Inviting a friend for drinks is usually a straightforward project. But when I suggested we meet at a quirky little establishment on an alley just off Broad Street one recent evening, confusion ensued.
"I go by that place all the time," my friend said. "I thought it was a rehab center. It's a bar?"
I confirmed that, despite a menu of cocktails containing vaguely medicinal ingredients (anti-inflammatory turmeric and probiotic kombucha), the whimsically named Writer's Block Rehab offers only Hemingway's preferred brand of therapy. In short: Yes, it's a bar.
It feels, though, more like walking into a word search, thanks to the custom wallpaper lining the compact first-floor space. We wedged ourselves into the last two free seats, among a dozen customers sipping $12 cocktails, discussing office politics and wedding guest lists, and, when conversations ebbed, squinting at the walls to pick out the more than 100 authors' names hidden in the letter jumble.
The two-month-old bar, in a narrow rowhouse with a new third-story addition, is a passion project of owner/industrial engineer Ram Krishnan, who designed the space, including the more expansive upstairs "Library," with trompe l'oeil wallpaper and chandeliers made of vintage globes. General manager/cocktail engineer Charles Griffin designed the drink list, featuring subtle twists on classics and leaning on local and organic ingredients.
Writer's block is a luxury in which a daily newspaper reporter cannot afford to indulge. The same could probably be said for fancy cocktails.
Still, I could make an exception for the dangerously drinkable cucumber vodka gimlet ($10), for a respectable Manhattan ($12) made neither better nor worse with the addition of a rosemary sprig, or for the Gin-Gin ($12), made with gin, berry kombucha, house-made ginger shrub, and a candied ginger garnish. Griffin has been making his own shrubs and bitters for these creations, and even grows his own ingredients when he can. By day, he builds gardens for organizations like the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission; when the weather is warmer, he hopes to put an herb garden on the Rehab's roof.
There are also craft beers, on draft and in bottles, and a fair wine selection. Plus, you can get a Corona, though it is $8. (Overpriced, sure, but still cheaper than actual therapy.)
The Rehab is starting slow: Weeknight hours are limited and the Library is open only on weekends and for private events. Eventually, there will be additions, like a simple food menu (cheese, charcuterie, flatbread sandwiches) and a coffee program that will run from morning to night.
Once that happens, Griffin figures, "You can sit here and work on your screenplay." And if you get stuck, well, that's what the drink menu is for.
Writer's Block Rehab
1342 Cypress St., Philadelphia, 267-534-3134
When to go: They are still tweaking their schedule; as of the most recent inquiry, it was to be open 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Friday-Saturday; 2-11 p.m., Sunday. Go on the weekend, when the Library is open. (To be sure, best to check ahead.)
Bring: Your literary agent. Your editor. The teaching assistant you have a crush on.
What to order: The Gin-Gin, ($12), a twist on the classic gin-and-ginger combination. Since it contains kombucha, it's almost a health food.
Bathroom situation: A very clean, single stall that is almost as big as the bar itself, and on a recent visit featured a bouquet of heart-shaped Mylar balloons, for no obvious reason.
Sounds like: On a recent night, it was 90 decibels of Afro-Cuban music, drinks being stirred, and people calling out the names of literary heroes they've found embedded in the wallpaper.