There are few places in America with a richer history than Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin flew his famous electricity-seeking kites there, the Quakers settled in the area to escape religious tyranny, and Betsy Ross sewed flags in her quaint cottage home in this city. While history remains one of Philly's draws, a new surge of hospitality and culture is seeping into the City of Brotherly Love, particularly with the 2012 opening of the Kimpton's group Hotel Monaco Philadelphia. Earlier this fall, I paid a short visit to the vibrant hotel and was captivated by its artful design and delightful spirit.
For recreation, modern-era kites inspired by Franklin can be checked out for afternoons of flying in Independence Park, home of the Liberty Bell and just across the street from the hotel. The comfortable bikes are complimentary to guests for city cruising, as well as hula hoops in the fitness room for a more engaging morning workout after a run. There's even a special yoga mat roll-out service for the fitness elite.
Another aspect of the brand is their “at home” appeal. There are no lobbies, but rather living rooms, at all hotels where nightly wine tastings are hosted by the managers. Pets, no matter the size, are always welcome, and guests are encouraged to ask front desk staff for any forgotten essential items (curling irons, fashion tape, tooth brushed) at no charge. For frequent travelers rarely at home or those fatigued of "big box" hotel experiences, Kimptons are a lovely and consistent alternative.
Progressive design is typically found within the 60 hotels across the county, and the Hotel Monaco is perhaps one of the groups' most audacious projects yet. Todd Avery Lenahan of TAL Studio in Las Vegas, an international interior designer of mega hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental in Russia and the Wynn resorts in Asia, was called upon to outfit the 11-story historical building. At first glance, the absurd oranges, blues and purple palates that enclose spaces filled with Chinese vases, exotic calligraphy brushes, thick tapestries and African spears is arresting. However, Lenahan's skill doesn't disappoint as one delights in the artful way the hotel embodies the regal home of a well-traveled and lively host. It somehow works flawlessly.
One can spent a good hour admiring every wallpaper application, artifact, and plush armory of the hotel, noticing the careful custom detail each element, much like a refined home would have. Upstairs at Stratus, the city's only true indoor/outdoor rooftop lounge, Gulla Jonsdottir of G Plus Design in Los Angeles completed the look of the space with chic uses of feathers, a 40-foot long fireplace, and a concrete bar. In the winter, giant glass garage doors help enclose the space so up to 300 guests can still admire Philly's skyline while sipping hot ciders.
Despite its worldly whimsical interior design, the exterior of the property is demure, and fittingly so. A turn-of-the-century, high-rise of a trust-fund heir, the gray building resisted a condominium conversion in the early 2000s, thanks in part to historical groups' protests. The Kimpton group snatched up the abandoned building in 2011, promising to make its twelfth adaptive reuse development project a stunning revitalization for the city.
Indeed, in addition to the meticulous restoration by architecture firm Genseler, the Hotel Monaco earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certificate, the second for the Kimpton group’s Philadelphia hotels. Achieving such certification requires creative and dedicated environmental practices, including the use of reclaimed wood from barns in the ceiling paneling to low VOC paints.
Hotel Monaco Philadelphia is the fifth Kimpton property I've visited, and one thing is unfailingly upheld with this hotel group: the emphasis on fun. Extra large leopard print robes hang in the room’s closets and goldfish can be adopted for the duration of a stay, to "allow travelers the opportunity to enjoy stress-free bonding throughout their stay." It’s a sentiment that is wholly felt during a stay at this refreshing property.