A Philadelphia Story

“The allure, excitement, and weather were very intriguing to me,” says Lee Daniels about why he left his hometown of Philadelphia to head west when he was 18 years old. Also in pursuit of a Hollywood dream, he toiled and networked for 20 years in California before eventually forming Lee Daniels Entertainment (www.leedanielsentertainment.com)six years ago. His company is the production force behind the critically acclaimed film Monster’s Ball.

Today, Daniels has a renewed appreciation for his hometown. In fact, with the exception of Monster’s Ball, Lee has shot all of his films in the City of Brotherly Love, including the upcoming Shadowboxer (his directorial debut), scheduled for release this May. “It was almost cathartic, says Daniels, because I was home and I was able to give back by employing people I grew up with.”

Daniels is not alone in his affection for Philly. The city has become a hotbed for artists, attracting creative talent from across the nation. Daniels frequents performances by Philadanco, the Philadelphia Dance Co., (215-387-8200, www.philadanco.org),and sits on the jury of the Philadelphia Film Festival (215-773-0608 ext. 219, www.phillyfests.com).But there are other attractions as well: Compared to other major cities, Philadelphia’s cost of living is relatively low. Housing is still affordable and in 2005 it experienced 1.3% job growth. The city’s main industries are education (according to WetFeet.com, there are 88 four-year colleges and universities), healthcare, and manufacturing. Philly also has great restaurants and one of the best airports in the country. Daniels directs us toward these city scenes.

AROUND TOWN : Philadelphia
“The bar is a great place to congregate, even if you aren’t a guest,” says Daniels about Loews Hotels (1200 Market St., 215-627-1200, www.loewshotels.com).

At Buddakan (325 Chestnut St., 215-574-9440, www.buddakan.com),mahogany doors, candlelight, a waterfall, and a 10-foot gold-leaf Buddha, create a plush, warm setting for an engaging menu of modern Asian cuisine.
For an authentic down-home experience, Daniels recommends Miss Tootsie’s Soul Food (1314 South St. at 13th Street, 215-731-9045) and Ron’s Ribs (1627 South St., 215-732-356l, www.ronsribs.com),a spot frequented by Billie Holiday. “She once said these were the best ribs she ever had.”

Stiletto (124 South 18th St., 215-972-0920, www.stilettostyle.com) offers cutting-edge designer handbags and shoes for men and women.
Peruvian mud wraps, mocha foot scrubs, anti-aging facials, intense deep-tissue massages, and more await those who desire to indulge at Total Serenity Day Spa (2108 Walnut Street, 215-557-0678, www.totalserenitydayspa.com). Daniels says the black-owned establishment “brilliantly understands our skin care.”