Old Premise with a Brand New Twist
As I arrive at the media party for the opening of The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co., I have to stop in my tracks for just a second. There is no indication of the bar's actual location. Only the word "Liquid" which is the hair salon a few steps up from the street. It is then when a gentlemen approaches me. He politely asks if he can help me and what I am there for. When I responded, he smiles and starts to lead me down some steps. By reading this, most of you might think that something is going on down there that not everyone should know about.
To answer your question, yes and no. When you first walk down the stairs into the Franklin, it takes you right back to the 1900's. And it should. Known for being the center for the largest alcohol ring in the country during the prohibition era, the Franklin is re-opening as a historic and refreshing addition to the nightlife scene in Philadelphia. Don't get it just yet? Let me explain.....
In the late 1920’s, The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company served as the front for the largest alcohol ring in the United States. During prohibition, Max “Boo Boo” Hoff and his cronies ran about 10,000 gallons a day via truck, train and bus. According to Parry Desmond, who is presently researching the life of Max “Boo Boo” Hoff, “In just one three month period, 350,000 gallons of denatured alcohol were transported from the Publicker plant in South Philadelphia by the Reading Railroad in large drums marked ‘tar’ and ‘asphaltum.’ After it was processed, the alcohol was bottled and fictitiously labeled as ‘hair oil’ or ‘perfume’.”
Operating from The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia, Boo Boo became one of the country’s richest gangsters. His operation dwarfed even that of Al Capone’s. Now let's fast forward to the present.
The dark oakwood floors combined with the narrow walkway to the bar is bookended by leather covered booths to the left and smaller but longer length tables to the right. The ambiance of the room is a combination of both suspense and nostalgia. For a split second, you almost feel like you should be hiding from the local authorities as you savor every minute of what is and what should never be. In English: you get the actual feeling that you are part of a speakeasy. It may look like close quarters, but the booths are deep and cumbersome, and there is more than enough space on the right hand side as well.
Shortly after soaking in the atmosphere, I am enthusiastically welcomed by none other than Chris Doggett (pictured left). Chris just so happens to be the President/Ceo of the Franklin. And if that wasn't special enough, his wife Pamela is there to greet me as well. To say she's a sweetheart of a lady is a sheer understatement. After all of the formalities, Chris enlightened me as to how this project came to its fruition.
"I am a food and wine guy," explains Doggett. "I can' t tell you how many times my wife and I are out eating food and it's fresh and it's wonderful. You go to the bar, and somebody ends up shooting what is going to be your drink out of a fountain gun. How can you enjoy an expensive meal when what you are drinking just had a Diet Coke come out of it? I love fresh ingredients and good food. Hopefully, people will see this as a place where you can go for a cocktail before or after a nice dinner. It's going to be made with really good ingredients and it will be something a little bit different."
Michael Welsh (above right) is the managing partner of the Franklin (and as it turns out, my South Jersey neighbor). With previous managing and bartending experience at Tir Na Nog and McFadden's At the Ball Park in Philadelphia, Welsh was adament about not making his establishment your typical bar.
"Essentially, what I did was take a different approach to Philadelphia bars. I felt the same thing was going on over and over again. I started looking at cities who are trend leaders in the restaurant industry. We took a trip to New York City, and came upon a speakeasy/hand-crafted cocktail concept. One establishment that immediatey caught my eye was Death@Co. I met with its founder David Kaplan. Dave started Proprietors LLC, a design and consulting company. I can't begin to tell you how instrumental Dave was in helping us put this together. The style of bartending is truly its own kind. The ambiance of these places are fantastic. I knew all along that this is what we wanted to do."
There are a selection of three different ices that the bartenders utilize at the Franklin.
1. Kold Draft Machine- fills the tray and freezes the ice from the bottom up. This eliminates all of the impurities and air bubbles. It's crystal clear and it melts slower. When you get your cocktail, it will not taste like a watered down cocktail because the ice is chilled, and it's not melting into your drink.
2. Crushed Ice- Used for the swizzle drinks. The apparatus used to swizzle the ice actually stems from a plant.
3. Culinary Grade Block Ice- A 300-pound block of ice is delivered and is hand chiseled. Trust me, you could definately taste the difference in my Old Fashioned.
If you think that's it, hold on just a second! The Franklin also squeezes ALL of their juices fresh, and use a variety of five to six different types of bitters. This is a tribute to the variety of bitters that were used in the late 1800's and early 1900's (I didn't even know that-and I'm a bartender!!). To make sure there are no inconsistencies with drink tastes, bartenders measure their pours as well. Although this process can be time consuming, Welsh admits it's all in the name of the customer.
"It's very labor intensive. A lot of time is placed on the product and the finished look and taste of a drink. There's a lot that goes into a beverage here as opposed to going to a regular bar and getting a rum and Coke. There's a lot of passion in that glass. And that's what we are trying to bring to Philadelphia. This is a real culinary approach we are taking. You go to a good restaurant and enjoy a good steak. We want people to come to the Franklin and enjoy their cocktail along with all of its different flavors."
To top things off, the food for the evening was provided by Di Bruno Bros. Catering on Chestnut Street. Welsh informs me that Di Bruno Bros. will be their exclusive caterer for all of their private party events. As the servers walk by offering appetizers that compliment the well crafted drinks, local media personalities Jeff Skeversky (6 ABC), John Clark (NBC 10), Don Bell (CBS 3), Marshall Harris and Amy Fadool (Comcast SportsNet) arrived to sample some of the fine drink specialties intricately prepared by the bartending staff. Some of the more popular drinks served during the evening were the Simo Cup, Brown Derby, and Main Line Wine.
As the night drew to a close, I quickly realized that those drinks can catch up to you rather quickly. Not to worry. I ceased participation about an hour before I left. In closing, I offer a word to the wise: because the quality of the drinks made at the Franklin result in a less watered down taste, pace yourself!! You'll be glad you did. Hopefully, Philly2Philly.com will be to the internet what The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. aspires to be to Philly nightlife. If that's the case, chances are that the possibilities are endless for the both of us. Be sure to check it out. The grand opening is this Friday!
The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co.
112 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hours: 5pm-2am. Open seven days a week.
Special thanks to Aileen Bannon for her spectacular photos (check out our "Lens" gallery in our Culture section for all of the photos), and to Jen Sherlock for helping me gather information as well as planning a dynamite party!!