• Monday , 23 October 2017
Interview with Author Irene Levy Baker of 100 Things to do in Philadelphia Before You Die

Interview with Author Irene Levy Baker of 100 Things to do in Philadelphia Before You Die

Story, video by Whitney Ullman

100 Things to do in Philadelphia Before You Die, the latest in a national series of travel guides by Reedy Press, was just released. The guide was written by Irene Levy Baker, who has spent 25 years exploring Philadelphia. It includes tips she discovered while working with five local tourist bureaus, celebrity chefs, hotels and attractions. Baker is the owner of Spotlight Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality and restaurants. Prior to starting her public relations firm in 1998, Baker spent nearly a decade at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

EXPLORE PHILLY: Tell us about the inspiration behind writing this particular book?
BAKER: I’ve been exploring Philadelphia’s nooks and crannies since moving here 25 years ago. For the first decade, I worked for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) and, since then, I’ve had a public relations firm, Spotlight Public Relations, specializing in restaurants and hospitality. In the process of learning Philadelphia’s secrets, I feel in love. I wanted to see if my love of the city could be contagious.
EXPLORE PHILLY: Do you think that your experience in the PR industry gave you an advantage to find some of the cooler places on the list?
BAKER: Definitely! At the PHLCVB I was responsible for giving tours to travel writers. They’re the most jaded travelers in the world because every city in the world tries to impress them. I noted what surprised and delighted them. Through Spotlight Public Relations, I’ve worked with celebrity chefs, boutique hotels, a historic tavern, attractions and more so I got a behind-the-scenes look at how things work. I share those secrets in the book. But, you don’t need to have a PR job do to the things in the book. Anyone can have wonderful adventures here in Philadelphia.
EXPLORE PHILLY: Speaking of that, what are some of the “things to do” that stand out to you the most?
BAKER: I really love the Architectural Walking Tours given by the Preservation Alliance, because they help me see things in my own backyard. I love the urban parks that have sprung up in recent years – like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Dilworth Plaza and I love the restaurant scene. I’m always trying the latest restaurant.
EXPLORE PHILLY: The book is broken up into different categories, can you touch on that and tell us the reasoning behind it? 

BAKER: This book is one of the “100 Things” series. Philadelphia is #40 – can you believe it?! They all have the same format and I think it works very well, making it easy for you to find things that might be of interest to you. In the Philadelphia book, the culture/history section is the longest with food/drink right behind it.

EXPLORE PHILLY: I’m sure there are way more than 100 fun things to do, if you could realistically write a book with all of the things you found out on this journey, what would the actual number be? And to that point, if you could write 100 more things, would you consider doing another book?
BAKER: The hardest part of writing the book was limiting it to 100 things. If I could have written 1,000 Things To Do In Philadelphia, it would have been much easier. I had to be very discriminating about what I included. I wasn’t thinking about a second book until earlier this week when I tried the gelato flight at Gran Caffe L’Aquila. I liked it so much that I’ve dubbed it #101. Those are the kind of updates I post on the book’s social media platforms – FB & Instagram: 100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia Twitter: @100Philly
EXPLORE PHILLY: What are some of the “things to do” that didn’t make the cut, but wish they did?
BAKER: Oh, that’s a good question. I really wanted to write about the hot chocolate at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. It’s thick, rich and decadent and it’s served with a cute little self-serve box of crushed peppermint, hazelnuts, crushed graham crackers, sprinkles and whipped cream. You can only get it during the holidays and sipping it in that majestic lobby is the perfect activity after the Nutcracker, a holiday show or shopping. I had to cut it as a stand-alone item but I sort of cheated and squeezed it in as a tip.
EXPLORE PHILLY: I’m sure you ate a whole lot during this journey, how do you stay so in shape?

BAKER: Aw, thanks! I gave up my car so I do a lot of walking. Plus, every weekend I walk either the Schuylkill River Banks or I pick a east/west street and walk river-to-river. It’s a great way to get to know the city and … discover new places to eat. I also do interval training at Orange Theory.

EXPLORE PHILLY: What advice would you give to someone who wants to try all of these 100 things?
BAKER: That would be fun and I’d love to hear about it! Use the book like a passport – as you do each thing write in the date, who you did it with and your own tips.
EXPLORE PHILLY: Do people contact you now with all kinds of tips and fun things to do and if so, what are some of them?

BAKER: Yes, and I love hearing about new things. The gelato flight was a recommendation from a friend. Someone else just told me I have to try the cheesesteaks at Dalessandro’s and I’m happy to do that “research.” I love discovering new things in Philadelphia and, who knows, maybe there really will be a book 2. Last week I had dinner at 2 new restaurants – Lou Bird’s and Mission Taqueria  – because I feel a responsibility to know about new places when someone asks. And someone will undoubtedly ask.

EXPLORE PHILLY: What would an expert traveler/travel writer be surprised to see during their visit to Philly and what is something that they have seen everywhere, but it’s just a little different in Philly?
BAKER: People who haven’t been to Philadelphia or haven’t been here in awhile are surprised by the energy in the city – the great urban spaces like Spruce Street Harbor Park and Dilworth Park, the outside cafes, the pop-up beer gardens, the shopping and the fact that it is still bustling at night and on weekends.
EXPLORE PHILLY: You’ve been in public relations for awhile now, are you taking on new clients and how can someone become a client if they need your services?
BAKER: I’m always interesting in talking with potential clients about how I can help them reach their business goals. I do everything from social media to media relations to e-newsletter to promotions and special events. I’m at spotlightpr@comcast.net.
EXPLORE PHILLY: Are you available for questions about the book? And what are some of the most common questions people ask – along with the answers?

BAKER: Sure, the best way to ask questions is to attend a speaking engagement. I take LOTS of questions and I’m told they’re pretty entertaining. Speaking engagements are  listed at www.100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia.com. I have upcoming engagements in Center City, South Jersey, Northern MontCo and on the Main Line. People often want to know if I’ve done all 100 Things and where to take out-of-town visitors. Answers: I only did 99, to protect my health. I’m not telling which one I didn’t do, you have to read the book and try to figure it out. Where to take out-of-owners: It depends upon their interests. There are itineraries for families with young children, families with teens, dates, empty nesters and by season. That’s a good place to start if you’re playing tour guide for out of town friends or family. It includes tried-and-true attractions and hidden gems, along with a tip to enhance each experience. It’s ideal for any local who has ever asked, “what should we do this weekend?”

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