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Bookbinder's bankruptcy petition dismissed

Old Original Bookbinder's bankruptcy petition was dismissed yesterday, and it appears increasingly likely that the restaurant is done after 116 years.

Old Original Bookbinder's bankruptcy petition was dismissed yesterday, and it appears increasingly likely that the restaurant is done after 116 years.

Creditors, owed about $1.8 million, must find a way outside of U.S. Bankruptcy Court to seek reimbursement from owners John E. Taxin and his aunt Sandy Taxin.

Earlier this week, John Taxin handed over the keys to the Old City landmark at 125 Walnut St., which closed last month as he tried to find someone to save it.

A new tenant is being sought. Equipment and furnishings remain.

In 2006, the restaurant filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. At a hearing yesterday, Judge Eric L. Frank agreed with most creditors and the U.S. trustee that converting the case to Chapter 7 - liquidating its assets under court supervision - would not be productive because of the high administrative costs.

Albert A. Ciardi III, Bookbinder's bankruptcy attorney, said that two interested parties had come forward in the last month but that no sale had panned out.

Ciardi said the Bookbinder's name has value and could be sold.

"John and Sandy would like to take care of the creditors," he said.

Bookbinder's - with its bas-reliefs of dead presidents on its stained-glass facade and the Gettysburg Address written in bronze near the front door - seemed to be in shaky health for nearly a decade.

Taxin closed it just after New Year's Day 2002. After a $4.5 million renovation that added condos, a downsized version of Bookie's opened in early 2005. But a bankruptcy filing came less than 16 months later. Among the main creditors are Renaissance Properties, its landlord; Royal Bank; and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

PIDC, a private, nonprofit organization founded by the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to promote economic development, is owed about $650,000 from its $800,000 loan.

Ciardi said that despite operating in bankruptcy, the revived Bookbinder's had done well until April 2008, when fuel prices shot up. "Then business didn't just decline," he said. "It died."

Bookbinder's price point was high, and relied on special-occasion patrons and corporate dining.

"Valentine's Day was SRO," Ciardi said. "The next day, dead."

In March, Peco Energy cut off electrical service for a day until Taxin came up with a cash payment. Ciardi said utility bills were double that of comparably sized spaces, a point he could not explain.

The restaurant went dark in mid-March. Employees apparently were not paid final checks.

John Taxin, who did not attend the court hearing and did not return messages for comment, also has a majority stake in the Bookbinder's location in Richmond, Va., which was not part of the bankruptcy. Bookbinder's also lends its name to a line of canned foods.

The old Old Original Bookbinder's, in its heyday in the 1950s through the 1970s, was a hot spot where red-jacketed waiters scurried through dark-paneled rooms festooned with photos of VIPs and redolent of cigar smoke tinged with shellfish.

In its more recent incarnation, Bookbinder's sought to go contemporary with such features as a raw bar as it tried to shake a tourist-trap image.

Bookbinder's history can be traced to the oyster saloon opened in 1893 on Fifth Street near South Street by Dutch immigrant Samuel Bookbinder. In 1898, Bookbinder moved it to Second and Walnut Streets to be closer to the docks.

The restaurant left the family in the 1930s when it was bequeathed to the Jewish Federated Charities.

John M. Taxin, the current owner's grandfather, bought it with partners in 1945, according to city records. A few years later, after buying out the partners, Taxin added "Old Original" to differentiate it from Bookbinders Seafood House, which two of Samuel Bookbinder's grandsons opened in 1935 on 15th Street near Locust. The 15th Street restaurant closed in 2004; it is now an Applebee's.

John M. Taxin, with the help of PR men, brought national attention to 125 Walnut St. During World War II and the Korean War, when young men were sworn into the service at the Customs House a block away, Taxin offered free lunches to the recruits, who spread the word about the generosity.

Taxin, a philanthropist, also promoted the myth that the restaurant's origin was 1865. Until he retired in the 1980s, he ran Bookbinder's with his son, Albert.

Albert died of a brain tumor in 1993, and his son, John E., took it over with Albert's sister, Sandy. John M. Taxin died in 1997 at age 90.