Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. owner Chris Doggett fondly refers to the employees of his Center City Philly spirits haven as a "pirate ship," but there's very little mutinous behavior at play behind the bar. The opposite's actually SOP: With head bartender Al Sotack acting as helmsmen, the subterranean cocktail bar completely overhauls its lineup four times a year, culling staff contributions to build the roster. The Franklin's newest menu, featuring a 28-drink collection of originals and classics alike, went live last week.
"Very few bars have this kind of output," says Sotack, who's solely responsible for the final cut of each menu, multi-page affairs armored in hefty jet-black booklets. When it comes time to put together a fresh one—this is their 14th go-'round—Franklin bartenders approach Sotack with their concepts. Some coworkers request feedback; others put their ideas out there with a take it or leave it disclaimer. "I used to sweat it a lot—deferring to people, being more political," adds Sotack. "But you just need to have an utterly unwavering confidence in your own palate to do this job."
Plenty of factors play into the selection process: seasonality, variety among spirits, a populist appeal beyond the cocktail-geek set. After the menu's whittled to Sotack's liking, it comes time to stock the bar with the proper bottles, toys, and mise en place to execute the drinks at a high level. This demands very early mornings into very late nights. "The first time around for me, I almost had a nervous breakdown," jokes bartender Christina Rando, who's also The Franklin's GM.
Though the Franklinites have a rep for chest hair-sprouting concoctions—"because sometimes you want a drink with teeth," reads the subheading on the "I Asked Her For Water, She Brought Me Gasoline" section—there's diversity in their offerings. Check out the slideshow for a tour through their latest menu, where old-school tipples originating in Pennsylvania coal-mining country share space with riffs on time-honored Philly recipes and deceptively easy-drinking on-a-rock diversions.