Bourbon Battle benefits man’s best friend

Historic North Philly whisky and go-go bar The Trestle Inn held the third annual Bourbon Battle fundraiser for PAWS on March 25.

Allison Hangen of The Olde Bar mixes a signature cocktail, the “Meyer Lansky,” at the Trestle Inn’s Bourbon Battle. | Harrison Brink TTN
Allison Hangen of The Olde Bar mixes a signature cocktail, the “Meyer Lansky,” at the Trestle Inn’s Bourbon Battle. | Harrison Brink TTN

In honor of serving man’s best friend, man’s stiffest drink was served in cocktails and judged in a local event titled “Bourbon Battle” to benefit the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, last Wednesday.

The Trestle Inn, a 120-year old whisky and go-go bar situated under the Reading Railroad viaduct at the corner of 11th and Callowhill streets, was revamped in 2011 by new owners Josette Bonafino and her husband, Ian Cross.

Bonafino said her and her husband kept the ’60s and ’70s theme to uphold the middle and working class local bar atmosphere, similar to a time in North Philadelphia during the post-industrial railroad era.

Rumored as a working-man’s local bar and pit-stop for traveling salesmen, circus performers, immigrants and more, diversity has transformed into The Trestle Inn’s present-day crowd of all ages, races, sexual orientations and social statuses.

On March 25, The Trestle Inn held its third annual Bourbon Battle, where one house and three guest bartenders from local city bars including The Industry, The Olde Bar and Sassafras, competed in a homemade bourbon-based cocktail contest, judged by ticket-holders.

Twenty dollars from each $30 ticket purchased was donated to PAWS, the city’s largest no-kill animal shelter that is primarily focused on fostering, adopting, spaying and neutering animals.

Bonafino, who also became Secretary of the PAWS Advisory Board in December 2013, said during the weeknights, The Trestle’s atmosphere is like an average neighborhood bar. On the weekends, the bar has dancers and DJs to create a dance party and social atmosphere.

Various donation stands were also set up alongside the satellite-style bars to contribute to PAWS for the event. A silent auction to raise additional funds was held, and it included 12 donated gift baskets.

Woodford Reserve sponsored the event and the only criterion for the battle was to use the brand’s whisky as the main alcoholic ingredient. The bartenders provided the rest of the ingredients to concoct their own homemade recipes.

Bonafino said the house bartender for the event, Katie Loeb, is a renowned mixologist in Philadelphia and a returning participant who is known for using various homemade mixers to create her drinks.

At the beginning of the event, each ticket-holder was given a ballot listing the four bartenders’ signature cocktails to be judged throughout the night.  Free appetizers were provided during the mingling along with retro music, go-go dancing and silent auction bidding before the winner was announced.

Bonafino works closely with local bars and businesses in the area but has recently focused a majority of her efforts toward producing fundraising events for PAWS and incorporating that support into her bar business.

“Everything we produce internally, event-wise, is for PAWS because this is something near and dear to my heart,” Bonafino said.  “I am very pleased that people love The Trestle and will actually come and spend money towards this organization. I feel good that I can utilize my business to help support PAWS.”

Before re-launching The Trestle Inn, Bonafino was heavily involved in youth-education nonprofit organizations and had to put it aside due to the success of her business.

“I felt like I was really losing my identity and needed to get back into the community work and be in the nonprofit world,” Bonafino said. “Since PAWS is in my neighborhood, it seemed logical that after the success of The Trestle, I would get involved.”

“Part of what I used to teach children in the classroom was about environmental stewardship and the humane treatment of animals, so I took from some of those teachings and put that effort into my involvement with PAWS,” she added.

Bonafino works closely with members of PAWS that contribute to the various fundraising events promoted through The Trestle, including Melissa Levy, the executive director of PAWS.

“Twenty dollars from each ticket is a lot of money to begin with, so I’m amazed by this turnout,” said Lori Tustin, a seven-year PAWS volunteer. “I’m so impressed.”

The Trestle Inn’s staff directly fundraises and organizes events for PAWS, including the upcoming annual summer event “At the Dog Wash,” a block party fundraiser held as a riff based on the 1970s film and popular song “Car Wash,” with DJs playing ’70s funk, dancers and dog-washing.

“Working with PAWS is a direct satisfaction for me and I’m kind of hooked on that,” Bonafino said. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t go back into the education world, but there is something really gratifying about the work you put in and how it affects the beneficiary, which in this case is animals.”

Bonafino said she will continue to focus her efforts toward animal welfare in Philadelphia through the preservation of the revolutionary ’60s and ’70s, by “keeping a free spirit to the bygone days and a love for giving back to the community.”

Alexa Zizzi can be reached at

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