Arts & Entertainment

A fresh take on historic nightlife in Old City

The historic Original Bookbinder’s bar has been reopened.

Chef Jhon presents an assembled oyster plate during happy hour service at newly opened The Olde Bar. | Allan Barnes TTN

Chef Jhon presents an assembled oyster plate during happy hour service at newly opened The Olde Bar. | Allan Barnes TTN

Erich Weiss’ proudest moment was bringing his 97-year-old grandmother to eat at the newly renovated restaurant The Olde Bar, once the Old Original Bookbinder’s, for the first time in decades.

Weiss, grandson of John M. Taxin – owner of Old Original Bookbinder’s on Walnut Street near 2nd Street – is now part of the creative team behind the reopened Old City venue. For Weiss, his connection with The Olde Bar is more than just a job – it is a part of the family. Bookbinder’s was a part of his family for three generations after Taxin bought the bar at an auction.

“It’s about as Philadelphian as it gets,” Weiss said.

After almost six years of being closed, Old Original Bookbinder’s opened its doors again as The Olde Bar by Iron Chef Jose Garces on Jan. 9.

Now, as part of WeHolden, a brand think tank, Weiss utilized the talents of mixologist Charlotte Voisey and helped to create new drinks to pair with the popular classics served at the modern take on a classic oyster saloon.

Weiss said a lot of the interest in the bar exists because of the mysterious six-year delay between Bookbinder’s bankruptcy and the opening of The Olde Bar. He said that the reason for the long delay in opening the Olde Bar was their fear of not being true to the history of the establishment, as well as the huge space.

Weiss said he visited Bookbinder’s regularly as a child, and has warm childhood memories there. He said he hopes that more families and future generations will be able to enjoy The Olde Bar, like he was able to enjoy Bookbinder’s.

“The restaurant was in my family for three generations,” Weiss said. “I really hope it will be around in another hundred years.”

General manager Chris Mann said he is honored to work alongside Garces, who he has worked with for the past nine years. Mann, a supervisor for a staff of 50, said that the bar has been busy since its opening.

Many of Bookbinder’s former customers have come to the bar, as well as new, younger diners and bar-goers. Mann said he loves hearing stories of old clientele who used to come to Bookbinder’s and are very happy to return to 125 Walnut St.

Mann attributes much of the success so far to Garces’ celebrity status in the Philadelphia culinary scene. The Iron Chef and his company, Garces Group, have opened nine successful restaurants in Philadelphia, including Amada and Distrito.

Mann said he hopes The Olde Bar’s interpretation of an oyster saloon will eventually be a featured location for Philly Beer Week.

“The crowd is very representative of Philly as a whole,” Weiss said.

Before opening, Garces researched years of old menus from Bookbinder’s, as well as other oyster saloons in the area, to ensure that the menu remained true to its roots in seafood and its location on the waterfront.

The original Bookbinder’s could host more than 1,000 people. Later, after Weiss’ cousin re-opened Bookbinder’s in the early 2000s, it sat 350.

Garces’ creative team, however, intended to make the bar area small and intimate. The staff has kept the extra space from Bookbinder’s era available for special events, which Mann said he has already begun scheduling.

Alexa Ross can be reached at alexa.ross@temple.edu

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