It was a weeknight. I could have stayed home. I could have done the I’m-so-bored-I’m-just-going-to-troll-Facebook-and-see-what-other-people-are-doing routine. Instead, I dove into a Polynesian paradise. I mingled with strangers, laughed, learned, discovered a classic era in American drinking history.
Guiding me on this journey: Mike Treffehn, a non-certified Tiki expert and artisan bartender at the Center City speakeasy, the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. Mike is now one of several Philly trendsetters and tastemakers that locals can now spend a few hours getting to know during one of 15 different SideTours. What the hell is a SideTour? Basically, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience, an opportunity to get out of your social bubble and explore the city through someone else’s eyes.
“Each host isn’t a ‘tour guide,’ but a passionate and talented person sharing their perspective,” explains SideTour rep Joanna Ehrenreich. “You get a truly intimate look into their lives and walk away feeling like their personal guest.”
So intimate, in fact, that my mixology lesson was held in Mike’s own apartment. Sure, I felt a little awkward walking into a complete stranger’s home only to be greeted by four other strange faces, but it was nothing that couldn’t be quickly squelched with a few friendly handshakes and introductions, followed by three potent, rum-filled beverages. (Note: SideTour screens all its hosts.)
Having already launched experiences in N.Y.C., Washington, D.C., and Chicago, last week, the New York-based company officially unveiled its first batch of tours here in Philly. Whether you’re a homebody, thrill-seeker, college student, long-time resident or a Philly newbie, I can assure you there’s at least one that’ll peak your interest. Perhaps you’d like to leave your mark on the Philly urban scape with local muralist Betsy Casanas or roast a suckling pig with Russet head chef Andrew Wood?
Single ticket prices for the tours range anywhere from $20-$80, with most averaging around $50. If this seems like a lot, it won’t once you realize what you’re getting. The three cocktails included in my tour probably would have cost 14 bucks a pop at the Franklin. So the $65 dollar asking price seems pretty fair.
Between the impressive array of libations on his liquor shelf and the equally impressive collection of bartending and Tiki-related literature on his bookshelf, it was clear that Mike was an exceptionally qualified host.
The night of our tour, he sent an email to the group with a warning: “You should have a good solid meal before arriving. Rum on an empty stomach is no fun, I can attest.” Having only eaten a small dinner, I’m glad Mike also put a bowl of sesame sticks out, in addition to making sure we were adequately hydrated. We kicked off our lesson with a classic daiquiri, “the great mother of all things Tiki,” before moving onto the much larger, much stiffer Zombie. I recommend pacing yourself. By the time we capped off the night with a delicious Mai Tai, I was already somewhere between buzzed and hammered.
As it turns out, I’ve never had an authentic Tiki cocktail before—and chances are, neither have you. While plenty of people have thrown Hawaiian punch and coconut rum in a glass and called it Tiki over the years, the actual concoctions first crafted by Don the Beachcomber, the founding father of this pseudo-Polynesian genre, were much more intricate.
Rather than having us attempt to keep track of all the different rums, flavored syrups and other liquors he used, Mike printed menus for us to take home with the complete recipe for each drink. He also did his best to answer any questions we may have had along the way, even the ones that were completely off-topic. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one preoccupied with all the cool artwork and décor around the apartment.
Although I may never be able to make my own grenadine or master Mike’s aggressive, yet rhythmic shaking technique, I did walk away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the art form—something that I wouldn’t have gotten sitting in a bar or sitting in front of my computer watching a YouTube video.
According to Ehrenreich, the most common feedback she hears from SideTour guests are about the connections they made both with their fellow tour-mates and their hosts. “It’s a really powerful thing,” she says. “Think about it with Mike—every time you go to Franklin Mortgage now, you’ll probably check behind the bar to see if he’s there. It will just be a totally different experience.”
She’s right—not only will I forever think of Mike when I make or imbibe a Tiki drink, but knowing there’s a familiar face at the Franklin has definitely inspired me to go more often. So Mike, if you’re reading this, since we’re now buddies and all, do you think you could hook me up with some free drinks?
Upcoming SideTour Events
Drink and Discover the Classic Cocktails of Tiki Culture
Wed., March 27 & April 17. 7-9pm. $65.
Paint a Mural That Will be Part of the Philly Urban Scape
Meet renowned muralist Betsy Casañas in her studio, hear about her projects and inspirations, then help her paint pieces for a permanent outdoor installation. Wed., April 10. 7-8:30pm. $25.
Sit Down for a Multi-Course Meal of Artisanal Pies at Magpie
Enjoy a one-of-a-kind dinner of savory and sweet seasonal pies and delicious coffee drinks with the owner of Philly’s new pie shop. Thurs., April 18, May 16. 7-9pm. $65.
Join a Historic Tavern Crawl and Craft Beer Tasting
Discover Philly’s brewing heritage and the significance of the colonial beer scene while visiting some of the city’s oldest watering holes, sampling modern brews along the way. Sat., April 27 & May 18. 2-5pm. $50.
Explore Philly’s Secret Urban Jungle on a Viaduct Tour
Follow the pioneer behind the ViaductGreene project, along the 3-mile corridor of hidden industrial wilderness, imagining what it was and what it could be. Sat., March 30 & April 20. 2-4pm. $25.
Hopefully this week's issue will send good vibes to Mother Nature. It's time for warm weather, the Phillies and new adventures.
Calendar: Sept. 2-9