The Palm is closed for renovations. Fountain Restaurant is no more. But local movers and shakers have no need to worry. There are still plenty of places to power lunch in Philadelphia.
Power lunches, of course, have everything to do with power and status. The term was coined by journalist Lee Eisenberg, in a 1979 Esquire article about the Four Seasons NYC (which just closed this summer after 57 years, btw, pending a relocation).
Eisenberg was describing a new kind of midday break, one that would come to define Wall Street and Midtown Manhattan in the heady ’80s, then spread throughout metropolitan America. It was different from the three-martini lunch, where nothing got done except flirting and feasting. It also wasn’t a hand-held sandwich, scarfed down in a rush to get to the next meeting.
No, the “power lunch” was the meeting.
As the Four Seasons perfected it, a power lunch meant a high-quality menu that you didn’t have to think too hard about, with dishes that wouldn’t put you to sleep. It also meant an elegant, unfussy atmosphere, with tables spaced widely enough so that business, private business, could be conducted across their surfaces.
Nowadays, it’s much more acceptable for execs to be laid back (hi, Zuck!), so big deals are surely sometimes sealed over coffee or burritos. Also, Philly isn’t New York.
“Philadelphia is a middle class city,” says litigator Conor Corcoran. He describes a recent business lunch he had at hip bar MilkBoy, where bright neon, loaded sandwiches and blaring music define the vibe. “That’s the kind of place we do our business in.”
Yet there’s still a certain set — lawyers, bankers, realtors, politicians and the like — who prefer to talk commerce and contracts and causes and coalitions in the classic power style.
Here’s where they go.
The usual suspects
In an informal survey of people who admit to power lunching, all of these spots were repeatedly cited as top picks. (Many of them also show up on various lists put out by local and national publications — it’s always nice when insiders and pundits agree.)
1516 Sansom St., 215-567-7683, @phloysterhouse
Proprietor Sam Mink’s grandfather was a lawyer by trade, and when he ended up sole owner of a downtown oyster bar, it became the meeting place for City Hall pols and pals — and has been ever since. The current reincarnation is much swankier than the original, but still retains beguiling charm.
Order to impress: Dat lobster roll, best in the city. And don’t forget a half-dozen freshly shucked oysters to start.
227 S. 18th St., 215-545-2262, @starrrestaurant
There’s not much chance of peace and quiet at Stephen Starr’s always buzzing brasserie on the edge of Rittenhouse Square, but the constant din provides its own kind of privacy. And the menus (which change throughout the day) are varied but concise, making ordering decisions easy — an important bonus when every minute counts.
Order to impress: The petit plateau is a tiered personal raw bar fit for a king. Follow with trout almandine if you’re trying to be calorie-conscious, steak frites if you’re not.
205 S. 18th St., 215-732-6622
More than actually getting business done, lunches at this parkside classic are more about people seeing you and noticing who it is you’re doing business with. The famous sidewalk cafe (one of the first in the city) will do in a pinch, but the coveted tables just inside the large front windows are the ones to vie for.
Order to impress: The burger is famous for a reason, and the tuna tartare is hand-diced daily from giant sides of sushi-grade fish.
225 S. 18th St., 215-546-5940
On 18th Street right between the previous two power spots, this is the one you pick if you’re more interested in making progress than being sighted. The interior has been updated, but it’s still full of dark wood and dim corners, good for breaking through a sticking point or working out important details.
Order to impress: Whaddya know, there’s a whole “power lunch combos” section of the menu. Start with soup or salad and get an entree too — jumbo lump crab cakes are a good bet.
723 Chestnut St., 215-413-9070, @chef_morimoto
If seafood’s the game of choice, take play to the next level with this Starr-Iron Chef collab just north of Washington Square. Swooping ceilings and undulating wall patterns lead back to one of the finest sushi bars in the city. Service is as sleek and refined as you’d find in Japan, without the transoceanic flight.
