Savor sophisticated cocktails under the sidewalk.
Ben Franklin once said beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy. At Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., the underground gin mill that opened in June with more buzz than a beehive, Ben’s quote is inscribed on page six of the handsome menu. But at this urbane speakeasy, cocktails, not beer, are king.
Owners Michael Welsh and Christopher Doggett—they met while Welsh was bartending at Tir Na Nog—recruited one of the owner’s of N.Y.C.’s salacious Death & Co. to consult on the design and cocktails of their suave Philly saloon. Like Death & Co., finding Franklin Mortgage is a bit of a challenge, so here’s a tip: Don’t look for bouncers, red carpets or VIP lists. Franklin’s game of hard-to-get is far more civilized: an inconspicuous basement-level entrance; a sign so small you can’t even call it that; a door of the heavy wood variety that one pries, rather than pulls, open.
Air of mystery, consider yourself cultivated. Standing at that very door at 9 p.m. on a steamy Thursday, I was dreading what I guessed would be the single-malt mafia and a freezerful of douchesicles waiting on the other side. Instead, I found ad men and hipsters, lawyers and waiters on their night off, all reclining like Gatsby characters in a space as trim and chic as an Italian suit. Not a false eyelash of snobbery. Not a staff member anything less than welcoming.
At Franklin Mortgage, there’s no vodka or Red Bull or food—the last embargo will be lifted next month, when DiBruno’s arrives with cheese and charcuterie—and the only bottle service is colonial Caribbean rum punch supplied by the carafe for two and bowl for six. The most coveted pieces of ice are the three types in the glasses— impurity-free classic Kold-Draft cubes, pieces crushed the size of Nerds and hunks hand-chipped off are delivered in 300-pound blocks—not on the bodies of the clientele.
Find the bar way in the back, a snug set-up lined with four stools and staffed by familiar-looking bartenders that’ll have you racking your brain to remember where you saw them last. Let me help: Barclay Prime, APO, James, Zahav, to name a few. They’re fast, turning out multi-ingredient drinks like the Billy Penn Club with aplomb.
Consider the Club, a titillating tipple of Old Tom gin, lemon and dry vermouth under a frothy head of hard-shaken organic egg white. The clever surprise is apple butter, imparting a subtle harvest flavor, autumn hue and viscosity that coats the tongue like sweet spiced marrow.
With all the barstools occupied, I sipped that Club from a spot on a tufted blood-red leather banquette that would look at home in the Clue Billiard Room, and followed it up with Mucho Picchu, an innocent-looking citrus sparkler concealing the alcoholic smack of Peruvian pisco. The entire staff is trained for the floor as well as bar, meaning the informed, discreet servers at the marble tables will be able to easily describe the Luxardo Maraschino (an esoteric Italian liqueur made from Marasca cherries) whose sweetness alleviates the Mucho’s sting.
By 10:30, free seats were scarce and a few drinkers had taken refuge at a standing-room-only marble bar rail. But the scene at Franklin Mortgage was as chill as the cocktails still to come: the Daisy de Santiago, an enchanting siren of Yellow Chartreuse, mint, lime and caramel-y 7-year-aged Nicaraguan rum; the refreshing Simó Cup, a Pimm’s Cup on the lam with strawberry and cucumber; and the Southside, a neo-mojito blend of Beefeater, bitters, lime and mint served straight up in a chilled Champagne coupe.
The Center City Swizzle was the only elixir I wouldn’t order again. Based on Pennsylvania rye and accented with Velvet Falernum, a tiki liqueur crafted with allspice, vanilla and clove, it was cloying for a whisky drink. The balancing agents of hot (ginger), sour (lemon) and bitter (Angostura bitters) needed reinforcements to restore equilibrium to this confection. Fortunately, since all the cocktails cost a flat $12, one that doesn’t rock your world also won’t rock your wallet.
For craft cocktails of a certain caliber, Franklin Mortgage’s are among the city’s most affordable. Three exquisite drinks and tip will cost you less than $45. In this drinker’s economy, I don’t know of a sounder investment. ■