Philly's Top 15 Drinks

In random order, because we just couldn’t play favorites.

By PW Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Nov. 17, 2009

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True story: At least two writers associated with this issue got a teensy bit tipsy after sampling one particularly potent drink on the top 15 list. (Oyster House’s Katie Loeb makes ’em strong and delicious.) Light weights, you say? Nope. Just dedicated. For PW’s annual food and drink issue, we went out to get our drink on. We dispatched four of the most discerning drinkers we know to scour the city for the most delicious cocktails. They’re listed here in no specific order, because, quite honestly, we couldn’t choose a favorite. We also challenged some of our favorite local ’tenders to mix up tasty liquid libations using locally distilled absinthe and got the recipes, so yes, please do try this at home. While we’re giving orders, check out the inside scoop on what you can do to make bartenders love you. (Hint: It has nothing to do with tipping.) And if you, like us, sometimes sample too much sauce, we’ve got six surefire edible hangover cures. Just don’t blame that hangover on us. Blame it on the al-al-al-alcohol. (Erica Palan)


Dear brown liquor-averse, please meet the cocktail that will lure you to the dark side. The James-hattan, Jim and Kristina Burke’s riff on the classic Manhattan, is so smooth it rides down the throat like a tyke on a Slip ’n’ Slide. Dispensed from a Green-Glass jug behind the exposed brick-backed bar, whiskey infused in-house with raisins, cinnamon and orange mingles with sweet vermouth in a Boston shaker before being strained into a properly chilled martini glass. The resulting mix is autumn in a cup, really subtle and best enjoyed by James’ fireplace. (Adam Erace) $10. James, 824 S. Eighth St. 215.629.4980.

Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em

Normally, with beer, our rule is “don’t mess with a good thing.” Hence, we approached the London Grill’s new draft beer cocktail menu with great skepticism, and our uncertainty was largely validated. With one notable exception. The Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, arriving in a highball and looking like a glass of iced tea that’s been sitting out in the sun too long, harnesses the kick of chipotle-infused mezcal to the crisp, hoppy character of Victory’s Prima Pils. The smoked salt lining the rim enhances the smoky flavors of the mezcal. This one burns, but in a very good way. (D.P.)
 $9. London Grill, 2301 Fairmount Ave. 215.978.4545.

Frozen Blood Orange Margarita

Stop it. We see you rolling your eyes, murmuring under your breath. “Frozen drinks are for resort tourists and sorority girls.” Yeah, yeah. And while we might concede that the frozen blood O at El Vez isn’t as meticulously handcrafted as the other cocktails on this list, you can’t argue about how great it tastes. Tiny bits of plump pulp from blood orange purée spike the drink with delicious bursts of juice. The long bite of gold tequila lingers in the mouth after the original tart kick fades away. Put another way: This shit is the shit, so tough shit. But you know that already, otherwise you wouldn’t be buying the nearly 16 gallons El Vez sells each day. (Brian McManus) $9. El Vez, 121 S. 13th St. 215.928.9800.

Calvados Sidecar

Unlike the rest of France, there’s very little wine produced in the region of Normandy. Beyond beaches dotted with Nazi pillboxes and the scars of the D-Day invasion lay apple orchards instead of vineyards. That didn’t stop the thirsty and resourceful people of this area from creating their own unique alcohol distilled from fermented apples, Calvados. Evocative of apples and pears, the young liquor is aged in oak casks to round out the flavor and color. At the Rittenhouse Square brasserie Parc, they’ve Normanized their Sidecar by replacing brandy with Calvados but stay true to tradition by finishing the drink with the sweet orange liqueur Cointreau and fresh lemon juice. (Tim McGinnis)
 $8. Parc, 227 S. 18th St. 215.545.2262.

Oyster House Punch(es)

The Oyster House makes the best version of the storied Fish House punch—a traditionally potent blend of rum, cognac and brandy created in 1848—we’ve had in Philly, where the drink was invented. The secret? Master mixologist Katie Loeb substitutes apricot brandy for peach, making for a drier, less sweet drink. The end result is tasty and complex and will, as written of the original in a poem collected in the 1885 book The Cook , “make you forget your mother-in-law.” Now here’s the bad news: Oyster House Punch was taken off the menu last week. It’s a summer drink, after all, and we’re deep in the throes of autumn. But don’t fret. Loeb has another punch that packs a wallop for the season: Mother’s Ruin—a gin (or “mother’s ruin” in Brit slang) and cinnamon/chai tea-infused sweet vermouth concoction topped with champagne. Loeb borrowed the recipe from friend and mentor Phillip Ward (see “Silver Monk”), mixologist at New York City restaurant/mezcal bar Mayahuel, and we’re thrilled she did. Grapefruit juice and fresh lemon juice give the punch a tart jolt, and will fill you with such warmth you’ll forget summer ever left. (B.Mc.) $7. Oyster House, 1516 Sansom St. 215.567.7683.


