Old and New, Borrowed and Blue at APO
I had just started working “seriously” at MWI, thinking that maybe Mixology was kind of interesting after all and that my family’s company was maybe worth more than the summers I was free to work there. I met kind of a lanky guy, with coke bottle frames and the largest, most eccentric handwriting I’ve ever seen.
He majored in Philosophy at Swarthmore, and lately he was working at Wawa, he told me. Specifically the late shift, on Delaware Avenue. Bartenders and club owners would trickle in after 2am and talk about the craziness of the night, and the lifestyle seemed interesting. He was-by any standard-a weird guy, completely unashamed of working at Wawa, he definitely seemed like an artist, but he had an incisive pragmatic quality.
His name was Nick Jarrett. He went on to bartend at the Sofitel, another favorite bar of mine for having the guts to put out a his/her cocktail menu. Then he meandered onto the Bellevue. He was instrumental in opening the Apothecary (later the APO Bar) in Center City. The first thing Philly had to a Cocktail bar. And the haunt of future cocktail ambassadors like Al Sotack, who would later helm the Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company:
Nick sent us many, many referrals over the years, and moved on to first consult cocktail bars in New York, and then to finally make the move to Brooklyn. Over the years, I’d visit Apo, sporadically, and it’s only now, that they’re almost done renovating (adding a kitchen!), and changing their name, that I feel a sense of nostalgia that I didn’t go more often.
Apo has a lot of the characteristics that have now gelled into cocktail bar stereotype. A discrete wintergreen apothecary cross that serves as a sign (a tongue in cheek throwback to a 1920s speakeasy), “freakishly knowledgeable bartenders” (from a yelp review), all fresh ingredients lushly laid out in jars, and a decidedly hipster influence.
But what it doesn’t have, are the negatives of the genre. Vodka is discouraged, but available. Bartenders are exceptionally friendly, and accommodating. When I said that I was getting into Fernet Branca (for a cocktail bar, I may as well have uttered the words open sesame, I am one of you), I was instantly presented with a drink the bartender was working on with a green tea infusion. But I’ve also had an APO bartender tell me “I’d get a Jameson on the rocks, but that’s just me.” I settled for a Jameson Manhattan with Peychaud’s and pitted, homemade Maraschino cherries. Also amazing.
But Saturday night’s visit was the best yet. I brought a couple friends who wanted to expand their palate. Apo’s current beverage manager, the effervescent Chauncey Jane Scates, was at the bar, and she proceeded to make the following:
1/2 oz. Absinthe
1/2 oz. London Dry Gin
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
I wanted to try this drink ever since Iinterviewed Peter Schaf for our absinthe post (coming soon I promise!), and he suggested this drink as an easy way to get people who hate licorice (most Americans) to like this spirit. This variation subs simple syrup for the original’s tea spoon and a half of sugar, and adds gin (Chauncey’s suggestion after I gingerly thought Aperol would be a good idea here). It was like an absinthe sour but with a little more complexity. The flavors of the absinthe really came through, but it was sweet and tart enough for the American palate.
1 1/2 oz. London Dry Gin
1/2 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
Splash of Creme de Violette
APO’s Variation had fresh orange oils (from the rind for aromatics)
As soon as I found out apo stocked Creme de Violette and Luxardo, this was a no brainer. The flash captures the delicate blue of the drink. The notable elements in this drink are the Maraschino (very different from the cherries), and the delicate blue color of the drink (captured under flash).
Continuing the Absinthe theme, I wanted my friends to try a Sazerac, historically first made with cognac.
1 Sugar Cube
2 1/2 oz. Cognac
3 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Absinthe (to coat the glass)
This is an interesting drink, absinthe is used merely to coat the glass (and the ice), and then thrown out (I know), after that the drink is made.
Chauncey was kind enough to let me take a few pictures of her making it:
Chartreuse and Absinthe:
The last drink was “lent” to me, by this man:
Known only as “Gump,” and clad in tattoos, and mystically versed in Mixology. He stood guard outside serenely drinking a blend of the two most powerful and distinctive herbal green spirits on the planet: absinthe and chartreuse. He casually let me “borrow” this as he was slamming down straight shots of Fernet Branca (respect). I was unable to find out anything concrete about him, other than the fact that we wear the same strange shoes..
All in all, a very outstanding night. If you have even the least bit of curiosity, go and visit APO before its name changes, and drink. You’ll be glad you did.