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January 06, 2015

Garces to open The Olde Bar in Old Original Bookbinders building

History repeats itself, they say.

On Friday, the Garces Group of restaurants will debut The Olde Bar, their ninth location, at 125 Walnut St. where the historic Old Original Bookbinders used to stand, CBS News reports. 

What once was a classy seafood joint noted for its oysters and snapper soup will re-open under the Iron Chef’s control. The remainder of the building will be occupied by two event venues operated by Garces Events.

A menu that includes a raw bar selection will pay homage to classic dishes from the Original cookbook, updated with a modern twist. In the Chef’s words,

“Put a little bit of tarter sauce… King crab legs, poached lobster, poached shrimp.”

Garces intends to keep the vibe of the original establishment alive, down to its distinguished decor of dead presidents portraits and the Gettysburg address written in bronze. 

The restaurant will keep some old hands on deck and also bring in a few newbies. Former Bookbinders' proprietor John Taxin’s grandson, Erich Weiss, will oversee the cocktail program along with James Beard-recognized bartender, Charlotte Voisey. 

The Old Original Bookbinders first opened in 1893. In its heyday, the institution boasted a ritzy clientele. But it wasn't all smooth sailing after that. Following a bitter family dispute over Bookbinder's son's marrying a non-Jewish woman who waitressed at the restaurant, Craig LaBan reported for the Inquirer, a second, competing Bookbinders opened on 15th St. Doors finally closed on the Original in 2009 amid bankruptcy; its breakaway relative is now an Applebee's. 

Yup, it's a messy story. Memories tend to cling to stained glass, as if they could embed themselves in the architecture itself. 

To their credit, Olde Bar sets the scene with a pre-Prohibition era Clover Club cocktail, a combination of gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup or grenadine, and egg white for a foamy head.

Dating back to the late 19th century, the Clover Club was a men’s social club that met at the Bellevue hotel. Pretty fancy stuff, if a bit... familiar. 

Just a note: Don’t try to make reservations. The latest iteration of the iconic oyster house invites you to waltz on in.