The Secret Hotels of Philadelphia

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In a city infamous for its high room costs, Budget Travel saves the day by discovering several comfortable lodgings with a sense of proportion

It was Philadelphia's most famous son, Benjamin Franklin, who coined the two quotes that are particularly relevant to budget travelers: "A penny saved is a penny earned," and "Fish and visitors smell after three days." So you would think that the City of Brotherly Love, a place that is already overflowing with tributes to the great man, would also be chock-full of budget lodgings, sparing visitors the indignity of having to shell out at least a week's salary on a hotel stay. Instead, they are few and far between, and their numbers are dwindling (one well-respected budget inn near Rittenhouse Square, the Abigail Corby Carriage House, recently shut its doors for good). This is especially puzzling when you consider the larger number of budget hotels available in far more expensive cities (New York, for example, a two-hour ride away).

Be that as it may, we've come up with a range of cozy and charming independent inns that offer rooms for under one Benjamin (he's the face on the $100 bill) a night. For more options, a few chain hotels such as Rodeway Inn (1208 Walnut St., 215/546-7000, rodewayinn.com) and Comfort Inn (100 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 215/627-7900, comfortinn.com) also have rooms under $100. Most properties listed below are in the Center City district, where sites such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the National Constitution Center are located, with the odd lodging in the University City district (home to Drexel University and U. Penn). Rates quoted do not include taxes of 14 percent.

Alexander Inn 301 S. 12th St., 877/253-9466, alexanderinn.com; 48 rooms, all with private bathrooms, from $99.

In a historic building one block from Philadelphia's Antique Row district, the Alexander Inn is an all-around favorite among the city's budget hotels, with a friendly, helpful staff. Its warm, inviting lobby and bar (where a complimentary continental breakfast is served) is decorated in a style intended to evoke "the great cruise ships of the '30s" (check out the caf,-society frieze above the bar!). All of the Alexander Inn's 48 rooms are furnished in a modern-chic motif, and they have multichannel Direct TV and telephones with modem ports. The rooms are clean and come with mini-toiletries, fluffy towels, hairdryers, irons, and ironing boards, although the single rooms-and the bathrooms within-can be on the cramped side. A gym and a business center are available.

La Reserve-Center City Bed & Breakfast 1804 Pine St., 800/354-8401, centercitybed.com; seven rooms, most with shared bathrooms, from $85.

A few blocks south of Rittenhouse Square, near the Antique Row district, this 153-year-old town house is a favorite among European visitors, particularly musicians who like to play the Steinway concert piano in the Victorian-style parlor. The self-proclaimed Grande Dame of Philadelphia's B&Bs has nineteenth-century-style rooms (and relatively large ones at that, for a budget hotel), and breakfast is served in a chandeliered dining room. For a higher price, there are two large suites with private baths available. As with many other inns that trade on old-fashioned charm, a warning about navigating the staircase applies.

Thomas Bond House 129 S. 2nd St., 800/845-2663, winston-salem-inn.com/philadelphia; 12 rooms, all with private bathrooms, from $95.

A brick house located within Independence National Historical Park, the elegant Thomas Bond House features rooms furnished in the Federal style. Guests are served a complimentary continental breakfast featuring fresh fruit and muffins (or a full breakfast on the weekends), as well as evening wine and cheese. Coffee, tea, and soda are available throughout the day, and local phone calls are free. All rooms overlook the Welcome Park section of the national park (site of William Penn's house) and have cable TV, hairdryers, radio alarm clocks, and individual heating/air-conditioning units. The only drawbacks are the property's policy toward children (over 10, preferably) and the fact there are no ground-floor rooms in a building that only has stairs. The cheapest rooms are on the third floor.

Shippen Way Inn 418 Bainbridge St., 800/245-4873; nine rooms, all with private bathrooms, from $95

If you're hankering for Ye Olde Colonial Hospitality, step right this way. Innkeepers Ann Foringer and Raymond Rhule run their charming (if somewhat cramped) establishment one block off South Street, in an eighteenth-century house seemingly plucked from the country and deposited smack-dab in the big city (only a few blocks from Independence Hall). Distinguishing features include a walled colonial herb garden where breakfast is served in fair weather. The hosts not only serve complimentary breakfast (featuring fresh fruit and home-baked breads and muffins) but also afternoon tea or wine and cheese. In the winter, there's a working fireplace in the living room. Rooms are furnished in variations on the colonial theme; the smallest features original timbered walls, while the largest overlooks the herb garden and has an antique four-poster bed. The only drawbacks are a discouraging policy toward children (they are accepted "at innkeepers' discretion due to space limitations"; inquire ahead) and the narrow, spiral staircase leading to some rooms.

The Gables 4520 Chester Ave., 215/662-1918, gablesbb.com; 10 rooms, 8 with private bathrooms, from $85

One of the more affordable options in the University City district, this is an ideal choice for those visitors who want to stay in a quiet neighborhood yet desire easy access to the big city; there's a trolley stop across the street. The Gables has been cited as a prime example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture-it won a preservation award from the local historical society-but it doesn't scrimp on modern-day conveniences: Cable TV, private phones with answering machines, phone jacks for Web access, and DSL availability are in all rooms. A complimentary full breakfast featuring eggs, fresh fruit, and homemade muffins is served, and your hosts include Tobe the poodle (innkeepers Don Caskey and Warren Cederholm claim poodles are hypoallergenic). Given its location, the Gables is favored by visiting relatives of college students, so book well in advance. No smoking is permitted.

Society Hill Hotel 301 Chestnut St., 215/925-1919, societyhillhotel.com; 12 rooms, all with private bathrooms, from $75

The Society Hill Hotel recalls the early nineteenth century, when it was a boardinghouse for longshoremen. The guest rooms are somewhat tiny (no wonder they call it Philadelphia's Smallest Hotel) but they have brass beds, and a complimentary continental breakfast is delivered to your door. The hotel is across the street from Independence National Historical Park (and should not be confused with the similarly named-but higher priced-Sheraton nearby). Check-in is located at the bar in the popular ground-floor restaurant, which prides itself on having the best cheese steaks in Philadelphia (according to the Wall Street Journal). As with the Shippen Way, however, Society Hill's quaint charms also include a narrow staircase, and no elevator.

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