“Esquire” Is Soooo Above Philadelphia

Spare us the condescending attitude

When I first heard about Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in the fall of 2009, it seemed destined to become Philadelphia’s new epicenter of pretentious douchbaggery. All of the elements were in place: No standing, so if each seat is spoken for, you wait in line outside. Signage so subtle that if you don’t know where it is, you’ll likely pass it by, making it one of those word-of-mouth joints that’s too cool for the average guy. Old-timey potions served by know-it-all 20-somethings. No beer. Something called “artisanal ice.” And of course, that name, which itself almost certainly guaranteed its destiny as the booze hall of choice for dudes wearing Bluetooth headsets and talking loudly about “crushing it in that meeting today,” the women who love them, and an assortment of Wharton kids who are surely planning the next global financial meltdown from which they’ll turn a hefty profit.

Turns out I was wrong. Maybe not about the occasional junior partner trying to get laid with help from expensive cocktails, but about nearly everything else. The doormen couldn’t be friendlier, and the servers are knowledgeable without being snobby, like seasoned sommeliers who try to understand your palate before offering suggestions. Inside it’s all dark woods and dim lighting, muscular but refined, cozy but almost speakeasy dangerous, if you can forget it’s only a few steps off Rittenhouse Square. And of course, there are the drinks, each one crafted with the same care and attention to detail you’d expect to find on a plate at Vetri. My favorite is an off-menu standard, the Penicillin, a smoky bomb of scotch whiskey, Islay malt, ginger, honey and lemon juice. And that artisanal ice? Not some ridiculous foodie invention, but simply snowball-sized fists of ice that melt slow and keep your cocktail chilled, not diluted. The Franklin is one of the city’s drinking gems, yet I’ve rarely had to wait in line before slipping inside.

That might change now that Esquire has named it one of the “Best New Bars in America,” a title that’s well-deserved. But while the magazine gives praise, it can’t help but take a few swipes at our city and its bar scene. With only a few exceptions, it says, Philly was all “Malibu and flavored vodka and thump-thump music.” That sounds like a description of the Gayborhood circa 2002. My guess is that Esquire didn’t spend much time actually drinking here, as also suggested by this curious line: “We’ve heard good things about the new Farmers’ Cabinet.” Heard? From who? Their publicists? Yelp? They got lucky with that one, as Farmers’ Cabinet is worthy of the attention, as is Southwark on Bainbridge. The mag tips its cap—or its fedora, or whatever Esquire men/Justin Timberlake are wearing these days—with kind words about all the “good beer to be had here.” True. But it can’t resist closing with a parting shot: “A few more bars like these and you could start getting used to the place.”

C’mon, Esquire. You’re better than that. Or at least you should be. Spare us—and the rest of the world that lies beyond the edge of the Hudson—the condescending, elitist Manhattan media bullshit. Next time the mag sizes up the nation’s best bars, I hope it makes the long, harrowing journey down the turnpike and spends some quality time here. And I hope the Franklin doesn’t get overrun by tourists and guys in Ed Hardy shirts now that they’re getting all of this attention. I could really use a drink.