Although I have lived all my life in the middle of the Atlantic, I have only visited the city of Philadelphia on a few fleeting occasions. So with the high Philly rep and my craving for good cheesesteaks at a fever pitch, I hopped on Amtrak, put my feet up, and girded myself up to fight with the dining scene and cocktails at the city. Just a week after their Super Bowl victory, I half expected to get off the train and find some kind of hell scenery, but the city was in good shape. Steeped in both American and alcoholic history, Philly is a great drinking scene, with colorful blue-collar workers haunting beers and boilermakers and a grounded, spirited cocktail scene. Despite its harsh rep, I found Philly welcoming, with thirsty locals happy to chat over cocktails. And I say that as a Giants fan.
The first stop on our cocktail tour was The Franklin Bar aka Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company. In my book, any trip to Philly is incomplete until you check in at this gas cocktail haunt - in 2015, as a budding cocktail enthusiast, I had one of the best nights of my drinking life at the little bar downstairs. I can still taste this peanubutter and bourbon drink! So I felt at home when I entered the romantic space. In the dark, we tried several drinks including the "Quick beet heart»With juniper, gin, pistachio orgeat, lime, Grand Marnier and beet syrup. Despite using cursed beetroot as an ingredient (sorry, I hate them), this drink had the right kind of vegetable verve, enhanced by the richness and body of barley. I then got the "Dutch lostWith bourbon, honey, and lemon (and a few other ingredients that I missed). It was a bit thin and rigorous for my taste, and bourbon never quite met that sweet power.
It was a quick walk down 18th Street to our next place, the quaint Love, a bar / restaurant with a relaxed art deco theme. We sat / sat at the dark bar feasting on Parker's carb laden roles, a perfect base for a night on the town. For our cocktail, I ordered the large and shapely "Sunset Boulevard”With champagne, aperol and lemon syrup. I liked this subversive drink, which looks like a disposable bubbler but actually brings a bitter kick, lifted by the thick sweetness of the lemon syrup. I enjoyed sipping this one as we mingled with some Philly sophists for a pre-dinner bite or drink.
Proximity is the mad drinker friend, so we crossed the street to A barA cozy, stage bar with hardworking bartenders serving up enticing drinks. I went with the "Lucy i'm home”With Beefeater gin, aperol, St. Germain, ginger, lemon and orange blossom water. This drink had a lot to offer, but it was a bit heavy on the ginger - not a crime for a ginger demon like me, but it was too much, and washed up the drink. Still, a fun Friday night scene there at A. Bar and I wish I had more time to browse their terrific cocktail list.
To top off our first night in Philly and for dinner, you know, we ventured into the heart of legendary South Philly. On South Street, there is a low-key restaurant named Serpico that you really should try - disconcertingly classy, we had the chance and pleasure to score seats overlooking the bustling open kitchen. I don't dare explain it, but watching your food cooking makes it taste a little better - you feel the strain, you know? To sip while watching, I ordered the "Sparkling»With sparkling wine, plum, honey and Peychaud. Easy to taste with that organic, simmering sweetness of plum and the sweetness of honey, it was the perfect accompaniment to the barrage of fine dishes we indulged in. Helluva night!
On our second night, after a fabulous dinner at Bibou (you have to go) we stopped at the Rittenhouse Hotel Library Bar. The main living room is beautiful, with just the right level of mystery and a backdrop of hundreds of books. I mean, it's just heaven. The rear helm is classic Chicago, dark and dignified with backlighting. My drink was the "Smoke and mirrors»An amazing cocktail served in a smoked teapot with Hedrick's gin, grapefruit, Rooibos tea and vanilla. This easy combination of plant-based and sweet citrus was a perfect way to end an evening - with the vanilla / tea hue at the end, electrified with gin, I felt like I was having a cup of tea before bed. Except a lot more fun.
Rise and shine tourist! I'm not a heavy brunch drinker - sure, a short day of drinking never hurts anyone, but I try to stay focused on the carbs. However, the long list of brunch cocktails at Talula Garden caught my eye, so I weighed in, ordering the "Quick study», A winter daiquiri with rum, lime and mysterious winter spaces. It was wonderful, and I say that as a committed lover of daiquiri - a divine conglomerate of citrus and fall, I loved this sweet, complicated little drink. Worth the brunch alone. Then the "Doctor»With gin, lime and grapefruit. I'm a sucker for a nice twist, and it was fine, although I thought the grapefruit was a bit strict and gave the overall taste.
Accompanied by a few locals dripping with knowledge about food and drink, I knew our last night in Philadelphia would be special. We started in Center City, at 1 tipping space, a spacious, quirky space with tons of seating and a tchotchke-laden climb that veered wildly between Ole Philly and the Old West. Sitting at a high table behind the bar, I ordered two glasses, the first on "the President»With white rum, white vermouth, Grand Marnier and house grenadine. A simple showcase and even for the vermouth, it was a good winter evening cocktail, with a nice sweet aftertaste. Then comes the seasonal "Red tail»With whiskey, Sly Fox IPA, merry heering, jack apple, lemon and bitter peach. This robust and full-bodied drink was beautiful and came to play, with lovely herbal notes of yeast and a conspiratorial citrus undertone.
