Of course, Stephen Starr knows Philly had a serious cocktail scene budding before he opened the Ranstead Room with a New York consultant and some self-promotional comments that piqued the ire of proud local cocktailians.
He recently gave nods to both Southwark and the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. as proof he acknowledges their existence. Still, while nothing I sipped at the Ranstead quite overshadowed the cocktails I've had at those competitors, I agree with Starr's contention that the Ranstead has a uniquely alluring vibe. From its discreetly understated back alley road entrance, to the tufted booths, votive lights, cool soundtrack, and gallery of '70s nudes on the wall, this has to be one of the city's new go-to lairs for a secluded speakeasy rendezvous.
Meanwhile, the drinks are worth the trip, from the well-stocked bar of tequila, whiskey, and brandy to the concise but well-crafted list of $12 cocktails. Made with bartender panache from top-notch spirits, each offers a subtle twist on a classic, from an absinthe-rinsed gin fizz to a "75" spiked with applejack. My favorite was the Brooklyn No. 2, a wet variation on the Manhattan that adds a sweet pip of Luxardo maraschino liqueur to spicy rye and the caramel sweetness of Dolin vermouth. Deftly stirred with dense hand-cracked ice that mellows and chills to perfection, this bittersweet Brooklyn adds yet another sip of sophistication to Philly's scene.