Causing a Stir: The new restaurant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is open

Philadelphia Museum of Art

You can write a million corny lines about how Stir – the new fine-dining restaurant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry – is equally as “fine” a form, structurally and in a culinary sense, as the art on the Museum’s walls. And you’d be right. But you can see that for yourself as Stir has opened its doors as of this morning.

The new restaurant Stir at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is open

The Canadian-born architect Gehry is famed for his experimental, yet environmentally considerate designs for renowned structures such as the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Louis Vuitton Foundation. His level of aestheticism made him the exceptional choice, not only to design Stir but the whole of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Core Project of renovation of which Stir is – pardon the culinary pun – just a piece of the pie. A massive $196 million plan, developed by Gehry and his firm in 2006, will finish its first round of major transformations in 2020 if plans and projections go smoothly, and will account for changes in everything from the museum’s auditorium ( demolished, then opening an entire section of the building from Lenfest Hall to the floor below) to a reopened 640-foot vaulted walkway, running from the Kelly Drive side of the museum to its Schuylkill Riverside, to a new walkway acting as the principal museum entrance, providing access to both the redesigned museum interior and 55,000 square feet of fresh gallery space sculpted from beneath the east terrace. 

Philadelphia Museum of Art

“Without detracting from the original facades, Gehry is adding an extraordinary number of square feet of gallery space and public space to the museum,” said Gail Harrity, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at the launch of Stir, additionally referencing everything from new public meeting and gathering spaces to “reinventing and reinterpreting” the museum’s Chinese and European galleries. 

For now, at present, there’s something soul and sight stirring in the offing. “Stir is a total experience that engages all the senses,” said  Harrity. “Our audience likes not only fine art but fine food, and this is a milestone.” 

The intimate confines of Stir – 76 people with seating and tables designed by Gehry Partners – and a new neighboring cafeteria extending the width of the building, with windows offering generous views, is part of the museum’s new culinary offerings. In 2019, a new espresso bar in the Vaulted Walkway will be accessible to the public, for the first time since the 1970s. 

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Stir is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and brunch on Sundays. Yet, between the tony restaurant’s warmly serene and stately design elements, operations and its menu (operated by the Philadelphia-based Constellation Culinary Group and locally raised newly-appointed Executive Chef Mark Tropea), you’ll find time for fine art, culture and cuisine.  

(For the record, on October 1, three years after Starr Restaurant Organization sold it, Starr Catering  changed its name to Constellation Culinary Group). Mark Tropea, the newly-appointed Executive Chef, who worked for Sonata in Philadelphia and 15 Central Park West before Starr Catering, said he was “inspired by the textures and design elements” of Gehry’s work when crafted the look of his own menu’s items. 

The walls and ceiling of Stir are clad in Douglas fir and its floors in red oak with slabs of frosted glass, felt, steel, leather, bronze, and onyx dotting the space. Stir’s architectural centerpiece though may just be Gehry ’s sculptural ceiling element – a floating sky-high ‘nest’ – shaped in Douglas fir that hints, perhaps at what the architect has planned for the interior of the Museum’s 1928 building through the Core Project. It may seem like a small touch – this overlapping criss-crossing of handsome wood – but, the manner in which it adds energy to, and pulls light from the windows, says a great deal about what Frank Gehry has planned for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the very near future.