Stepping out into the cold night air we made a little jaunt to a wonderful bar, the secret and the sinner Ranstead Room. This place is reminiscent of a New York opium pit (the good parts) and is well hidden, tucked away in an alley - our attempt to walk the day before failed because the bar was so crowded. Undeterred, we pressed the next night and had the chance to score a red leather stand. I loved this bar! Adorned in garish red light and the tasteful erotica of the 1970s, this living room is a gem. This vibe may have overwhelmed my senses, as I neglected to record what I was actually drinking! But the drinks were pretty good and I can't wait to visit the room again.
The conclusion to our getaway to Philly was Friday Saturday Sunday, a well thought out gourmet restaurant in the city center. The bar was hopping on a Sunday night which was a bit of a shame as I couldn't meet my Instagram buddy Paul MacDonald, who was fully engaged in the distribution of cocktails to a group of local drinkers. The next time. Dinner upstairs, I ordered the cake "Fuzzy line" with Nicaraguan rum, lime, grapefruit, cinnamon, allspice and egg white. Just the right amount of flavor and richness, this spice-laden winter cocktail pairs well with red meat.
We left FSS and walked back through Rittenhouse Square, lit by winter lights, for a final twilight stroll through the city. But no trip to Philadelphia would be complete, of course, without an early morning breakfast in Wawa the next day - FTW Egg and Cheese Croissant. And with that, I said goodbye to the city of brotherly love, until next time!
A little time put into preparation makes for an enjoyable evening. Drinking cocktails should be a fun and relaxing experience, so take a while to think about ingredients in advance, to avoid any rushing around last minute.
One of the foundations of many cocktails is sugar syrup. This can be prepared in advance. Here’s my tip for easy to prepare simple syrup : Add 200 gm white sugar to 200 ml boiling water. Stir till sugar is dissolved, and liquid is clear. Allow to cool then bottle
If you mix lemon juice 50 : 50 with simple syrup, you should have a solid mid-line sweet-sour balance. But remember, every palate is different. to find your own point of balance, mix 15ml fresh lemon juice with 15ml simple syrup, and then dilute the mix with up to 90ml water. Congratulations, you’ve just made fresh lemonade ! If this tastes too sweet or too sour, adjust by adding a little more citrus or syrup. Using this method of calibration, you can adjust any cocktail recipe to suit your own palate.
Ice is the solo most over-looked ingredient at any home bar - you’ll be surprised how much you can go through. Cocktails need ice like baking needs ovens. If popping to the shops for ice isn’t an option right now, keeping a freezer bag topped up with ice will ensure you don’t run out unexpectedly. For best quality home-made ice, try using a silicone ice tray with a lid, to prevent your ice from absorbing unpleasant odours. And wash your ice tray after each use.
Where possible always go for premium spirits, the freshest herbs, and the best juices you can get your hands on. For instance, the taste difference between cheap juice and pressed juice is more than worth the small extra expense.
Try to use glassware appropriate to your drinks. It’s entirely possible to drink a martini from an old coffee mug, but that misses the point of drinking a martini !
If you can make a Whiskey Sour, you can make a Daiquiri. If you make a mean Negroni, you can riff on a Boulevardier. Once you’ve mastered the Manhattan, have some fun in Brooklyn on your way to Martinez. Cocktails exist in family trees. Once you are comfortable the basics of each category the world is your oyster !
You can pre-mix punches in advance - an old trick from the godfathers of bartending in the 19th century. You can bottle punch and store it in the fridge, ready to use on the day, or later that week. If done properly, quality and consistency are assured. If your punch has a fizzy ingredient, such as clairette, only add this your glass just before serving.
If you follow the Punch Ratio, you can’t go far wrong : 1 part sour ( citrus ) 2 parts sweet ( simple syrup ) 3 parts strong ( spirit ) 4 parts weak ( juices etc ) And don’t shy away from warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, to make that punch really sing. Don’t have those spices to hand ? No problem, a few dashes of Angostura bitters will do the trick.
We all have a few unloved ingredients lying around that need using up. For instance, that last bit of red wine in the bottle ? Try drizzling it over your Whisky Sour, and voila, you’ve got yourself a delicious New York Sour ! Do you have some nice but neglected spice mix in the kitchen ? Try mixing a teaspoon or two into your simple syrup as it cools to give your next cocktail an added dimension. Seasonal fresh herbs make a wonderful aromatic petit cocktail garnish.
So now, you’ve hit your stride and you’re getting creative in your home bar. Great ! Our top tip for petit cocktail creation ? Write down the exact specifications as you are making it. It’s not always easy to perfectly recall the recipe for that killer cocktail the next day !
If all this sounds like a bit of a chore, then keep an eye open for delivery services available from many local cocktail parcs. After all, with the finer things in life, it’s nice to sit back, relax and let the professionals do all hard the work.