Bryn Mawr, a historical jewel in suburban society, boasts the busiest Main Street on the Main Line.
Bryn Mawr Film Institute is a cultural center housed in a historic theater that was built in 1926.
Bryn Mawr is often deemed the heart of the Main Line. That distinction could stem from a geographic reference, being that it’s more-or-less the center point between Main Line bookend towns Bala Cynwyd and Paoli. But in reality, it’s about more than just points on a map. With its tony strip of independently owned shops and restaurants, patrician chicness, and a healthy dose of eponymous community pride (can you say Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr Trust, Bryn Mawr Film Institute, and Bryn Mawr College?), Bryn Mawr is the symbolic capital of the Main Line.
“History gives Bryn Mawr its unique flavor—the combination of new and old, of history and modern development,” says Lower Merion commissioner V. Scott Zelov, who’s been running the Bryn Mawr ward for over eight years. “There are more 100-year-old historic structures and institutions in Bryn Mawr than any other town on the Main Line [21 to be exact], but we also have destination shopping, award-winning restaurants, and a superb art house movie theater.” Kathy Bogosian, president of the Bryn Mawr Business Association, seconds Zelov’s sentiment, saying, “Bryn Mawr has an eclectic selection of shops and businesses not found in the malls—and for the most part they’re owned and operated by local people.”
The shops that dot “Main Street” (Lancaster Avenue) anchor Bryn Mawr’s lifestyle. Walk down Lancaster and within a10-block radius you’ll find enough retail and dining options to satiate even the most demanding denizen. “Bryn Mawr is a walking community,” says David Broida, the mastermind behind the super-successful Bryn Mawr Twilight Concerts, a Lower Merion Township–supported summer outdoor concert series. “It’s just like the small towns of the 1890s—what Bryn Mawr residents celebrated 100 years ago is still valued today.”
Bryn Mawr’s Skirt boutique stocks contemporary womenswear from brands like Milly and Theory.
While the strong sense of community is undeniable, Bryn Mawr women are also sartorially minded, and most of Bryn Mawr’s best boutiques are within blocks of each other. With its pink filigreed walls and racks full of modernized preppy looks by the likes of Milly, Theory, and Alice & Olivia, Skirt (931 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-520-0222; styleboxbyskirt.com) has been a go-to boutique for Bryn Mawr women in the know. “When you think of Bryn Mawr, you think of a certain elegance,” says owner Maureen Doron. “My typical clients are smart, funny, women who are busy but want to look their their best.” Skirt is in high-style company with its neighboring boutiques, such as newcomer Ella’s Grove (876 W. Lancaster Ave., 484-380-2051), owned by Boyds’ ex-pat Fran D’Ambrosio, which offers a more eclectic take on fashion, carrying lines like Robert Rodriguez and Calvin Rucker. As a mainstay on the Philly fashion scene for more than 40 years, Knit Wit (905 W. Lancaster Ave., 484-592-0576) never disappoints, with designers such as Alexander Wang, 3.1 Philip Lim, and Haute Hippie. And for those women like Main Liners Dorrance “Dodo” Hamilton and Bhavna Shyamalan who just need their couture, Frank Agostino’s eponymous shop (840 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-520-7777) has been adorning Bryn Mawr women in hand-sewn creations for years.
Sweet Freedom Bakery’s tasty creations indulge Main Line sweet teeth without refined sugars.
Bryn Mawr is a hotbed of ethnic eateries, with options for every mood. Nicholas Farina’s Verdad Restaurant & Tequila Bar (818 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-520-9100) offers up Latin-infused tapas, and 70 different brands of tequila. Yangming (1051 Conestoga Road, 610-527-3200), a long-standing favorite, not only corners the Asian dining market on the Main Line, but also in the country, being honored as the Best Chinese Restaurant in America in a competition of 45,000. The husband-wife team of Rosemarie Tran and Gianluca Demontis (who also own Rittenhouse’s Melograno) recently brought some Roman culinary flair to Bryn Mawr with the debut of Fraschetta (816 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-525-1007). And Commissioner Zelov favors Restaurant Cerise (1011 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-527-4400), a contemporary European BYO owned by Le-Bec and Lacroix alum Ben Thomas.
For a dose of all-American sweetness, Sweet Freedom Bakery (1039 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-527-7323) recently opened, specializing in baked goods that are free of refined sugar, gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. “Bryn Mawr is an area that has a newly vegan and organic culture that is rapidly growing,” says Sweet Freedom’s Jen Kremer. But if good old-fashioned sugar and flour is a welcome treat, nothing beats The Bakery House’s (604 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-525-4139) buttercream-topped cupcakes, which have been known to bring even the most steadfast dieters to their knees.
Bryn Mawr isn’t all shopping and eating. There are plenty of other ways to fill the day, including a stop at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (824 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-527-9898); housed in the historic 1926 Bryn Mawr Theater, it hosts art-house and independent films in its beautifully restored space. “Is it our grand atrium’s 100-foot-long skylight, the four state-of-the-art theaters, or our vast selection of new and repertory film programs?” asks BMFI Executive Director Juliet Goodfriend cheekily. The recently expanded and renovated theater, also on the National Register of Historic Places, is a large draw for visitors and locals alike. “We have the largest membership of any art house theater in the country—over 7,000 members,” Goodfriend says.
On tap for this fall is “A Celebration of David Lynch,” a retrospective series in conjunction with “David Lynch: The Unified Field,” a new exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The capstone of the series will be a visit from David Lynch himself on September 13, joining members for a conversation moderated by film critic Carrie Rickey.
And while a night watching David Lynch movies probably would scar the kiddies, there are tons of things in Bryn Mawr that can keep even the most precocious preschoolers engaged. Just featured on the Today show, the Play Café (934 W. Lancaster Ave., 610-525-0776) is a 4,000-square foot sanctuary of unbreakability where kids can play in the Lego® loft, take a yoga class, or draw on the wall, all while the parents kick back on the comfy couches and sip La Colombe coffee. Doron is one such parent and says that places like the Play Café exemplify what’s so special about Bryn Mawr. “I have select taste and I want the best,” she says. “The best hairdresser, the best food, the best gifts and toys for my children. It’s all right here.”