Katie Melynda Loeb, 57, who helped usher in the modern era of the Philadelphia cocktail and bartending scene, died of cancer Saturday, Dec. 8, at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
Miss Loeb’s natural talents as a wit and connector of people were on abundant display in her final days. Though Miss Loeb was heavily medicated to free her of pain, her room hosted a parade of friends from what friend Barbara Spector called the “civilian world" and from the restaurant community, playing Stevie Wonder music and telling stories.
Before her illness took a more serious turn, “she always put a brave face" on it, said cousin Antonio Arroyo, her closest relative. “She didn’t want a pity party.”
“When life gave her lemons, she made limoncello,” Spector said. “Her light burned so brightly. She truly loved people. She didn’t consider herself to have isolated pockets of friends; she wanted all of her friends to be friends with each other.”
Miss Loeb, who grew up as an only child in Teaneck, N.J., came to Philadelphia in 1979 to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Spector, a junior, was among her early friends.
“The minute I saw her, I knew I wanted to be friends with her,” Spector said.
Spector said the corporate world “was not a good fit for her.” While still in college, she and Miss Loeb had visited a Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village and sampled the white-wine sangria. “She said, ‘I can make that,’” Spector said. “And that was the start of that.”
Over the years, Miss Loeb — who was briefly married in 1999 — worked seemingly everywhere: for Neil Stein at his restaurants, including Rouge and Avenue B; at Chick’s Wine Bar; at the speakeasy-style bar Emmanuelle; and at Amada, where she devised the red sangria recipe that is still poured.
She called herself “Mama Bear,” overseeing bartenders young enough to be her children.
Her specialties included a lime cordial that substitutes for the typical Rose’s mixer, which she likened to “lime-flavored furniture polish.” As Fireball, the cinnamon-flavored whiskey, became popular, Miss Loeb created a version called PyroBlast. To ordinary Canadian VO whiskey, she added her own syrup of cinnamon sticks, star anise, allspice, red pepper flakes, cloves, and organic, food-grade cinnamon oil.
She also wrote a cocktail book in 2012 called Shake, Stir, Pour, with a foreword by chef Jose Garces.
She had a soft touch for charities, and lent her skills to fund-raising events in the region. Her friends, in turn, launched a GoFundMe campaign to defray medical and funeral expenses. Spector suggested that donations also could be made to the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Miss Loeb’s two cats have been adopted by a friend.