As my date and I recently discovered, there are a whole date’s worth of cool (and cheap!) things to do, see, and eat in the small area of Center City between Walnut and Locust streets to the north and south, and 6th and 8th streets to the east and west. After checking out the gorgeous Tiffany glass mural in the Curtis Center, we went to Lore’s Chocolates, a gourmet chocolatier, and spent at least half an hour picking out a half pound box of chocolates to enjoy in nearby Washington Square. On our way to the park, we stumbled across even more hidden treasures: a curious little troll, and a fun, no-frills, bulk nut and candy store too.
How cheap we talkin’: Approximately $11 for a half pound of chocolate from Lore’s. $2-$5 per pound for nuts or candy from Nuts to You.
Why this will impress your date: You can whip out all kinds of interesting facts after reading this fascinating account of the making of this majestic mural, by Kim Sajet, Senior Vice President of Museum and Public Programs at PAFA.
The Inside Game: If you or your date doesn’t like chocolate, Nuts to You is a great alternative for snack fare. So is the fruit cart on 7th – for only $6 they will jam pack a container full of melon, strawberries, pineapple, grapes and mango for you, and even throw in a banana. They also make fantastic smoothies for less than $5.
Score Extra Points: By showing your date what’s new at the Locks gallery. This beautiful contemporary art gallery is housed in a charming and stately mansion on the south east corner of Washington Square.
Next date: Weekdays or Saturday morning. Note: Lore’s closes at 5pm and the Curtis Center closes at 6pm. Saturdays, the Curtis center is only open 10-1pm.
We started off at the Curtis Center, a beautiful and imposing building designed in 1910 to headquarter the Curtis Publishing Company. The atrium on the 6th street side is also home to a gorgeous Tiffany mural that was constructed by commission and has been described as “perhaps the finest Tiffany mural in the world.” The sparkling, verdant scene is titled “The Dream Garden,” and was designed by Louis C. Tiffany based on a Maxfield Parrish landscape. Made up of 100,00 pieces of hand-fired Favril glass in over 260 iridescent color tones, it measures 15′x49′ and is comprised of 24 panels that took six months to install in 1915-1916. According to the Atlas Obscura, it is arguably the largest Tiffany piece in the world, and until 2007, was the largest glass mural in the country (it was surpassed by the Wing Lung Bank Mural in Alhambra, CA). It is a truly stunning masterpiece of craftsmanship that glows and glimmers for as long as you look at it.
The mural was designated a “historic object” by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 1998 after the piece was put up for sale and casino magnate Steve Wynn attempted to purchase it. It is now owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and remains completely free and open to the public.
When we finished taking in the mural, we walked through the Curtis Center to the 7thStreet exit. The interior of the building is flanked with palm trees and features a sprawling marble fountain that is plenty impressive in its own right.
Once outside, we turned right and walked up to Lore’s Chocolates at 34 S.7th street. This tiny shop is wall-to-wall chocolates, which are handmade on the premises, including milk, dark, and white varieties. It’s $17.95 a pound (although a half-pound is plenty for two) and you can mix and match your perfect assortment. We spent a good half hour considering all the options (Three marizpan or four? Dark or milk chocolate turtles?) before letting the woman at the counter know what we wanted and watching her assemble our carefully edited selection into a flat white box.
With chocolates in hand, we turned south again on 6th street. All of a sudden, a strange little fellow caught my eye: Ray, the Security Troll. Stationed in the front window of 106 6th street, I couldn’t help but look fondly on this ugly little creature.
There is something very dear about him, and my date and I spent a few minutes pondering the story that must lie behind his presence there.
We continued on towards Washington Square park. When crossing the street, we noticed a store at 721 Walnut called Nuts to You, and decided to check it out. With the air of an old-fashioned general store, it had painted wooden shelves stacked floor to ceiling with bags of nuts and nut mixes, bulk candy, and other snacks like salted peas, popcorn, and dried peaches. We didn’t end up buying anything, but it was definitely fun to look around.
We finally made it to our designated chocolate gorging spot: Washington Square, a small but peaceful plot of green between Chestnut and Spruce. Although it has several attractions, including a statue of George Washington and the memorial to an unknown solider, the park doesn’t seem to get quite as much foot traffic as the park behind Independence Hall, which is across the street. It also has the advantage of having most of its pathways lined with benches, so it’s a nice park to sit in, even if you don’t have a blanket.
There was something distinctly satisfying about digging into an entire box of chocolates, especially while enjoying beautiful weather in a park. Of course, by that time we had already forgotten which confection was which, so we spent some time biting off corners and trading for our favorites. The hazlenut truffles and chocolate covered grahams were definitely mine. We definitely spoiled our dinners with that indulgence, but it was worth it.