The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts brand is synonymous with luxury, and its latest example in Philadelphia’s Center City is no exception.
The hotel occupies the top 12 floors of the Comcast Technology Center, an immense 60-storey building designed by the legendary architect Lord Norman Foster and his firm Foster and Partners. Not only is it the tallest building in Philadelphia at 341-metres high, but it also holds the title as the highest situated hotel in North America.
American broadcasting company Comcast owns 80 per cent of the building – its offices occupy the lower 48 floors – and Liberty Property Trust owns the remaining 20 per cent. The $1.5 billion building opened in October 2018, after five years of construction, but the whole building was only completed in August with the launch of the Four Seasons hotel. The hotel recently celebrated its grand opening party in October.
Four Seasons formerly had a 364-room property on Logan Square, which closed in 2015, though this had a more traditional feel and occupied a much smaller building.
What’s it like?
The building is striking from arrival, a towering glass structure with a light beam reaching into the clouds above. There are two separate entrances to the building, one for the hotel on North 19th Street, and another for Comcast on North 18th Street.
While not part of the hotel, it’s worth visiting the Comcast Technology Center to see Jenny Holzer’s digital art installation and the Universal Sphere Dome, a cinematic experience created by Steven Spielberg.
As you enter from North 19th Street, there’s a concierge on the left and Vernick Fish restaurant straight ahead (more on this later), but take a right hand turn and head for the elevators to reach the hotel. The three large glass and steel elevators only have two destinations, the 57th and 60th floors, and whisk you to the top floor within 60 seconds – a second per floor.
It seems that every guest can’t help but gaze at the scenery beyond, no matter how many times they’ve taken the trip. Having the lobby on the top floor is not quite what you would normally imagine from a hotel, but you’ll see why they decided on this location as soon as you reach it, with panoramic city views making it a particularly memorable welcome to the hotel experience. The one disadvantage with having the lobby on the top floor is that guests always have to go via the 60th floor to reach their rooms or street-level.
What makes the views so incredible is the fact that they are unobstructed by other buildings. Philadelphia is largely flat, bar a few neighbouring skyscrapers (including another Comcast building), so the tower also acts as a viewing platform – I noticed people travelling to the top floor purely to see the sights. As stated by one of the bartenders, “It’s like being in a map up here”, especially at night when the grid system lights up and the horizon shimmers in the golden sunset.
The grand lobby has polished black marble onyx floors and reflective pedestals of various sizes topped with bright purple orchids. A white marble reception desk is located at one end, facing floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the other. Elevators to the guest rooms are on the right, while the bar and restaurant are located to the left. Check-in was quick and easy, thanks to the extremely friendly staff, though I was quite taken aback by the $600 room deposit for my time there.
In spite of its modern skyscraper exterior, natural elements have been incorporated into the hotel’s interiors. The hotel’s artistic director, Jeff Leatham (of Kim Kardashian fame – he did the floral arrangement for her wedding), is responsible for the extravagant floral – you’ll spot the same purple orchids in the bar and Jean-Georges restaurant, while white orchids are reserved for the more tranquil settings, such as the spa. The rest of the interiors and furnishings – apart from Vernick Fish which was designed by Adam D. Tihany – were designed by Norman Foster.
Where is it?
The hotel is in Center City at 19th and Arch Streets, just round the corner from the parade of museums on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, including the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum.
The building is recognisable from any point in the city. As we travelled from Philadelphia International Airport, just a 20-minute drive away, we noticed it immediately in the distance, surrounded by a few other skyscrapers.
30th Street Station, where you can access Amtrak, NJ Transit and Septa regional rail service, is located one mile away.
The hotel has 219 rooms in total, made up of six categories of 180 rooms and 39 suites. The corridors are quite bare and calm as a result, and rooms are curved rather than block-like. Upon arrival in the room, guests are met with a fresh warm pretzel, a Philadelphia speciality, sourced from the hotel’s Vernick Coffee Bar along with a pot of mustard.
All rooms have floor-to-ceiling glass windows so never feel small – the studio with a king bed starts at 27 sqm. As the hotel occupies floors 48-60, all of the rooms have spectacular views.
I was in a huge Grand Cityscape Room on the 50th floor (115-129 sqm) which comes with a king bed, a chaise longue adjacent to the windows, a small table with an armchair and stool, a bathroom with a spacious shower and separate toilet, a walk-in closet with plenty of space to hang clothes and a full-length mirror to check your outfit before you head to the swanky restaurants upstairs.
There’s also a complimentary shoeshine service, should you need it, an umbrella and a large safe which can fit a laptop.
The beds are extremely comfortable and marshmallow-like. Next to the bed are various USB and plug sockets along with a button to turn off all the lights, a “do not disturb” icon, and a button to open/shut the curtains and blackout blinds. There are also buttons to adjust the lighting, with circles descending in size referring to the power of brightness.
A Snooz machine beside the bed can be turned on for background sounds as you sleep, though I wasn’t a fan of this device, and there’s an iPad for you to contact staff and check out what’s on offer in the hotel. Opening the blinds remotely from my bed immediately put a smile on my face, especially since I was blessed with blue skies (or pink sunrises owing to jet-lag).
The marble-clad walkthrough bathroom, which also has sliding doors, is encased in locally sourced birchwood millwork, which curves around the room – a beautiful artisan addition to the glass features. There are Guerlain bath amenities, succulents in glass pots, make-up remover and pads, cotton bathrobes and slippers and a make-up mirror.
