NEOCLASSICISM AND FRANK GEHRY might seem like an unlikely pairing, but on the ground floor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s historic main building, the famed architect has distilled his signature kineticism into the design of its new restaurant, Stir. The opening of the seventy-six-seat dining space marks the completion of the first component of an extensive master plan to revamp much of the landmark’s interior.
The only Gehry-designed restaurant to offer fine dining on the East Coast, Stir is a bright, intimate space, accented by a swooping ceiling sculpture composed of interlacing Douglas fir beams that museum staff have nicknamed the “Nest.” The restrained material palette—including red oak floors, frosted glass partitions, and leather banquettes and granite-topped tables designed by Gehry Partners—provides a nice counterpoint to the ceiling’s dramatic centerpiece. Diners can also look into the open kitchen, helmed by executive chef Mark Tropea, who is offering seasonally minded fare with locally sourced ingredients for both brunch and lunch. Visitors can take a respite from wandering the museum’s extensive period rooms and galleries to sip a cocktail, such as the aptly named “Cause a Stir”—a souped-up version of a French 75—and try a dish or two, like the marinated Jersey plums with stracciatella cheese or seared Barnegat scallops. In addition to the restaurant, a new café, overlooking the East Terrace’s garden on one side and the Schuylkill River on the other, welcomes museumgoers with a more casual menu of sandwiches and pastries.
The restaurant and café kick off the early stages of the museum’s larger Core Project, also under the leadership of Gehry Partners, intended to rejigger and expand the 1928 building by 2020. The renovation will accommodate 90,000 square feet of new public space and galleries for the exhibition of American and contemporary art, as well as make critical upgrades to the infrastructure and circulation. But while the museum undergoes this transformation, there is still plenty to see—and an elegant new restaurant where you can grab a bite and rest your art-weary legs.