. We walked to a few false leads (the promising-sounding Brentano's on Chestnut is actually owned by Borders). But she finally struck gold with Hibberd's.
What We Found: Hibberd's turned out to be a thoughtfully culled, reasonably priced used-book store on Walnut. But we later learned that the Joseph Fox Bookshop just a few blocks away is widely regarded as Philly's best indie bookstore.
By this time, we were giddy with the power of on-demand concierge privileges. That was clear when we hit the button to ask Concierge Tracy, "What the hell did they do with the Rocky statue that used to be on the steps of the Museum of Art?" She came back within seconds. "He's now in front of the First Union Spectrum," she said.
On the way back down I-95, we got our old friend John from Los Angeles for this one: "Who played Adrienne in the 'Rocky' movies?" He didn't even bother to Google it.
"That was Talia Shire, the sister of Francis Ford Coppola," he said with come-on-give-me-a-tough-one smugness. "She was also Don Corleone's daughter in 'The Godfather.' "
What We Found: Talia Shire, the sister of Francis Ford Coppola, played Adrienne in "Rocky" and Don Corleone's daughter in "The Godfather."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company