• March 2012

Why Philadelphia's Elite Wine, Dine, and Rest at Philly's Bellevue

By Hope Gibbs
Be Inkandescent

Called the “Grande Dame of Broad Street” since it opened for business on Sept. 20, 1904, the Hyatt at The Bellevue is one of Philadelphia’s premier properties.

Owned and managed by millionaire George C. Boldt, who was earning a whopping $3,500 a day in 1900, Boldt also built the palatial Boldt Castle on Heart Island. Both properties have played host to kings, queens, presidents, and millions of well-to-do guests.

The big picture: While attributes such as true grandeur, unrivaled style, and lush amenities are often used to describe some of the country’s top hotels, these are indisputably apt adjectives for this opulent downtown Philadelphia hotel.

Indeed, the Bellevue embodies them all. But the full story of the hotel can’t be told without mentioning Legionnaires’ disease, which acquired its name in July 1976 following an outbreak of pneumonia among people attending a convention of the American Legion.

The causative agent was identified as a previously unknown strain of bacteria, subsequently named Legionella. Because the fatality rate of Legionnaires’ disease ranges from 5 percent to 30 percent, outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease receive significant media attention. And rightly so.

But rest assured, the Bellevue has worked hard to regain its status as a high-class, bacteria-free establishment.

A Rom With a reView

Since our goal is to provide our readers with suggestions of great places to stay when traveling for business—or when they just need a great weekend getaway—we give the Hyatt at the Bellevue four candles.

Here’s why.

The lobby: From the moment you step inside the lobby, you’ll find old-world architecture adorned by modern amenities.

After checking in, do tour the facility, which includes a 93,000-square-foot sports club, and the hotel’s XIX (NINETEEN) restaurant that sits atop the Hyatt at The Bellevue, providing breathtaking views of the city.

The service: Particularly noteworthy is the attention that the staff focuses on guests. For example, when the concierge accidentally gave me the key to an already occupied room, a plate of handmade cookies and bottle of Merlot greeted me when I returned from dinner that evening.

The rooms: From comfortably roomy sleeping quarters to ridiculously large suites, the bulk of the hotel’s guest rooms are appointed with the traditional decor you’d expect from a hotel oozing with old-world style. Of course, each room also features a flat-screen TV and iPod docking station. Bathrobes and daily newspapers are also included.

But since many guests—international and domestic—now favor hotels with a modern look, dozens of the rooms are undergoing a major renovation. The urban make-over includes a granite-topped wet bar off the main room, glass-enclosed shower stalls and granite counter tops in the bathroom, and balconies that overlook the interior of the hotel’s courtyard—an expansive area featuring a working fountain that is ideal for wedding and baby showers, and other medium-size events.

The suites in the hotel, however, are another matter. These two- and three-bedroom affairs could pass for a nice-size apartment in Manhattan. They feature a large living room area, giant bedroom (or two), and a dining area.

The extras: Anyone planning a special function, meeting, or Philadelphia wedding is sure to find luxurious options in the 30,000-square-feet of event space at the Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel.

The spaces range from intimate meeting rooms and the romantic Rose Garden Ballroom to the light-filled, 12th Floor Conservatory. Another option, the breathtaking Grand Ballroom, is a two-tiered balconied room with original Thomas Edison-designed lighting that illuminates one of the most celebrated marble and hand-worked iron elliptical staircases in the city. Complete meeting services are available to make sure every event is memorable.

The restaurants: The royal treatment continues at XIX (Nineteen), which was renovated in 2006 for $4.6 million.

Happy Hour: The money for the renovation seems well spent, given the hip, romantic bar featuring fantastic views and a fun happy hour, where the specials are slightly less expensive than a full-course meal. For about $25, you’ll get a glass of wine and an appetizer; while the crab cake for $16 is delicious—and it’s just one cake. So if you are hungry for seafood, opt for the more plentiful portion of calamari ($12) or the beer-battered fish and chips ($18). Other bar snacks range from a plate of shoestring fries ($6), flatbread pizza ($11), Angus cheeseburger ($18), and mushroom risotto ($13/$26).

Lunch is another story, for the XIX Cafe Lunch has got to be the best deal in the city. For only $22, plus tip, you start your meal with a selection from a buffet covered in fresh salads, meats, cheeses, and baked bread. Plus, you can choose one entree: Pappardelle Pasta, pizza (with grilled chicken, manchego cheese, and roasted-pepper sauce), XIX steak (with sprouts and celery root), a grilled vegetable Panini, or the fresh fish of the day. Then it’s back to the buffet to choose from a selection of freshly baked mini cakes, parfaits, and individual desserts. A soft drink or glass of freshly brewed iced tea is also included. All this, and a magical view of the city, make just lunch at the Bellevue worth the trip.

Dinner at XIX, as you would imagine, is an extravagant affair—but one that’s more affordable than you might guess. For starters, go for the oysters (6-12 pieces for $18-$36) or the artisan meat-and-cheese tasting ($28). For the main course, specialties include steak frites ($26), sautéed Pennsylvania lake trout ($23), and pan-roasted, organic chicken breast ($24). Dessert, each $9, includes your choice of such clever concoctions as butterscotch Mason jar cheesecake, deconstructed apple cobbler, or PB&J cake.

The bottom line: Expensive, but worth it. A trip to the Bellevue may be the quintessential example of, “you get what you pay for.” Whether you stop in for a drink or a meal, a night, weekend, or a week-long stay, do take the opportunity—weather permitting—to step outside of XIX and enjoy the view from one of the restaurant’s three balcony lounges. On a balmy evening, it is truly sublime.

Inkandescent rating:

Four candles out of four.

For more information, or to make a reservation, click here.