Iron Chef Jose Garces has signed a long-term lease for the shuttered landmark Old Original Bookbinder's at Second and Walnut Streets in Old City, which has been dormant since the restaurant closed in March 2009 amid bankruptcy.
Garces' camp today said the agreement was not finalized: "Garces Group has been looking at this historic space for some time and discussing how it can be utilized."
I've heard talk that Garces might use a part of the space for TV production and may reopen The Presidents Room, the pub at Bookbinder's.
Building owner Stanley Taraila confirmed the agreement, saying that Garces was one of very few people who could successfully operate the location.
It's a vast space - at 13,000 square feet, it's more than twice the size of Garces' flagship, Amada.
Real estate broker Larry Steinberg of CBRE, who handled the deal, said the kitchen equipment was included. He declined to specify the terms.
Garces is a busy guy.
He is aiming to open Rosa Blanca, a Latin diner, in early November at 707 Chestnut St. A month later is the planned opening of Volver, a boutique restaurant at which he will cook, on the ground floor of the Kimmel Center at Broad and Spruce Streets. He is also fronting a Distrito branch in Moorestown Mall that is expected to open in 2014.
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 - was for decades Philadelphia's most widely known restaurant, especially among the tourist and celeb trade that didn't blanch at the stratospheric prices.
It was an image culivated by John M. Taxin, the gregarious host who with partners bought the restaurant in 1945.
Bookbinder's history can be traced to an 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 grew, eventually occupying nearly 50,000 square feet.
Around 1950, Taxin bought out his partners and 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.
Bookie's heyday ended sometime during the Reagan administration. Taxin's grandson, John E. Taxin, closed it just after New Year's Day 2002. After a $4.5 million renovation that added condos, a downsized version opened in early 2005.
But a bankruptcy filing came less than 16 months later.