A group of real estate developer types in navy blazers and khaki pants, fresh off a boozy networking event next door at the Fillmore, stumbled into the calmer confines of the cocktail lounge at Philadelphia Distilling and demanded martinis. Well, most of them did. One squinted at the cocktail menu, then flipped it over, grumbling loudly as he tried in vain to find the beer selection.
His confusion was understandable. In this beer-drinking town, these are still early days for a craft-liquor resurgence that has yielded a host of new distilleries and, thanks to recently relaxed state regulations, a handful of stylish cocktail lounges to go with them.
But for the owners of Philadelphia Distilling — a pioneer when it launched Bluecoat American Dry Gin in 2006 out of an unglamorous location in the Northeast — this new space, in the former Ajax Metal Co. complex in Fishtown, represents the realization of a long-held dream.
That's evident from the care put into designing this cavernous space, which has the look of an abandoned factory that's been reclaimed as a West Elm showroom. Where there’s not graffiti, exposed brick, or concrete, there’s tufted leather, oriental rugs, Edison lightbulbs, and copper-toned everything, from barware to foot rail to bathroom doors, and, visible through tall factory windows, the enormous copper gin still.
Enter through the gift shop, which is stocked with such essential provisions as gin-and-tonic-scented candles, single-malt-Scotch-infused toothpicks, and copper-plated drinking straws.
From there, you can join a group tour: a guided, hour-long stroll around the steampunk factory floor, gin cocktail (included in the $15 price) in hand, meant to demystify the process of gin-making in general and extol the virtues of Bluecoat in particular. The tour concludes in a fourth-floor tasting room, with skyline views and generous samples of all of Philadelphia Distilling's liquors, which also include Penn 1681 rye vodka, Vieux Carre absinthe, and The Bay, a vodka-based approximation of Crab Fries.
Or just go straight to the bar, where the staff specializes in suggesting just the gin drink to suit your palate.
Manhattan drinker? Try the Martinez ($12), a classic cocktail here made with gin that’s been finished in white-oak bourbon barrels, plus red vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters. Prefer an old-fashioned? Try The Dutch Courage, with barrel-finished gin, angostura bitters, honey, and orange ($12).
The most popular drinks here, though, are the creations that could almost (or so I’m telling myself) count as part of a juice cleanse: the tart, herbaceous Penn’s Woods ($10), made with dry gin, seltzer, and a simple syrup infused with dill, basil, and cilantro, or the Sparks Shot Tower ($11), with barrel-finished gin, beet juice, and plenty of ginger and lemon.
And, it turns out, a beer menu can be obtained here after all, along with a selection of wines and ciders, all made by Pennsylvania producers. But (not surprisingly, given the menu's apparent classified status) that accounts for 3 percent of sales, according to Bluecoat president Andrew Auwerda.
After all, it’s a distillery, he said: “The first menu we're going to present is the cocktail menu.”
Philadelphia Distilling: 25 E. Allen St., 215-671-0346, philadelphiadistilling.com
When to go: If you can, catch a tour; they start at 6 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays, and at 2 and 4 p.m. on weekends. Otherwise, the bar and shop are open 4-11 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1-11 p.m. weekends.
Bring: Your straitlaced, martini-sipping in-laws, your hipster Fishtown friends — or both, at the same time. This may be your best hope at common ground.
Order: The Penn’s Woods, or keep it simple and choose one of three variations on a gin-and-tonic, like rhubarb-lime or parsnip-rosemary.
Bathroom situation: Private stalls — or time capsules? Past the copper-covered doors are Edison-bulb-lighted chambers papered with yellowed decoupage of vintage-looking newspapers.
Sounds like: RJD2, James Brown, and just about everything in between, at an echoing 92 decibels. But the room’s big enough, so you should be able to find a quiet corner.