Visit Philadelphia goes beyond the cheesesteak

05-11-2017 11:28 am

When president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia Meryl Levitz drove her car across the Canadian border yesterday, she told the border guard that she was entering Canada to promote Philadelphia.

“His response was: ‘I know. It’s more than just cheesesteaks, right?’ I then said to myself: ‘Well, our work is done!’” Levitz told PAX, explaining how the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has become known for so many more things beyond Philly cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell.

The latest food, arts and history-focused happenings in Philadelphia took center stage last night (May 10) at a lively media reception, hosted by Visit Philadelphia, at Toronto’s picturesque Gardiner Museum.

“Canada is a really important market for Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania,” Levitz told PAX at the event, noting that Philly sees more than 500,000 Canadian visitors annually, making Canada its largest international market.

IMG_4294.jpgPresident and CEO of Visit Philadelphia Meryl Levitz at Toronto's Gardiner Museum last night.

A 90 minute flight or about an eight hour drive away from Toronto, Philadelphia is located mid-way between New York City and Washington D.C. The city is also reasonably close to the Jersey Shore.

“Canadians can combine a trip and make it a multi-city trip. It’s an easy thing to do,” Levitz told PAX.

Still pumped after an eventful two years – notably a visit by Pope Francis in 2015 and the Democratic National Convention in 2016 – Philadelphia continues to raise the bar with attractions, giving people new reasons to visit the historical city.

Last month, the Museum of the American Revolution opened in Philly’s popular Historic District, telling the story of “how we got a country, our constitution…the story of the war, and how regular people risked their lives and fortunes,” Levitz explained. “It’s a wonderful museum.”

The city scored another touchdown, so to speak, that same month when it hosted the 82nd NFL Draft (when National Football League teams select eligible college football players to add to their rosters).

The three-day event from April 27-29, which took place outdoors on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, gave some 250,000 excited fans an opportunity to participate in interactive sports experiences and get autographs from current and former football players.

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, too, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The occasion will be marked by many events and celebrations this September.

Ben Franklin Bridge Skyline_B.Krist.jpgThe Ben Franklin Bridge Skyline. Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia.

“We know the exchange rate isn’t the best, but we want to remind you that there’s no sales tax on clothing and shoes,” Levitz told last night’s crowd, generating laughs. Levitz also noted that hotels and restaurants in Philadelphia are more affordable compared to places like New York City and Washington D.C.

The city offers overnight hotel packages that include Indego bike share passes, Philly PHLASH passes (a transit program that stops at 22 different attractions) and free hotel parking.

Philadelphia, the second largest city on the East Coast, fits into a grid of 25 blocks laid out between two rivers – the Delaware and the Schuylkill. “It’s a supremely walkable city,” Levitz said.

The city has recently reclaimed its waterfronts with new parks, Levitz said. Its restaurant scene is booming, too, thanks to the rise of sidewalk cafes (“20 years ago we didn’t have any,” said Levitz) as well as Philly’s popular BYOB – “Bring Your Own Bottle” – program, which applies to select restaurants.

The latest buzz on Philly’s foodie scene is the opening of Maison 208, a New American, French-influenced eatery, spearheaded by executive chef Sylva Senat (who, notably, appears on season 14 of TV’s Top Chef).

masison.jpgChef Sylva Senat's Maison 208, one of Philly's newest resturants, is scheduled to open this month. Photos courtesy of Stephen J. Yaeger.

Senat was present last night to speak on Philly’s food scene. “It really feels like one big kitchen,” Senat told guests, who were treated to samples of one of Senat’s smoked salmon recipes.

“[Chefs in Philadelphia] have a togetherness about themselves…we are a big collective. We truly help each other out,” Senat said.

Maison 208, which is scheduled to open at 208 South and 13th Streets in Philly’s midtown village in the next two weeks, will be a two-storey, open-air establishment with birdcage chandeliers and a retractable roof (a Philly first).

The chic venue will be accented by a whimsical, 80-foot-long, hand-painted mural by artist James Burns that weaves into the restaurant from outside, up to the second floor.

Burns, a staff artist at Mural Arts Philadelphia, was also on hand last night to speak about Philly’s arts scene (the city has a collection of 3,500 public murals), and to lead guests in a mural painting activity.

Despite recent political rhetoric from U.S. President Donald Trump, Philadelphia’s tourism board reaffirmed its position as an open-minded and welcoming city. “We welcome everyone,” Levitz told PAX. “You can be yourself in Philly.”

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