THE ROAD TO this Irish pub in Philadelphia is paved with potholes of good fortune.
The predicted snowfall had not materialized, providing us clear sailing from our home in Washington, D.C. My wife and I did not argue even once the entire two-and-a-half-hour drive, possibly a marital record. And when I turned a corner in Phillys ever-congested Old City District neighborhood, there appeared before me an open parking space.
An end spot, no less.
On New Years Eve.
Im sure, then, that you can understand why Im worried. Too much bluebird-on-the-shoulder can mean only one thing: one messy bird when the piano inevitably falls from a window.
I study the parking signs, one after another, halfway down the block.
What are you doing? Jessica asks, pulling her coat around her.
Making sure, I reply, as I sound out the small print about permits and commercial vehicles and holidays.
Shes read the sign above our car.
Fine. That scariest word in all of urban language. Well, that and tow.
But convinced that the signs do, in fact, say what I think they say, I relax, and we go across the street to the pub. It is a spacious, inviting place, with high ceilings and a long, shiny wood bar. Just the sort of place that can lull you into complacency.
Halfway through my draft beer and fish-and-chips, it hits me.
We never eat anything but Italian in Philly.
Something different is one thing. Tempting fate, quite another.
Philly is maybe the best city in America for Italian food.
When we visit, which isnt often enough, we devour everything from the simple to the exquisite cheesesteaks at Pats King of Steaks and Jims Steaks and everybody elses; spaghetti and meatballs at Ralphs Italian Restaurant (which claims to be the oldest family-run Italian restaurant in the country); a sandwich of roast pork with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone, which some consider the true Philly sammy, at Johns Roast Pork; ricotta gnocchi at the cozy restaurant-in-a-house, LAngolo; papparadelle in chestnut sauce at Le Castagne, and on and on.
And no matter what else we do, we always stroll the blocks and blocks of the Ninth Street Italian Market, purchasing from its dizzying array of fresh produce and exotic cheeses and extra-virgin olive oils and fragrant spices and spectacular lunch meats and house-made sausages and crispy breads and delicious pastas. We carry not one but two coolers in our car to hold the stuff.
What we dont put in the cooler is fish-and-chips.
WE SHOULDNT BE here.
By here, I dont mean this Irish pub. I dont even mean Philadelphia. For Philly is a great city in which to celebrate New Years.
At midnight, throngs of locals huddle together at Penns Landing to ooh and ahh at the remarkable fireworks display over the black waters of the Delaware River. On New Years Day, even more crowds gather along Broad Street to gape at the Mummers Parade, a daylong insanity of wacky marchers, outlandish floats and elaborately costumed string bands.
No, by here, I mean somewhere other than where we traditionally have been on this night.
The past few years, we have spent New Years Eve with close friends over a sumptuous multicourse dinner prepared by the attendees. Although we love the intimacy and emotional warmth, not to mention the phenomenal food and inevitable living-room dancing to every conceivable artist, from Patsy Cline to Metallica to Prince, Jessica and I got what you might call a wild hair: We wanted to do something different.
Something different is rarely a good idea.
It makes you leave what you love and eat fish-and-chips instead.
Oh, sure, fish-and-chips can be good and all, and these are. Still
Later, for dinner, we have a prix-fixe dinner of roasted oysters with caviar; split grilled lobster for me, rack of lamb for her; warm chocolate cake and a fountain of sparkling wine at the citys renowned Oyster House.
That was incredible, Jessica says when were back out on the street.
I glance up for pianos.
The next morning, we walk to the Mummers Parade and jockey for position among the crowds to watch the beaded, feathered, face-painted and masked marchers dance sometimes crazily sometimes choreographed, up Broad.
After several hours, our real first meal of the day is at an experimental Mexican restaurant called El Vez. We share black-truffle guacamole, shrimp enchiladas in almond sauce and black-bean corn cakes filled with grilled nopales.
For dinner, we hit a newly opened Texas barbecue joint.
Barbecue. In Philly.
The following morning, we leave Philly without even stopping for a cheesesteak.
Im stunned. Philly without Italian?
As we drive out of town, I keep a watchful eye on the sky. It hadnt fallen, nor had a piano fallen out of it. In fact, it seemed to me that we had expanded our universe, and there was something good about that.
Nonetheless, unsettling, this something-different stuff.
We did argue on the way back, though. And that reassured me that all was right with the world.