October 2, 2012

The Morris House Hotel.

My mom came over with her travel book , opened it up and pointed to a photograph of a picturesque garden restaurant.

“This is where we should stay in Philadelphia,” she said.

And so we did. Built in 1787, The Morris House is the ultimate heritage boutique hotel, an oasis of colonial charm a few blocks from ye olde Liberty Bell. It’s seriously cute!

The first morning we sat having our coffee in the hotel's Salon and this Napoleonesque style painting was winking down at me from above the mantelpiece and practically flirting. I peered at it closely.

Something about the face didn’t look quite as “period” in its execution and my thoughts were just lingering on that. Yeah, there was something about it…

“Good morning ladies!” I turned to see a dashing gentleman in blazer and ascot. It’s possible I imagined the ascot. Probably.

This dude is smiling and friendly and has something of a playboy twinkle, walking through the rooms all debonair and asking us how we like the place. 

Shannon, the Innkeeper, comes into the room from the reception and introduces him. “This is Michael DiPaolo, one of the owners of the Morris House.” Then she points to the mantel and says, “that’s him in the painting”.

It totally was!
Hoteliers with a sense of humour? I was most intrigued.

Michael Dipaolo was joined by another dapper dude, the other owner Eugene Lefevre - they chatted with my mom about the restaurant in the Hotel, Restaurant M, the menu, the plating, the service…the wine. The soft shell crab. My mom was loving it.

How many hoteliers do you get to do this with?

Over the course of our stay I decided I really wanted to draw these guys. So I told Shannon I was a blogger and asked if they’d mind being tooned.

And I gave her my card. And she read my blog, pinworms and all.

Must’ve been ok though cuz she arranged for both the owners to sit down with us on our last day, and they agreed to let me interview them.

Eugene Lefevre and Michael Dipaolo are architects, they started their business together restoring heritage buildings. Audaciously they once put a 10K deposit on a 10 million deal to buy Lits Bros. Department store built in 1891, saving it from the impending Wrecking Ball of Doom. It’s now the Mellon Independence Center and you might say that was their flagship project together. These guys are real estate developers who actually care for the history of the city's buildings.

The pair bought the Morris House in 2000, and with a lot of TLC and attention to colonial detail, they turned it into the boutique hotel it is today. Turns out Michael’s not the only one to have been painted – Eugene told me that he was the first one to hang his portrait in the Morris House as they restored it. Their friend Bill Whiting had portrayed him as an English country Squire” and Eugene hung the portrait above the mantel at the front entrance.

I didn't get a very good photo of it so I just tooned it. The actual painting is truly lovely.

Eugene said that when Michael saw it, he wanted one too. Bill Whiting apparently just told him to bring a frame and said that he’d “fill it”. So Michael showed up with a honking big frame and claimed the mantel in the main sitting room.

The Rogues Gallery doesn’t stop there – several friends have had their portraits done by Whiting (including Gene's wife Deborah!), and these hang throughout the main floor rooms. Which totally makes me feel at home, cuz that’s what I do: surround myself with I DRAW YOU’s and TOONswag.

I'm not a travel blogger but I will tell you this: the place is amazeballs - it's full of stories! But best of all, the nice people at Restaurant M gave me a beautiful glass of Chardonnay when I got back from the Philly meetup. They let me take it up to our room.