Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., which rode the early wave of throwback speakeasy-style bars when it opened in a subterranean Rittenhouse Square nook in mid-2009, has closed, but the operators are vowing to reopen in a new location nearby.
In a statement late Friday to The Inquirer thanking patrons, manager Emmanuel Sanchez confirmed the closing, which had been rumored in Philadelphia bar circles for a week. He said the pandemic has moved up a planned closing of what he called “our dearly cherished basement bar,” which in later years expanded upstairs.
The Franklin’s building at 112 S. 18th St., which was sold in 2019, is facing the wrecking ball to allow a developer to move forward with a high-rise building around the corner at 1810 Chestnut St., the former Freeman’s auction house. The Franklin’s building will become the entrance of the yet-unnamed building, giving it an 18th Street frontage — much as recent projects such as 10 Rittenhouse and the Pod Philly Hotel have done.
“The good news is we will be back in the Rittenhouse area [in an] enhanced venue with the addition of a larger food program and with the intent of bringing back our staff and adding additional team members,” Sanchez said on behalf of owners Christopher Gali and Christopher Doggett, who had retained New York’s hot bar consultants Death & Co. to create its menu and vibe as the nation pulled out of the 2008 recession. Sanchez said to expect an announcement of a new location in fall 2021.
The pandemic moved up the timeline for the closing, Sanchez said. The Franklin had offered cocktails to go during the pandemic, creating a “tasting menu” of pizzelle cookies and 3 Musketeers candy bars to satisfy the state law requiring the sale of food with alcohol.
The Franklin also never sold vodka, because an early manager had deemed it boring.
The name came from history, not the annals of legit finance. Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. was South Philadelphia boxer-turned-bootlegger Max “Boo Boo” Hoff’s front for his massive alcohol ring during Prohibition.
Shortly after the Franklin’s opening in the old Bar Noir, it made Bon Appétit’s Top 10 Best New Cocktail Bars and GQ’s Top 25 Cocktail Bars in America. Some of its bartenders included Al Sotack (now in Brooklyn at Jupiter Disco), Nick Jarrett and Christina Rando (in New Orleans), and Catherine Manning (at a.kitchen and a.bar).
Imagine a dimly lit room lined with burgundy leather banquettes and marble tabletops, with bar at the end, where three bartenders mixed drinks with hand-cut ice (three varieties), house-made syrups and tinctures, lofty ingredients, and even loftier names. Drinks on the last menu included the Fern Gully, with yogurt-washed Plantation 3 Stars, Rum Fire, Pierre Ferrand 1840, Lo-Fi Sweet White Vermouth, mango, chili, lemon and Tepache; and the Eagles Gift, with Jaque Mate tequila, Punt e Mes, lemon, simple syrup, Angostura, and dandelion and burdock bitters. Most drinks were $15 to $18, but a Sazerac with WhistlePig Boss Hog 13-year rye, demerara, and Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters was listed at $145. Upstairs was a second bar that opened in 2013 and became a tiki room.
The Franklin was joined on the city’s “underground” cocktail scene by such unmarked (but similarly legitimate) establishments as the Ranstead Room, Hop Sing Laundromat, Kontrol, and SOMO.
Reaction to the closing brought fond memories from readers, who recalled — well, not too much.
“Anyone who claims to have a clear recollection of peak-era Franklin Mortgage must’ve left after one drink,” wrote Graham Major in response to my Instagram query.
“Just as Philly was getting serous about cocktails, it had a pretty amazing stretch when they were firing on all cylinders,” wrote Jeff Towne. “They employed some of the most creative bartenders in town, who were making very inventive (and delicious) cocktails, the music playlist was carefully programmed, and the overall vibe was cool, but with an appropriate measure of Philly realness. Bartenders would also do shifts on the floor, so, although sitting at the tiny bar was the most desirable position, even at a table, you could get an expert recommendation, or explanation of the constantly-changing menu. Inevitably, lines got impossibly long, staff migrated, ownership and focus changed, but for a while, it was everything you wanted in a dark bar that could render a classic cocktail, or surprise with a challenging new concoction, all meticulously crafted from excellent ingredients.”
“It was the first place in Philadelphia where it was somehow both cool and acceptable to invite my parents to meet me for a cocktail,” wrote Jessie Tettemer. “They probably felt young and hip, and I felt sophisticated and in the know. And no one felt out of place.”
Courtney O’Connor recalled the cocktail flights, “like four courses of cocktails. It was pretty bomb.”
“When I was in grad school, my wife and I wanted to go out for one nice cocktail,” wrote Juliette Szczepaniak. “The tables were so close together and we struck up a conversation with the table next to us. They were so nice and were asking about Philly and we got to talking about them. When we asked why the guy was here, he told us he was shooting a film. We thought it was just some student film or something. So when we asked what it was, he asked us, ‘Umm. Have you heard of Rocky?’ Obviously. He said, ‘I’m shooting Creed.’ It was Michael B. Jordan. We didn’t really know who he was but he was so personable and kind. ... When we finished, we said it was nice meeting them and he gave a big hug.”