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The Spirits of 1776

The Spirits of 1776

Philadephia's New Cocktail Scene.

Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Out.

Philadelphia, birthplace of our nation, also happens to be the birthplace of beer. When William Penn showed up in 1683, he wrote home excitedly about the punch and the beer, which he called a ?very tolerable drink.? (?Dear Ma, Love the forests! The beer here is great! Xo, Bill.?) In 1840, a wave of Bavarian immigrants brought a sea of lager to the area. Today, microbrews are as Philadelphian as ?Yo!? and the cheese steak. Until recently, beer was pretty much the only thing you could get out. But a cocktail mania has hit the City of Brotherly Love, and that?s good news for those looking for a slightly classier evening.

Among the most exciting bo?tes is a charming subterranean bar near the city?s gay neighborhood, Washington Square West, called the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., named after a Prohibition-era front. Fittingly, in a long, narrow, speakeasy-ish den, mixologists serve well-crafted cocktails like the Philadelphia Scotsman (bonded apple brandy, ruby port, ginger, orange, and lemon juice topped with seltzer) to a sophisticated crowd.

A few blocks away, APO (short for Apothecary) Bar & Lounge serves serious cocktails with a healthy dose of local pride. (For New Yorkers: Think Therapy mixed with the Chinatown cocktail grotto Apotheke.) APO?s take on a Manhattan -- featuring a flaming orange and artisanal Fee Brothers bitters and named after the Philly nabe Midtown Village -- is best drunk on the rooftop patio on a summer?s day.

But the most telling herald of the city?s cocktail revival might be that two of Philadelphia?s biggest restaurant players have set their sights on spirits. Jose Garces, who already has six restaurants, just opened Village Whiskey, which offers cocktails like the Philadelphia Fish House Punch and one ounce tastings of its predictably extensive list of single malts, mash-bill bourbons, and ryes.

The other big player, Stephen Starr of Morimoto and Buddakan, enlisted New York?s Sasha Petraske (from Milk & Honey) to create the cocktail program at the Ranstead Room (2013 Chestnut St. via Ranstead St.), near the idyllic Rittenhouse Square. As in the land of Milk & Honey, your best bet is to saddle up to a snakeskin stool and put yourself in the competent hands of the bartender.

Street Guide

Sleep
Moments away from Washington Square West, Hotel Palomar has a stylish decor and free wine in the lobby. 117 S. 17th St.; (215) 563-5006; HotelPalomar-Philadelphia.com

Eat
Chef Michael Solomonov?s Zahav serves reinvented Israeli cuisine in a beautiful Society Hill dining room. For cocktails, try the Marble Rye, made with pumpernickel-infused rye and celery soda. 237 St. James Pl.; (215) 625-8800; ZahavRestaurant.com

Party
The gigantic Voyeur has the best all-night dance party. Opened last year by the brothers behind Woody?s -- the Gay Cheers of Philly -- it?s slick, dark, loud, and fun. 1221 St. James St.; (215) 735-5772; VoyeurNightClub.com

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