Jose Garces is a Philadelphia-based force to be reckoned with. Along with the exclusive Volver and the upcoming Buena Onda at The Granary, the Iron Chef has restaurants across the U.S. He also just signed a deal with the Norwegian Cruise Line. “I love challenges,” says Garces from the kitchen of his latest conquest, The Olde Bar at 125 Walnut.
The Olde Bar is in what was Old Original Bookbinder’s, Philly’s famous seafood house and home-away-from-home to celebrities like Frank Sinatra. Bookbinder’s opened at the location in 1898; the restaurant changed ownership in the 1930s, and went into bankruptcy in late 2006. It was unoccupied when Garces came in.
“When I first looked at Bookbinder’s I saw good bones,” Garces says, noting artisanal woodwork and stained glass windows. He was even more delighted with the 4,000-square-foot kitchen at “Bookie’s.”
“We’re expanding our catering and needed a home for that,” he says. “We wanted an event space too — a big party room.”
The redesign of Bookbinder’s as The Olde Bar fits into Garces’ vision of his local legacy. “Along with filling holes in Philly’s dining experience, my Latin background influences everything I know. I’ve been a leader, not a follower. There wasn’t a single Spanish tapas restaurant in town until I opened Amada,” he says. “Being able to revive Bookbinder’s … that’s a bonus.”
What you’ll eat
The Olde Bar is an oyster saloon, with a seafood-focused menu designed by culinary director Gregg Ciprioni, chef Mike Siegel and, for cocktails, Erich Weiss, a grandson of Bookie’s proprietors.
You’ll still spy Garces’ influence in every dish, like the Roll Mops with Spanish boquerones rather than herring, the Lobster Newburg with caviar, and the Snapper Turtle Soup, a Bookbinder’s classic, now with quail egg.