Ask a few people what the best hotel in Philadelphia is, and the odds that most of them will point you towards the Rittenhouse are pretty high. And this isn’t just conjecture: It’s been consistently placed at the top of the heap in rankings since it first opened its doors in 1989, and it currently occupies the top spot in the city on TripAdvisor, no small feat. So what exactly makes this hotel such a legendary place to stay? We recently had the opportunity to spend a couple nights there at the invitation of the hotel, so we decided to find out for ourselves.
Constructed in a prime location on Rittenhouse Square, the hotel is Philadelphia’s only member of The Leading Hotels of the World, so it’s in some pretty good company. As it was constructed in the 70s and 80s, the best we can say about its exterior architecture is that it’s unique but functional: It’s angled away from the park, allowing for a private driveway and for a large percentage of the rooms to look out directly onto the park. But once you step foot inside, a world of luxury awaits.
The lobby is all light wood, with comfortable seating and a general air of elegance (helped along by the dulcet tones of a harpist). There’s a long, light-filled hallway past the check-in area with plenty of comfortable seating, and the Mary Cassatt Tea Room beyond (more on that later).
After checking in, we headed up to our room, one of the many park-facing rooms that have been uniquely constructed to essentially have a corner window that looks out onto the park. It was super-spacious at around 500 square feet, and recently renovated with a pleasing color scheme, a table with two comfortable chairs, a corner workspace facing the windows, an absolutely massive television, and a sideboard with a Nespresso machine, mini bar, wine glasses, and ice bucket. The bathroom was also pretty stunning, loaded with marble and with a large tub and walk-in shower. Between the bathroom and bedroom was a vanity and dressing area, with a large closet. WiFi was complimentary (a nice touch), and there was thankfully no shortage of plugs, including ones on each nightstand (lighting controls for the room were also on each side of the bed, also welcome). Evening turndown service was offered at night, and there were several other hallmarks of a luxury hotel available, including overnight shoe shine, super-comfortable bathrobes and slippers, and 24-hour in-room dining.
It’s one of those hotel rooms that you never really want to leave, but if you venture out into the hotel there’s a lot to discover without ever going outside. The spa is widely regarded as one of the best in the city, with an incredibly Zen vibe and a massive menu of services (If you really want to pamper yourself, go for the Rittenhouse Ritual, with a full-body exfoliation, body wrap, hot oil scalp treatment, and shea butter massage). There’s also an in-house salon and men’s barber shop (the Indulgent Shave, complete with a hot towel steam, straight razor shave, face massage, facial mask, and scalp massage, was named one of the most luxurious in America by Esquire).
The gym is also well-stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, and the indoor pool is under a sun-filled atrium and has an outdoor terrace that can be booked for special events.
One of The Rittenhouse’s most popular offerings for both travelers and locals alike it its afternoon tea, served in the Mary Cassatt Tea Room, straight back from the main entrance. The long, elegant room has high windows that look out to a charming and serene courtyard, where guests can sit on nice days. The afternoon tea served here is about as classic as it gets, and a wide variety of teas for every taste are on offer (including the signature Rittenhouse Blend, with Ceylon bergamot, rose petals, cardamom, and borage), served with just the right amount of pomp and circumstance. As per usual, the tea is accompanied with a variety of tea sandwiches, scones, and pastries (all refined and delicious), and finished with mignardises. All teas also come with a glass of sparkling wine ($55) or Veuve Clicquot rose ($80). Needless to say, a visit to the Tea Room is a very classy way to spend an afternoon.
Tucked away on the ground level you’ll also find the Library Bar, which is an insanely upscale and classy spot for a cocktail. It’s divided into two rooms: a library/lounge, and a dimly lit and intimate bar beyond. It’s a true hidden gem, with a really nice selection of cocktails, wines, and rare spirits. While they make a mean classic Old Fashioned or Mai Tai, a visit is a great opportunity to sample some original creations, including The RH (Rittenhouse rye, bitters, lemon, and egg white), the Queen of Hearts (cherry blossom-infused vodka, limoncello, lemon, and Amarena nectar), and the Caterpillar (tequila, aloe liqueur, lemon, and cucumber agave). If you’re hungry, there’s also a full dinner menu, with offerings including charcuterie platters, beef tartare, a lobster roll, lamb shank, ricotta agnolotti, and even dry aged duck for two. Like the Tea Room is for afternoons, the Library Bar is a wonderful place to spend an evening (and a perfect date spot).
But if you’re really looking for a nice dinner at the Rittenhouse, you might as well treat yourself to one of the city’s finest tasting menu experiences at Lacriox. From its second-floor perch, its full wall of windows overlooks Rittenhouse Square, and it’s a modern and stylish white-tablecloth restaurant. Executive chef John Cichon changes the menu monthly to focus on one specific seasonal ingredient: potato in December, tomato in August, apple in September, etc. When we dined there, highlights from the meal included thin-sliced venison tataki with Bussels sprouts, caraway, and mustard seed; scallop with chestnut, green apple, and spaghetti squash; and guinea hen with sweet potato and prune. Service was attentive without being obtrusive, and the kitchen was incredibly accommodating; when we asked if there was the possibility of replacing a course that contained a couple components we weren’t big fans of with something else, they sent out plates of corn agnolotti with brown butter and black truffle that was honestly one of the finest pasta dishes we’ve ever had.
Wine pairings were also spot-on and incredibly creative, ranging from Goisot aligoté from Burgundy, 2007 Le Mont Vouvray, and The Rare Wine Co.’s Charleston Reserve’s Madeira.
It’s also worth noting that Lacroix serves what very well might be the Mid-Atlantic region’s finest Sunday brunch. The restaurant (as well as the kitchen) is taken over by buffet stations serving more than 50 individual dishes, with a raw bar, canapes, and salads near the entrance, breakfast items in a nook to the left, and hot hors d’oeuvres, entrees, the carving station, charcuterie, and desserts in the kitchen. Standouts include foie gras s’mores; branzino crudo with passionfruit, buttermilk, and coriander blossom; Spanish octopus with bok choy, pea leaf, and fried shallot; gochujang fried chicken bao bun with pickled onion aioli; khachapuri with caramelized onion, goat cheese, and quail egg; and mini buttermilk biscuits with pork roll, piperade, and comte, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Washed down with a glass of Champagne and served with all the hospitality and sophistication you’d expect from Lacriox, it’s an experience not to be missed.
The Rittenouse is one of those hotels that we wish all hotels could be like, with an effortless air of luxury and hospitality from the moment the doorman greets you at the entrance to when he closes the taxi door behind you after checkout. The rooms are unique, sun-lit and extraordinarily comfortable; the spa is second-to-none; and the food and beverage offerings are among the best in the city. If you have the opportunity to stay at the Rittenhouse the next time you visit Philadelphia, it’s all but guaranteed that you won’t be disappointed.
The writer of this article was hosted by the Rittenhouse Hotel.