On par with New York’s original Waldorf-Astoria, the Bellevue-Stratford was the center of Philadelphia social and cultural life in the first decades of the twentieth century. A gathering place for the city’s elite, it’s where they’d get married, throw charity balls, have club meetings, and rest their heads. Fifteen U.S. presidents stayed at the hotel, which was called the “Grand Dame of Broad Street.” Upon its 1904 opening, it was called the most luxurious hotel in America, with the country’s most magnificent ballroom and lighting fixtures designed by Thomas Edison himself.
So what happened to the Bellevue-Stratford? After undergoing several ownership changes and renovations over the years, it’s today called the Hyatt at The Bellevue Philadelphia, and not only does it still retain much of the opulence that it did on the day it opened, after a weekend there at the invitation of the hotel, we can also say that it’s still a spectacularly lavish, well-run hotel and venue with a superb bar and restaurant, and with a recent multi-million dollar renovation, Hyatt has done a great job of seamlessly blending the old and the new.
The hotel has had some significant work done since its Gilded Age glory days; after some rough years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was converted into a mixed-use space, with the first 11 floors being converted into office space, a shopping area and food court going into the basement, and significant changes being made to the lobby, which is now primarily home to high-end shops (thankfully, due to painstaking restoration, much of its original detailing is still in place, and it’s no challenge to visualize it as it appeared 100 years ago). The two-tiered ballroom is still there and is just as grand as it always was (weddings were taking place in each of the hotel’s ballrooms throughout the weekend).
The hotel entrance is now through a smaller lobby that originally served as the private ballroom entrance (be sure to take a look at the stunning marble and hand-worked iron elliptical staircase leading up to the ballroom), and 172 guest rooms now only occupy the top seven floors. Our room had high ceilings, a spacious closet, and plenty of antique fixtures; the bed was extremely comfortable, and the overall impression was one of timeless elegance. There’s also a spacious gym for those looking to get some exercise, and plenty of meeting rooms, as well.
The hotel’s top floor is home to XIX (Nineteen), which is divided into three separate rooms: a dining room, a café, and a cocktail bar in-between. The opulent bar (above) is dominated by huge arched windows and Corinthian columns, lending the room a classical feel; leather booths, a great happy hour, and a solid cocktail list make this a popular spot for locals after work (the views are also spectacular). The casual all-day café and its mirror-image restaurant were formerly ballrooms, and they’re both simply stunning: Huge, round rooms with soaring domed seating, plenty of original architectural embellishments, and massive arched windows with a handful of prime outdoor tables on the terrace. Also on the top floor is the Rose Garden Ballroom.
Chef Ned Maddock recently took over as chef de cuisine, coming over from his position as executive sous chef at Marc Vetri’s Lo Spiedo. His menu is upscale but surprisingly affordable: Offerings include cioppino, grilled Spanish octopus, lobster risotto, roast half chicken, salmon with chick peas and turnips, steak frites, Aspen Ridge ribeye, and several creative fish dishes. Our crab cake was full of crab (very little filler, always nice) and complemented nicely by a tomato jam, and a seasonal corn soup was creamy and bursting with fresh corn flavor. Roast chicken was juicy and perfectly cooked, and the only disappointment of the evening was the steak frites, which was topped with a maître d’ butter so inundated with anchovies that its pungent fishiness completely overwhelmed the steak. The steak itself was nicely cooked, however, and the shoestring fries were crispy and addictive.
The Hyatt at The Bellevue isn’t just a great hotel, it’s an architectural marvel and an underappreciated historical gem. Even if it’s just for a cocktail at XIX, you should make it a point of including a visit in your itinerary the next time you visit Philadelphia.