Only 100 miles from the bright lights of Broadway, Philadelphia has a thriving theatre scene. Along with national road shows of popular comedies, dramas and musicals at the Academy of Music, Kimmel Center, Merriam Theater and Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia has a wealth of local theatres, including America’s oldest; showcasing a range of productions, from the traditional to the alternative and experimental.
Working as a hotel concierge, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to attend many performances. These are my concierge recommendations which highlight several of the top independent theatre companies in Philadelphia.
For your convenience, I have also included suggestions for the top restaurants and bars in Philadelphia that are conveniently located near these venues.
I hope you enjoy this Traveler’s Guide to the best independent theatres and restaurants in Philadelphia!
Producing three main stage shows and several limited engagement comedies each season, 1812 is the only professional theatre company in the country dedicated to comedy. In 2010 they were honored as one of only 10 theatres in the country to receive a National Theatre Company grant from the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards. Their annual political satire, This is the Week That Is, is an area favorite. Jennifer Childs is the 1812 Artistic Director and frequent writer, actor and director. Her original plays, I Will Not Go Gently and Why I’m Scared to Dance illustrate why she has become a Philadelphia treasure.
–Fine Palate: New American cuisine, globally inspired.
–Monk’s Café: Belgium cafe featuring world-class beer, mussels & frites.
–Parc: Famed restaurateur Stephen Starr’s authentic French bistro. Savor the freshly baked bread basket.
–a.bar at a.kitchen + Bar: Sip cocktails at this prime Rittenhouse Square location and enjoy the people-watching.
–The Franklin Bar: Expertly crafted cocktails at this “speakeasy” venue.
The Arden productions include a wide range of classic and contemporary, intimate and epic, fiction and non-fiction, musical and dramatic. They stage works from great playwrights as well as sharing the voices of new writers for audiences of all ages and offer an outstanding educational program as well as community outreach. Favorites include August: Osage County, Caroline or Change, Clybourne Park, (staged at the Arden weeks before opening on Broadway), and Sunday in the Park with George, which received national critical acclaim.
–City Tavern: Historic dining experience in a historic building, complete with colonial cuisine & costumed waitstaff.
–Fork: Elegant, casual New American neighborhood classic. Be sure to order a bread course.
–Continental: Owned by Stephen Starr, Philadelphia’s premier restaurateur and one of the hottest night spots in Old City featuring global menu and extensive martini list.
–Revolution House: Old City’s only rooftop deck.
–Mac’s Tavern: Owned by the actor who plays Mac on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
–Olde Bar: Iron Chef Jose Garces contemporary oyster saloon pays homage to its location where Bookbinders was, for many years, one of Philadelphia’s top restaurants.
–Franklin Fountain: Handmade ice cream served at a fully restored historic soda counter.
Productions at InterAct Theatre Company focus on commissioning new and contemporary plays with social resonance that value artistic risk, civil engagement and diversity. For the 2016-2017 season InterAct moved into their new home at The Drake.
(See below for dining recommendations).
PTC produces, develops and presents entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience that ignites the intellect and touches the soul. PTC has participated in more than 140 world and Philadelphia premieres. More than 50% of these world premieres have moved on to New York and other major cities. Favorites include: The Scottsboro Boys, Race and Venus in Fur.
Philadelphia Theatre Company/Wilma Theater/InterAct Dining Recommendations (Also convenient to the Kimmel Center, Merriam Theater and the Academy of Music).
–Volver/Bar Volver: Iron Chef Jose Garces flagship restaurant located in the Kimmel Center. Enjoy an 8-12 course tasting menu at Volver, one of the best dining experiences in the city. Bar Volver features small plates, dinner entrees & cocktails and is designed to get you to the show on time.
–Estia: Enjoy authentic Greek Mediterranean cuisine with great ambience.
–Harp & Crown: Enjoy drinks, small bites and entrees in beautiful, eclectic atmosphere.
–Maison 208: Stylish bi-level French influenced New American restaurant and cocktail lounge. Also the only restaurant in Philadelphia with a retractable roof.
–Good Dog Bar: Craft beers & award-winning pub food, including their famous blue cheese-stuffed burger
–Misconduct Tavern: Expanded original location with great beer selection
The Wilma creates living adventurous art, engaging artists & audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life. They present bold original productions that represent a wide range of voices, viewpoints and styles. My favorite productions include My Wonderful Day, In the Next Room and Angels in America.
(See above for dinner and drink recommendations).
Founded in 1809, WST is America’s oldest theatre, the official Pennsylvania state theatre and a National Historic Landmark with more than 55,000 season ticket holders, making it the most subscribed theatre company in the world. The most noteworthy actors of the last 300 years have appeared on stage at the Walnut. The illustrious list includes Edwin Forrest, the Drews & Barrymores, George M Cohan, Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers, Helen Hayes, Katherine Hepburn, Jessica Tandy, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Becall, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Jack Lemon and William Shatner. Pre-Broadway tryouts included Marlon Brandon in Streetcar Named Desire, A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier, Diary of Anne Frank featuring Susan Strasberg, and Mr. Roberts starring Henry Fonda. The Walnut produces large-scale musicals, as well as dramas. Two smaller studio theatres offer a wide range of productions. Some of my Walnut favorites are The Buddy Holly Story, Harvey, Other Desert Cities and Saturday Night Fever. Having seen Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, first with Herschel Bernardi and then with Alfred Molina, the production at WST is my favorite of the three. It was staged in a manner that seemed very personal and approachable. It felt less like a staged play than being part of the characters’ story.
Bonus: Walnut Street Theatre offers behind the scene tours on a seasonal basis for $10.00.
Walnut Street/Lantern Theater Company Dining Recommendations:
–Kanella Grill: Popular BYOB offering Cypriot-style kebobs, gyros and shwarma.
–Talula’s Garden: One of James Beard award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr’s finest restaurants specializing in locally sourced ingredients, curated cheese plates and seasonal outdoor seating.
–M Restaurant: Romantic atmosphere with indoor and seasonal outdoor seating located in the historic Morris House.
–Moriarty’s Pub: Traditional Irish pub serving a large selection of draft beers and the best wings in Philadelphia.
–McGillin’s Olde Ale House: Philadelphia’s oldest tavern (1860).
–Charlie was a sinner: Popular Midtown Village vegan bar and restaurant.
A Philadelphia regional theatre founded in 1994, Lantern Theater Company produces traditional, contemporary and original plays in a theater-in-the-round setting. Since the inception of the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater in 1995, Lantern has received 71 nominations and 15 awards. It has received more nominations for Outstanding Overall Production (8) over the last 7 years than any other theatre company in the region. It also received the 2009 Barrymore for Excellence in Theatre Education and Community Service.
(See above for dinner and drink recommendations).
Insider Tip: If you are staying at a hotel, always check with your concierge for tickets. While some shows may sell out, there are generally tickets available to most performances. There are also some companies that offer half-price same-day tickets.
If you are looking for additional things to do in Philadelphia, check out When in ROAM for a Philadelphia travel itinerary. ROAM utilizes actual concierges who will create a customized trip guide to Philadelphia based on your age, budget, and personal preferences.
Have fun visiting the great independent theatre companies on your next trip to Philly!
This article was written by Fran Nachman, a Philadelphia ROAM concierge and hotel concierge. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Area Concierge Association as President, Treasurer and Philanthropic Director, and is currently the Director of Business & Social Events. In 2012 Fran was awarded Where Magazine’s Key to the City. Having traveled the world, she loves coming back to her hometown where there are always new restaurants, bars and venues to discover and share with visitors.