Order to impress: Chirashi is one of chef Morimoto’s favorite things (he often draws renditions of the assorted sashimi bowl in his spare time) — and even though he’s never there to make it himself, his surrogates are highly qualified.
Multiple locations, @eatmarathon
This mini-chain isn’t fancy, but it’s not quite populist, either. And the menu follows that Four Seasons easy-eating sensibility, if in a slightly less refined way. All three Center City locations are spacious enough to accommodate large groups, but also have plenty of booths for private conversation.
Order to impress: A giant salad, like the grilled chicken Cobb or Caesar with grilled shrimp, will make you look health conscious and also fill you up.
Before DC’s current restaurant boom, just about the only place to get a nice lunch in the nation’s capital was at a steakhouse. Makes sense, because during the day, before the 30-year scotch and pricey bottles of wine come out, these places are made for power lunching.
1338 Chestnut St., 215-545-9588, @
You can see City Hall from its front door, so no surprise this is the haven of choice for a majority of Broad Street office suits. Inside feels like a country club, but you’re right in the center of town.
Order to impress: The best steak at night is the one that’s Kona coffee-crusted, and at lunch you can get that same rub on a patty of top-quality Wagyu beef.
1500 Walnut St., 215-732-4444, @starrrestaurant
It’s designed after a time when the three-martini lunch was all the vogue, but it you can exercise restraint, the period decor makes a luxurious setting for an on-the-level business meeting. Maybe just one martini won’t hurt.
Order to impress: The shrimp and crab Louie is a decadent seafood platter masquerading as a salad.
111 S. 17th St., 2nd Fl., 215-563-4810, @daviosphilly
Located on the second floor, this dining room — billed as a “Northern Italian steakhouse” — is slightly out of the way, but the high ceilings, and widely-spaced tables draped with white linens make up for it once you get there.
Order to impress: Housemade pasta is the call here, especially the potato gnocchi. Also, if you’re willing to succumb to the guilty pleasure that is cheesesteak spring rolls, this is a good place to do it.
The private clubs
When you want real exclusivity, you go to a members-only club. Or when you’re trying to meet the monthly food and beverage minimum attached to your membership.
140 S. Broad St., 215-563-6500, @TheUnionLeague
The club is centrally located. It’s historic. It’s also a somewhat snooty hotbed of conservatism in a mostly progressive town. Take note: Jeans are strictly forbidden.
Order to impress: If risotto is on the menu, it’s a must-order; this chef has the time and funds to make it well.
1735 Market St., 52nd Fl., 215-567-6510, @pyramidclubphl
The lounge at the top of the Mellon Bank building provides cityscapes like few other establishments, and you have to take a special, private elevator to get there.
Order to impress: The crab cake sandwich comes highly recommended, but the traditional pairing of wedge salad and filet mignon is well-suited to the lofty view.
Where do you do serious business during lunch time? When we asked that question, there were several answers that took us by surprise. But hey, if it works for them…
1045 Locust St., 215-735-7700, @EstiaRestaurant
The frescoed walls of this sprawling Greek establishment welcome theater-goer after theater-goer in the evening, but it turns out to be a hidden gem of sorts for the Broad Street business set in search of spacious fine-dining during the day.
Order to impress: Taramosalata is the way to begin, especially if your associates have never tried the unique caviar dip. And the fish of the day was likely flown-in fresh from the Mediterranean.
1701 JFK Blvd., 215-496-1810, @
Food courts — or “food halls,” as they’re now called — are super trendy. There aren’t as many in Philly yet as many other cities (maybe because OG Reading Terminal Market scared them off), but this one below the Comcast Center is popping. And apparently, it’s where a lot of deals get done.
Order to impress: Whatever sandwich Di Bruno Bros. is offering that day.
1416 Chancellor St., 215-670-9999, @PhillyGoldClub
Yes, this is a strip club dive bar. But as such, it seems to be a place that some Philly lawyers frequent for intimate daytime meetings — of the business kind. At least you know you’re not likely to run into elected officials.
Order to impress: It’s a buffet. You’re not really here for the food, anyway.