NEW YORK - It's a little odd to hear the bartender at one of the best-known cocktail bars on the eastern seaboard demur, "We're not a cocktail town," and defer to beer.
But that's par for the course in modest Philadelphia, a city known to describe itself as "a suburb of New York." Despite the inferiority complex to showier sisters in New York and Washington DC, Philly's cocktail scene is making strides.
"We're not there yet, honestly," says Colin Shearn, General Manager and Bartender of The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (thefranklinbar.com/), located near the Rittenhouse business district. "We drink Yuengling beer". Yuengling harks from the oldest operating brewery in America, headquartered nearby in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
But have you seen The Franklin's cocktail list? Punches and exciting "golden age" cocktails abound. Anyone who goes to The Franklin for a beer is missing out.
As one of the oldest cities in the United States, perhaps it makes sense that Philly has embraced one of the oldest cocktail forms around: Punch. Developed in the 18th century by British sailors in the Pacific, punch includes five elements: Strong, weak, sour, sweet and spice.
Punch was (and still is) prepared by the bowlful with locally plentiful citrus, spices and distilled spirits. And best of all, they fit with Philly's convivial vibe: No one drinks punch alone.
At Oyster House (www.oysterhousephilly.com/), located just a couple of blocks from City Hall, bartender Katie Loeb has made a name with punches such as the Mother's Ruin (made with gin, natch) and Gunpowder Punch, made with cardamom- and white pepper-spiked rye whiskey, citrus and tea.
Less social types can opt for a single-serve cocktail or even mini "oyster shooters" to accompany what Shearn terms, "the best raw bar in the city."
Meanwhile, The Farmer's Cabinet (www.thefarmerscabinet.com/) is the place for inspired drinking, perhaps set to the soundtrack of a ragtime piano or a local jazz band.
Of course, punch is on offer, such as the Powder Horn Punch made with navy strength dark rum, but so are classics and "beer-inspired" cocktails that contain no beer. In addition, "they have the most esoteric beer list I've ever seen," says Shearn, "which in this town is saying something."
Okay, maybe Philly really is a beer town after all. But clearly, it's a punch town too.
Recipe: Regime Change Punch (Courtesy of Colin Shearn, The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.) Punch for one? Yes, The Franklin serves up punch in individual portions (like this one), as well as by the flowing bowlful. 1.5 ounces Old Grand-Dad Bonded Whiskey 1 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice .75 ounce Tropical Fruit Black Tea .5 oz Lairds Bonded Applejack .5 oz Demerara Syrup .25 oz Galliano .25 oz Honey Syrup 1 tsp. Allspice Dram 1 dash Bittermens Elemakule bitters Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into large goblet with fresh ice. Top with 1 oz seltzer. Makes 1 serving
(Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato)
Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available. The opinions expressed are her own.