We’ve been called a college town, the County Seat, a “thriving suburban hub.” The Philadelphia Inquirer even once called us “…one of the world’s most perfect small towns” – but as far as I can remember we’ve never had a go-to destination. A place for a nice night out? Definitely, but when you’re talking about West Chester as a destination, it’s usually a collective experience. According to the Visit Philadelphia website you go to West Chester for our “bustling downtown area,” “casual eateries,” “food-centric events,” and “charming” shop-lined streets. I can see that – but a specific, must-go draw? There hasn’t been much.
That, it seems, is starting to change. A few entrepreneurs are looking to up the ante when it comes to dining, socializing, and experience-seeking. They are adding high-end features, hidden rooms, and exclusive clubs.
“We want to upgrade your night out,” Allison Owen told me about her vision for Turks Head Wines, which opened a package shop on Church Street this week. The shop is just the start. Alison, who is already sourcing, producing, and bottling her own Northern California wines, plans to add a tasting room next year. This is no counter with an attendant, pouring a few small plastic glasses of wine. No, this is to be an experience.
By January, Alison will have taken over the whole of the Church Street Market House building. (Except where Twin Valley Coffee is. That is staying.) When her grand vision is complete sometime next summer, where there is now an atrium with office-appropriate nooks, there will be a huge tasting bar and “loungey” areas to gather around with friends and a bottle. Servers will mingle “pouring wine and educating you about what you are drinking.” There will be high-end finishes, charcuterie boards, and plates of crudities. Not a full-service restaurant mind you, but “simple things that pair well with our wines,” said Allison.
There will be classrooms for those serious about understanding wine. A “barrel room” for private tastings and event space for bridal showers and anniversary parties. There will also be a separate social club for V.I.P.s. Membership required.
The place Allison describes seems at the same time unpretentious and exclusive. “We want to help educate people. We want to remove the mystery around wine,” she said and described her impetus for the tasting room as a “place to sit and talk.” At the same time, she’s well aware there’s a crowd that thinks nothing of flying to Napa and dropping $400 on a bottle of wine. She’s not shy in admitting that, in part, she is hoping to save them a plane trip.
She’s not alone in targeting a high-end crowd. The new 9 Prime steakhouse planned for N. High Street uses the tagline “indulge in elegance.” The expansive restaurant will have 400 tables, tailored event spaces, and a basement “speakeasy” tucked into the old bank vault. The restaurant promises “breathtaking” ambiance, “culinary excellence,” and the “finest ingredients sourced both locally and from around the world.” None of which are synonyms for “family-friendly” dining.
However, neither will be the Borough’s first foray into exclusive territory. Five years after opening, reservations at Andiario are still hard to get. In the next two months, there are two seatings for two available. (One is this Saturday at 6:15 p.m. if you’re interested.) Over the years, Chef Tony Andiario, who takes an admittedly different approach, has quietly built his reputation with little marketing and lots of accolades from prestigious industry names like James Beard, Craig LeBan, and the New York Times. Even before Andiario leveled up the dining game, there was eClat chocolate. The world-class chocolate creations of Chef Christopher Curtin that have garnered national – and even international – recognition. In 2012 Bon Appetit Magazine named them one of the “Best Chocolates in America.” Food and Wine Magazine did the same in 2021 – but chocolate you can ship.
Can a few exquisitely designed options really draw the region’s elite away from Philadelphia? Alison is hoping so. “We are really hopeful this will be a destination that will benefit the economy of the entire Borough,” she said.
Originally published, Oct. 27, 2023
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