The Old Original Bookbinder’s, once the go-to place for politicians, mobsters, and movie stars, opens Friday as The Olde Bar.
The landmark restaurant at Second and Walnut streets in Old City, had been a mammoth, two-story venue seating 1,000 people, with a kitchen that could pump out 350 lobster dinners a night. The new venture by celebrity chef Jose Graces has more intimate aspirations.
“It’s much smaller than in its heyday,” said general manager Chris Mann. “The Olde Bar is exactly that – the old bar at Bookbinder’s. The rest of the space will be used as needed for events — weddings, corporate events, things like that.”
The 58-seat room has the same bar, the same wood-paneled walls, the same pressed-tin ceiling, and the same floor that owner John Taxin paced as he back-slapped politicians and schmoozed with celebrities.
Despite the name change, the Bookbinder’s sign will remain on the building.
“I have such a personal attachment to this bar,” said Taxin’s grandson, Erich Weiss, who started working at the restaurant as a busboy in the 1980s. “My sister was married in this room. I had a bar mitzvah upstairs, with Patti LaBelle singing — and this is the ’80s. This is Live Aid Patti LaBelle.
“I remember growing up here, and my grandfather telling me stories of Sinatra and Nixon. One table would have Rizzo, the other table would have Scarfo. A lot of Philadelphia history was made here, a lot of deals,” said Weiss.
After leaving the business for a couple of decades pursuing directing, Weiss is back in the room as a cocktail consultant, inventing and revamping drinks for Garces.
Weiss created the Krider Flip, a frothy cocktail named after the former proprietor of the corner storefront, the Krider Gun Shop. This remake of the classic whiskey flip uses Bulleit bourbon, sweetened with a syrup of green gunpowder tea, a whipped egg, finished with a spray of high West Campfire whiskey.
The bar is trading on the dark-wood nostalgia for your father’s cocktails, and his taste in celebrities. Weiss created a variation on the classic Rusty Nail, using Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Drambuie, and a spritz of whiskey.
“When I think of a Rusty Nail, I think of Mike Douglas, who sat in that booth over there,” said Weiss, pointing across the room. “Or Robert Goulet. You drink a Rusty Nail, and you’re going to walk around smelling like Robert Goulet the rest of the day.”
Much of what Weiss knows about the Old Bookbinder’s comes from his grandfather, who was known to embellish the truth. The name Bookbinder’s comes from Samuel Bookbinder, who ran a rough-and-tumble oyster bar in the early 20th century, catering to dock workers.
“He told me stories of police horses running through here, through the front door, to break up the dock workers fighting,” said Weiss.
As The Olde Bar, it features raw oysters brought in daily from the East and West coasts.