The rooms are contemporary and feel very calm, with a warm neutral colour palette in beige and bronze tones, brightened by Brian Eno’s digital artwork “Philadelphia Dorian” designed exclusively for the hotel on the huge 65-inch flat screen TV – his music also plays as you enter the room, with the option to adjust the volume in the bathroom or turning it off at the TV.
As you would expect from Comcast’s involvement in the hotel, there is high-speed wifi, but the most impressive offering is the complimentary library of over 50,000 films and shows on demand through the X1 Video Experience, along with Netflix, though I didn’t have enough time to take advantage of this. The remote control also has a voice activation option.
In-room dining is available 24/7. While I tend to eat out when I’m away, the room is so inviting that I wouldn’t blame anyone for hibernating in there for as long as possible. You can also take advantage of the well-stocked mini bar, which has a range of drinks, sweet and savoury snacks, and a make-your-own St. Germain champagne cocktail. There’s also a Nespresso coffee machine and a kettle with Rishi tea.
The hotel is within a certified LEED platinum building, and there are features which point to this. A notice to the side of the bed requests that you leave the large Barnes key (named after the Barnes Foundation museum) on the bed if you want your linens changed.
Food and drink
Seafood restaurant Vernick Fish, overseen by award-winning Chef Greg Vernick, is on the ground-floor. The modern interiors blend bronze and brass details with partially exposed ceilings and a marine colour palette of whites, blues and creams.
There are a variety of different seating areas, ranging from the bar area to round tables and communal dining sections. Specialising in raw fish dishes, adventurous salads, and perfectly presented dishes, this was my favourite restaurant in the building. We shared dishes family-style, including the spicy tuna tartare ($16), the grilled sea bass with broccoli in a tomato sauce ($32), and some super crispy salt and vinegar potatoes ($10). Vernick also has a delicious full service café and takeaway barista bar on the second-floor lobby of the Comcast Technology Center.
Next comes JG SkyHigh, a very stylish bar on the 60th floor, with interiors similar to that of the lobby area – the black onyx marble reappears along with leather stools and some table seating.
It’s a perfect spot for an apéritif and some small plates – the margarita cocktails are brilliant – and I even used it as a meeting point for some of my interviews. The maitre d’ was kind enough to make sure that I was well looked after when waiting for people to arrive – another sign of the excellent customer service that the hotel group is rightly renowned for.
From here, descend the wide staircase in the centre of the bar to the 59th floor, flanked by black stone “water-walls” to reach the all-day dining Jean-Georges Philadelphia. It’s a triple-height space with soaring 12-foot glass ceilings offering endless city views. Not only can you spot yourself in the mirrored ceiling – a fun ‘where’s wally’ activity – but the skyline is multiplied and distorted across the highly angular pyramid-like structure.
The restaurant offers French-American cuisine from Michelin starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and highlights include the likes of a brioche egg toast amuse-bouche topped with caviar ($38), silky raw tuna noodles with avocado, radish and a ginger and chilli oil dressing ($20), and a beautiful berry garden dessert with a pistachio crunch and strawberry meringue ($14).
Considering the intricacy of the dishes, the prices are really reasonable, and service is, once again, faultless. I also had breakfast here one morning, a great spot for early birds as you can dine as the sun rises. The menu has both healthy and light options – I opted for the cinnamon and berry oatmeal ($12) but then proceeded to drench it in the maple syrup offered on the table. There are also various cooked breakfasts (from $16), pancakes (from $12) and baked goods (from $4).
There’s 1,450 sqm of event space, catering to 1,000 guests across all venues, with two ballrooms on the fifth floor – one of which was beautifully transformed for the grand opening party – an executive boardroom on the second floor, and two rooms on the 59th floor.
The 57th floor is reserved for leisure, with a vast 24-hour fitness centre and 930 sqm spa. The gym is guests-only, with a key-card required for entry. Inside, you’ll find all the cardio and weight training equipment you need, along with towels, lemon-infused water, amino acid water and bottled water. The hotel also holds a complimentary run of the ‘Rocky steps’ at the Art Museum twice a week for hotel guests. There’s also a floor-to-ceiling wall filled with TV screens – a nod to Comcast – and the screens on the equipment include Netflix, XFinity and so on.
The spa is located next door to the gym, and features a shop, sauna, steam room, indoor pool, seven treatment rooms (including a couples’ room) and a “relaxation room” – the last of these is a lavish take on a waiting room, with sun-loungers facing the city, various herbal teas on offer and pick-and-mix style treats. The spa specialises in crystal treatments to the extent that even the walls are embedded with 317 kg of the gems.
I had a warm crystal massage which relieved the various knots in my neck, and did feel very zen afterwards thanks to the warm sensation of the stones and soothing oils – I’m not entirely convinced by the healing properties and “power” of the crystals themselves, however. The real highlight is the infinity pool, reserved for hotel guests, which spills onto the Philadelphia grid system below.
It’s a brilliant addition to Philadelphia’s hotel scene, which is booming at the moment. Comcast’s involvement in the hotel permeates throughout, with TV screens and high-tech features, yet Four Seasons retains its luxury touch in every aspect of the hotel. Customer service is faultless, the various dining options are not only delicious but picturesque, and I could have stayed in that room for hours without feeling boxed in thanks to the incredible vistas.
Unobstructed sunrise and sunset views of Philadelphia
Swimming right up to the jaw-dropping edge of the 136,000-litre infinity pool
Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in November start from £506
One North 19th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103; (215) 419-5000; fourseasons.com/philadelphia/