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Q&A: Author Irene Levy Baker


Photo by Tessa Marie Images.

Knowing the ins and outs of a city as large as Philadelphia is a huge advantage. And though Irene Levy Baker grew up in Ohio, she’s spent the past 25 years living in and around the city. She worked at the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau before opening her own PR agency 16 years ago. A healthy sense of wonder and adventure informs her new book, 100 Things to Do in Philadelphia Before You Die (Reedy Press, 160 pages).

MLT: How did you choose 100 items? 

ILB: I had to be cutthroat. I made a list, and then I started eliminating. As I was cutting, I thought of more things to add. Sometimes, as I was writing, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and think, “I forgot …” 

MLT: Did you make any new discoveries? 

ILB: I’ve been to just about all of the places in the book. I don’t want to go to all 100, because I’m not ready to die. I’d never been inside a house on Elfreth’s Alley; there are only two days a year you can go inside. It was interesting to talk to people who live on a street where people are peering in their windows all the time. 

MLT: Does the book extend to our area?

ILB: It includes places outside the city proper when they’re unique enough. Children’s Book World, the QVC Studio Tour, Sesame Place and Longwood Gardens are really outstanding. 

MLT: What are some of your personal favorites?

ILB: Reading Terminal Market, Spruce Street Harbor Park, Mural Arts tours, Magic Gardens. I really love exploring all of the neighborhoods. I included the neighborhood with each entry to make it easier for people to see things. Philadelphia is an incredibly walkable city—William Penn’s layout is brilliant. 

MLT: What do you hope people get out of the book? 

ILB: I’m the person people call to ask where to take their mother-in-law to dinner, how to impress their college roommate, where they should have a rehearsal dinner. For years, I’ve been that resource for people I know, and now I can be that resource for strangers. 

MLT: How did your PR background help you with this book?

ILB: Because I specialize in hospitality, I make it a point to go to all these places, talk to people, and share. I’m the type of person who walks around and talks to strangers and ask lots of questions.

MLT: How did you connect with both locals and visitors?

ILB: There’s a couple of ways locals could use the book: for a fun weekend activity, for entertaining kids over break, or entertaining visiting family or friends. You could spend hours and hours looking online for things to do in Philadelphia, and some people love doing that. But if you’re only here for a weekend, it’s quick and easy.