R2L Heightens the Dining Experience
by ken alan
Seven years ago, when he was running a cozy 40-seat bistro called Gayle just off South Street, Daniel Stern certainly had lofty aspirations. Little did this 42-year-old South Jersey native realize how towering these ambitions would become—quite literally. The famed chef now helms R2L restaurant, perched high within the iconic skyline fixture of Two Liberty Place. It is a career move that has ultimately topped out Stern’s impressive reputation as a serious restaurateur within the 57-story spire, which contains some of the most premier luxury condos and office space in the city.
“I set out to make good food for people in a nice place,” says Stern. “Gayle fit that initial need; a prototypically nice little place. With R2L, though, I wanted to build a real restaurant on a grand scale. Not a thematic concept—rather, a sophisticated place.”
Better still, Stern provides a variety of offerings to the adulation of his many regular diners. A popular happy hour with reduced food and drink specials runs Monday through Thursday (4:30–6:30 pm), and R2L’s late-night scene attracts nightly crowds. The after-hours popularity is due in part to a recently unveiled $45 three-course pretheater menu. Confused? Dining-room manager and co-owner Suzette Mahoney explains: “Patrons enjoy their first two courses early, depart for their performance, and then return afterward for dessert and a night cap. The dinner’s value plus validated parking helps to create a vibrant late-night scene.”
Vibrant is one way to describe R2L. Sensuous is another way to define the chicly designed spaces and beguiling view. From the plush lounge-bar area to the clientele—it’s all very sexy. Dark woods run throughout the bar (aptly named BAR2L), as well as the adjoining first dining space, The Club Room. Nearby, a sculpture of fused, stainless steel silverware by local artist Ali Ahmad seems to float overhead, acting as a suspended divider of The Salon, R2L’s main dining room.
Window-facing banquettes go against the typical “see-and-be-seen” setting that other restaurants rely on. Instead, Stern created a series of outward-facing coves; each table allows diners to peer out at the city’s latticework of twinkling lights below and beyond. The incomparable views provide panoramas of three different states, and when clear skies prevail, romantic sunsets are guaranteed to enchant.
Sophistication also encompasses the food. Tempters include grilled truffle flatbread, along with refined main courses such as forktender short ribs and the chef’s signature lobster tail Vivienne, which he calls “the definitive [dish] of traditional and modern” cooking.
In such an elevated setting, it’s no wonder why R2L continues to be a hive for celebrities. It’s a name-droppers paradise thanks to visits from the likes of Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, and Hollywood A-listers Bradley Cooper and Harrison Ford.
Local luminaries are a regular feature here as well, especially on select Wednesdays, when R2L’s mixologists make way for area personalities including sports stars and infamous “Philebrities” during the restaurant’s Celebrity Bartending Series. These guests get their chance to shake and stir for their fans, and proceeds go to a charity of their choosing.
“Right now I am thrilled at where we are,” says Stern. With his talented team operating a 60-seat bar, 100-seat dining room, and four private event spaces, Stern has come a long way since his days on the ground at tiny Gayle.
This chef has a right to feel high—R2L is an experience that’s as captivating as it is elevating. R2L, Two Liberty Place, 37th Floor, 215-564-5337
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KRIS TAMBURELLO (INTERIORS); BRETT THOMAS (STERN); RYAN LAVINE (MACARONI); KRIS TAMBURELLO (INTERIORS); CHRISTOPHER GABELLO (VIEW); DENNIS LITTLEY (DESSERTS); GETTY IMAGES (STREISAND, COOPER)