When life hands you lemons, go for Lemonnanas at Zahav. That’s right, plural. This street-wise Israeli lemonade spiked with Jim Beam was made for session drinking, inspired by the cart coolers served to combat the heat in the Holy Land. “In Israel, they blend it with ice to make almost a slushy,” says Steve Cook, who with chef and co-owner Mike Solomonov, brainstormed Zahav’s cocktail menu “on buses traveling throughout the country” on a company field trip. At the sand-hued Society Hill resto, the hard lemonade is shaken and poured over fresh ice in a tall Collins glass wonderfully swampy with muddled mint and lemon verbena. Ridiculously refreshing and fragrant, the easy-drinking Lemonnana also makes fast friends with any of Solomonov’s za’atar-dusted delights. (A.E.)
 $9.50. Zahav, 237 Saint James Place, 215.625.8800.

Chicha Morada

PW’ s food writers are an adventurous lot. We’ve happily tucked into bowls of tripe, picked at braised pork neck and salivated over some of the stinkiest cheeses in the world, but most of us would draw the line at Peru’s chicha morada. A chicha maker chews on purple maize, allowing salivary enzymes to convert the starch into fermentable sugars thus creating alcohol. Luckily, Chifa’s modern interpretation of the drink is served with less risk of swine flu. Their version includes the use of spiced rum as the alcohol component mixed with purple corn and pineapple. Served in a wine glass over ice, the drink is reminiscent of horchata and sangria rather than mucus and loogies. (T.M.)
 $8/glass, $32/pitcher. Chifa, 707 Chestnut St. 215.925.5555.

Silver Monk

Imagine our horrified surprise to discover, after drowning our World Series sorrows in Silver Monks at Franklin Mortgage, that this sprightly tequila cocktail is a Yankee import. Gregarious Franklin barkeep Colin Shearn may have mixed us this tonic of blanco, muddled mint and cucumber, pinches of salt and simple syrup and a dash of yellow Chartreuse, but “the Silver Monk was created by Phil Ward, formerly the head bartender at Death & Co.,” explains Shearn. Poured over a hand-chipped ice “rock” in a double old-fashioned glass, this Monk is the kind of refreshing, invigorating formula that’s perfect to start or end the night with, though we’re partial to Shearn’s apt description: “fucking amazing.” (A.E.)
 $12. Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., 112 S. 18th St. 267.467.3277.


Blur the line between fantasy and reality at Noble American Cookery by ordering the very same drink imbibed by James Bond in the 1953 book Casino Royale . Composed of Philly’s own Penn 1681 Vodka and Bluecoat gin, the cocktail is rounded out by bitter orange French aperitif Lillet blonde and orange bitters then sweetened with the essential oils of a lemon peel. Order the Vesper from Christian Gaal, who looks like he should be bartending in 1880s Deadwood and who hustles like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. A better martini is simply unimaginable. (T.M.) $12. Noble, 2025 Sansom St. 215.568.7000.


“Maybe you’re thinking Manhattan?” Kip Waide says when asked about the Americano he stirs up at Southwark. “Americano is delicious, but we sell very few.” To be sure, if the Manhattan was a religion, Waide’s handsome saloon would be the altar at which to worship, but here you can also sip a lavender-tinted Aviation, a genuine pisco sour frothy with shaken raw egg white and the city’s most dashing Americano, a café cocktail with origins in circa-1860 Milan. Waide creates Gaspare Campari justice with a calibration of sweet vermouth and the bitter vermilion aperitivo. Mismeasured, the Americano can be as ugly as the Americans that occupy Milan’s duomos on Perillo Tours, but Waide’s is thirst-quenching and balanced, cut with seltzer and refreshed with an orange slice. By contrast, the Manhattan seems almost fussy. (A.E.) $12. Southwark Restaurant, 701 S. Fourth St. 215.238.1888. 

