Philly classrooms find boost at Bank & Bourbon’s benefit

The Loews is throwing its second annual Bourbon Bash, Bank & Bourbon’s anniversary celebration, which benefits individual classroom projects here in the Philadelphia School District.

A funny thing happened at the Loews last week. I found way more corporate goodwill than I was expecting.

An upcoming anniversary celebration may sound run of the mill, but when the proceeds go to benefit individual classroom needs here in the city, things can get interesting quickly.

Last year’s inaugural event raised over $35,000. That money goes directly to the needs of Philly classrooms through DonorsChoose.org — a type of Go Fund Me for teachers.

Local educators submit their needs and allow the community at large to help fund them. Need a new bookshelf? A reading area rug? A few iPads? Last year’s efforts funded the wants of an entire elementary school, in addition to individual projects in dozens of other schools.

Thank-you notes and photos from many of last year’s classes hang on a wall-sized bulletin board in the Loews employee cafeteria. And among those I spoke with, the pride felt about the impact the event had is palpable.

Interestingly, that cafeteria is open 24 hours a day and is free for all employees, as well as the local police officers patrolling the area.

The nearly two-year-old Bank & Bourbon is the Loews Hotel’s response to ordinary hotel dining. For years, the Soul Cafe occupied its expansive space, offering the backdrop for morning show hosts and business class happy hours.

But then things changed.

For Thomas Harkins, Restaurant Chef of Bank & Bourbon, it was a pivotal moment in his now 10-year tenure at the Market Street locale. A change in corporate strategy and a new direction allowed Harkins the chance to rebrand and reinvigorate hotel dining in the city.

“Our whole goal was not to feel like a hotel restaurant,” Harkins said. “They could have told me, ‘You’re done,’ but they gave me a shot to develop the concept. I proposed the plan.”

Bank & Bourbon’s menu is ingredient-driven, reflects the seasons and changes about five or six times a year. Veggies come from the Reading Terminal; cheeses are sourced from Chester County and New Jersey; and meats arrive from LaFrieda. The 28-day dry-aged bone-in cowboy cut steaks stand out.

It’s this attention to trends that has allowed Bank & Bourbon to lure convention goers and locals alike.

At the April 26th event, guests can expect a best-of style spread, with many of Harkins’ most popular dishes; ahi tuna, freshly shucked oysters, herb-roasted Skuna salmon, crisp pork belly, grilled Duroc pork chops, and of course, that 28-day dry-aged steak.

Stations will be arranged throughout the restaurant, each with their own bourbon pairing.

Small batch bourbons will be at one table, rye whiskey at another, explained bourbon master Paul Zuber. He’s been with Bank & Bourbon since its inception, working as the bar manager, and leading the Bourbon 101 classes, as well as private tastings.

“All of the Makers Mark expressions will be at one table, and also we’ll have two different satellite stations; one bartender will be making old fashions; one bartender will be making mint juleps,” he said.  There will also be a punch “for people looking for something lighter and more refreshing.”

And then of course, there’s always The Secret Knock, a signature cocktail in the style of a traditional milk punch.

This Colonial era style of drink predates refrigeration, Zuber said. “Our particular recipe was based off of a cocktail recipe that was Benjamin Franklin’s.”

Bank & Bourbon’s version involves a multi-step, multi-day process, and as they tell me, it’s a top seller.

It begins with “secret selection of whisky” which is left to infuse with lemon zest for a few days. Separately, a mixture of whole milk and loose leaf green tea is brought to a boil. It’s then combined with the lemon/whiskey combo.

The result?

“The fat from the milk and the acid from the lemon juice actually curdles and becomes a solid,” Zuber said. “We allow it to cool and we begin the process of filtration.”

A few passes through a biodiesel filter bag removes those curds from the now clear punch leaving it with the fruitiness of the lemon juice and the sweetness of the milk.

“There’s a hesitancy to gravitate to a cocktail with milk in it, but we ask people to trust us,” Zuber said. “Everyone’s almost always pleasantly surprised.”

(Present company included.)

While The Secret Knock won’t be paired with any of the dishes during the Burbon Bash, it will be available behind the bar… for those who are in the know.

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