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Craft Cocktails and Great Bartenders in or near downtown Philadelphia?

I am hoping to learn where great bartenders make classic or original cocktails (no premixes, fresh juices, wide range of bitters, etc.) near downtown Philadelphia at fair prices with solid to terrific service (at the bar, no so much at waited tables) - along the lines of Drink / Eastern Standard /Green Street in Boston, Death & Co in NYC. The Alembic in SF, Zig Zag in Seattle, The Passenger / PX in Wash DC, Goldene Bar in Munich, etc.

Having food available in the bar is a plus not a necessity, and freestanding spots would be preferred to hotel or restaurant locations, though stellar spots and individuals among them would also be good to know about and try along with dinners.

What are your favorite bars / bartenders and where are they? Looking forward to exploring as I get to enjoy Philly for work in each of the coming 6 weeks or so! I am still searching this board for food ideas and recommendations and will post separately for help on that once I finish my homework...just didn't come across a thread at all on this topic - and I know the places exist in a great city like Philadelphia!

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  1. Dave Strauss is hands down the single best bartender in Philadelphia, and Ranstead Room (where he works on Wed, Fri and Sat nights) is the single best bar. Ranstead Room is a dark drinking den with tasteful paintings of nudes on the walls. The cocktails are all $12, and the cocktail menu is there just for those who don't know how to cope with the likes of Dave asking them about what they like to drink. There is a limited food menu. The "other Dave" and Alicia are also good, but Dave Strauss is the real deal. You'll know him when you see him. (He is on vacation this week, BTW. I clearly frequent this establishment often ;)

    Ranstead Room is on the 2000 block of Ranstead St. It is hard to find the first time. Ranstead Street is just a little South of Market. As you walk down Ranstead, you will see a red light on the 2nd floor of a building on the left (coming from 20th Street). The door of that building has "RR" on it. Go inside and order a Penicillin.

    5 Replies
    1. re: phillybakingqueen

      The Peniciliin in my favorite! Other good bars for cocktails are Franklin Mortgage & Investment, The Oyster House, Farmer's Cabinet, Southwark, and Chick's. All have full menus except for Franklin, which has snacks. The Oyster House and Southwark are great restaurants in their own right. I don't collect mixologist baseball cards but all of these places have well known and appreciate bartenders, I'm sure others will chime in with their names.

      1. re: barryg

        Feels like I am giving a baseball starting lineup but here it goes
        Katie Loeb from Oyster House
        Phoebe Esmon from Chick’s Café,
        Al Sotack from Franklin Mortgage & Investment,
        and George Costa from Southwark.”

        1. re: cwdonald

          Al (Dead Turk) was great at FMI as was Colin (Dutch Angle) and Deuce (service)- thanks! I'll be back there on future visits - truly top notch cocktail craft coupled with real innovation.

          1. re: cwdonald

            Phoebe runs the bar at Farmer's Cabinet now... not sure if she still works at Chick's too.

            Christian Gaal from Noble (which has closed) is now at Farmer's Cabinet, too.

        2. re: phillybakingqueen

          Well that was a chowhound first for me, and real hoot to sit down at my first pick bar from this thread and be right next to you!

          Ranstead was terrific and we look forward to returns when Dave is behind the bar - a really unique and special spot!

          Looking forward to more exploration of Philadelphia in coming weeks with your sage guidance!

        3. The Franklin and Death & Co. have a loose association with each other, some bartenders have worked at both spots and have swapped drinks or something like that, so you really can't go wrong there.

          1. Anyone with experience at Fiume (45th and Locust) and / or Hopsing Laudromat (if open)?

            Franklin (Al) and Oyster House (Andy) are the faves so far, but Ranstead is also really good (especially Dave - thanks pbq!).

            Still have Southwark, Village Whiskey, and Prohibition Taproom to be tried...looking forward to it.

            1. I realize this thread is almost exactly two years old... but look at that thread title! If someone's searching for craft cocktails in Philly, this is the place! (Thank you, rlh!)

              So, can we do a biennial update? Are there any additions/subtractions to the places listed here already?

              Thanks, y'all.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Alcachofa

                I think the place the most deserves to be mentioned along with Franklin Mortgage, Hop Sing and Ranstead Room is Emmanuelle where Phoebe Esmon and Christian Gaal currently worked You might throw in the tiki bar at the University City Han Dynasty where Katie Loeb developed the drink menu.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  I love Katie's work, but I'd classify those drinks as more tiki-inspired than actual tiki ala SF's Smuggler's Cove. They go great with the food if you're hungry, but I wouldn't make a special trip just for the drinks.

                  Great call on Emmanuelle.

                  1. re: Boognish

                    Do you guys like Emmanuelle? I went there once and while I liked my drink, I did not like the atmosphere. Felt like a poor man's version of Ranstead Room. The music was way too loud, the lighting not quite right, and the vibe just felt off--crossed over the line into kitschy (a line that Starr usually manages to toe perfectly).

                    1. re: barryg

                      I went early...was probably one only a few people there. I talked to Phoebe and Christian about a few things I'd been working on and asked for some advice.

                      Honestly, I didn't even notice the environment, but now that you mention it, I can see where you're coming from.

                      I only really go to Franklin Mortgage, since I work and live in West Philly. One of the problems of being on the other side of the river and mostly driving, I guess.

                      That actually reminds me that Fiume, above Abyssinia, at 45th & Locust supposedly has a very good cocktail program now, although it's mostly brown liquor based classics from what I understand. I really need to get over there.

                2. re: Alcachofa

                  I hate it when people don't do trip reports, if they've asked for advice. So, I have to let y'all know that I did NOT make it to Philly this time. Maybe next trip. (Visiting parents in NJ.)

                  Franklin Mortgage will probably be the place I try first.

                  1. re: Alcachofa

                    That was the best non report I ever read....

                    I get more ticked off by people who report on a restaurant and never once mention what they ate.... but I digress.

                3. Interesting topic and while I have bar tenders that I find highly professional in their craft and who's skills I admire; I would not know their names beyond that visit.

                  What, in your opinion, are the characteristics the make one the "the single best bartender in Philadelphia" or that have some named in "the starting lineup"? In my experience I have found the real professional bar tenders in top tier hotels and some restaurants which emphasis their bar trade.