The Hemingway

In drinker’s lore, Ernest Hemingway may be most widely associated with the daiquiri, a rum drink. But Papa was nothing if not Catholic in his taste for booze. In 1997, Samuel Rogal built an entire book, For Whom the Dinner Bell Tolls , on Hemingway’s published references to food and drink. Distrito’s nod to the literary icon is a daiquiri variant that starts with tequila (in this case Hornitos) infused with chile. The citrus edge comes from grapefruit juice, and there’s a maraschino for good measure. Subtle yet fierce, the Hemingway is the standout on a cocktail menu that’s solid from top to bottom. (D.P.) $10. Distrito, 3945 Chestnut St. 215.222.1657.

Bloody Mary

The spice is right when it comes to Cantina’s bangin’ bloody. Cinnamon, somewhere in there, followed by a punch of chili heat that’ll get your mind right after a long Saturday night at POPE. Weekends, avenue kids roll in around noon, so you won’t look out of place ordering this full-flavored vodka-tomato any time before 3 p.m., preferably paired with the eggs benny on jalapeño cornbread. Just sit back, relax, watch visiting in-laws wonder how the wait-staff got into their jeans and drink away that hangover. (A.E.)
 $5. Cantina Los Caballitos, 1651 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.755.3550.

De Rigueur

“They say the recipe for Sprite is lemon and lime, but I tried to make it at home and there’s more to it than that.” So goes a bit by the late, great Mitch Hedberg, and the same could be said for Village Whiskey’s De Rigueur. A heady blend of rye, Aperol (an Italian aperitif made of bitter orange, rhubarb and cinchona), grapefruit, lemon, honey and mint seems easy enough, but an attempt to make your own will be off. For one thing, VW bartender Keith Raimondi tells us, they thin the honey out with hot water, mellowing its overpowering sweetness and making it easier to work with. Inspired in part by the famed Brown Derby, the De Rigueur is perfect, fresh, modern, and best left in the hands of professionals. (B.Mc.)
 $11. Village Whiskey, 118 S. 20th St. 215.665.1088.

Kowloon Taxi 

“It gets you where you want to go” is how the creative bar staff at Kong describe the effects of this Asian-inspired libation, and if your destination is Tastytown, then this is the cocktail for you. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, Ketel One vodka and cranberry juice are mixed with muddled fresh ginger and orange slices, chilled, shook, strained and served straight up. Trained at the exclusive Groucho Club in the Soho section of London, the barman and creator of the drink is into textures as well as flavors in his cocktails and leaves some of the bits of ginger swimming in the solution for an extra kick. It turns out we’re into both, too. (T.M.) $8. Kong, 702-704 N. Second St. 215.922.5664.

The Midtown Village

The Manhattan is the baseline. But New York’s other boroughs (and neighborhoods) also lend their names to different takes on the whiskey-based cocktail. So what if we all still call their neck of 13th Street the “Gayborhood”? APO takes the conceit from NYC and shakes up its own rendition. Spicy rye whiskey provides the heart. From port wine, some sweetness and tannins. Amaro, Italian 
vermouth and bitters, all for even more complexity. Add showmanship (flames shooting off a twist of orange zest into the drink) and the undeniable essence of orange that accompanies this display, and you’ve got an aromatic, syrupy and potent blend that will warm you at any time of year. (Dan Packel)
 $11. APO Bar and Lounge, 102 S. 13th St. 215.735.7500.

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. joeldermole said... on Nov 18, 2009 at 10:49AM

“OK, folks: What Philly cocktails did we miss?”

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2. foodzings said... on Dec 9, 2009 at 05:25PM

“i am going to try all of these and blog about it!”

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3. Justin said... on Jan 9, 2010 at 11:11AM

“I propose a Philly Top 15 Cocktails Pub Crawl! That would be awesome... maybe a little dangerous, but definitely a worthy trip!”

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4. bkjbkj said... on Jan 11, 2010 at 11:05PM

“Barclay Prime rolled out a new beverage program this past year, some great stuff going on there!”

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5. TheGeneral said... on Feb 17, 2010 at 12:38PM

“I'm on board with Any sort of pub crawl that can be organized. Maybe a mix from past column themes of best drinks, pub food and 'how to treat a bartender' all in one. Get a trolley, charge a fee, and if anything is left over, donate it. 'Drinking for Charity', is there a more noble cause?”


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