Call us old-fashioned (better yet, just order us one), but something about these Prohibition era-esque gin joints has got us wishing we were still ever-so-secret about our stills.
In the inaugural edition of Barfly we looked at PDT in New York, another world tucked away on the outskirts of Alphabet City, and this week we traveled along the ole I-95 to the mother of all speakeasies, The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Back in the late 1920s, The Franklin served as a front for a 10,000-gallon-a-day alcohol operation run by a man known as Max “Boo Boo” Hoff. But in 2013, it’s a bar—no, that’s too crass a word—it’s an establishment celebrating and celebrated for its heritage.
Located just a few city blocks from the infamous Love Statue, The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. is, like most speakeasies, a long, ill-lit wooden sanctuary, a place that 80-some-odd years ago might have been the storeroom for “the stash.” Few would have a problem picturing a Nucky Thompson type kicking illegally obtained barley and hops–filled barrels along the old oak floors and out into a cold winter’s night. Its interior is of course more refined now—with the staple burgundy leather booths and murals adorning the walls documenting another time—but it still gives off an air of impermanence, as if any minute the coppers could come busting in and break up the whole thing. Call it impromptu.
What you wouldn’t call impromptu is the craft and care put into their drinks. If the décor harkens back to a time when alcohol was a four-letter word, the bartenders are from a time just before. Pre-Prohibition, tending bar was considered an art; secrets to successful drinks were passed down through the ages, and evidence suggests that they all landed in Philadelphia. Broken down into five distinct categories (with such appealing names as “I asked her for water, she brought me gasoline”), Franklin’s drink menu is like no other. Take for example “The Battle of Blythe Road”: a rare combination of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, El Dorado 3-Year rum, absinthe, Argiolas Vermentino, lime juice, green apple syrup, dandelion burdock bitters and acid phosphate, served tall, with soda. Or the “Sorry for Partying Punch”: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Wray & Nephew rum, Dolin Blanc vermouth, crème de cacao and Nux Alpina walnut liqueur.
If you don’t know what half those things are, you’re not alone, but that’s what makes The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. so unique; it’s well beyond a bar, a place to grab a beer. It’s an experience, an establishment.