Place: Bar Emmanuelle
Address: Hancock and Germantown Avenue
Rating: 3 out of 4
Bottom line: A well-crafted menu with fairly priced drinks ($10 – $15).The perfect place for some classy inebriation. A cozy yet compact lounge, Emmanuelle is best enjoyed with a smaller group.
We arrived at the corner of Hancock and Georgetown, but I was unclear if Hubert, my drinking buddy and source of quasi-French culture, actually knew where he was taking me. He had promised me French decadence and booze, but instead I found myself surrounded by a vaguely haunting post-industrial landscape inhabited by “hipsters.” But then I spotted it in bold silver letters: BAR EMMANUELLE. Upon pulling back the luxurious curtains, I quickly realized Emmanuelle was not the typical Philadelphia watering hole.
Tucked away in the backside of the Piazza in Northern Liberties, Emmanuelle is a French-themed cocktail lounge. Started by Tommy Up, local party promoter legend and owner of neighboring burger joint P.Y.T., Emmanuelle is named after the similarly titled series of French soft core porn movies popular in the 1970s. Upon entering Emmanuelle, one quickly forgets the Northern Liberties surroundings and is transported to a time and place perhaps still only found in Elton John’s living room. Plush chairs, whimsical chandeliers, an eclectic oldies and indie soundtrack, marble countertops and vaguely erotic oil paintings were all quite nice. But would the drinks deliver?
The bartenders executed delicious drinks with a solid punch. Manning the bar were the couple Phoebe Esmon, formerly of Farmer’s Cabinet, and Christian Gaal. Both were highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sharing their love of the finely crafted beverage.
As a recovering connoisseur of fine beverages like Keystone Light, I still found the drink menu at Emmanuelle to be approachable and intelligently designed. The drink selection has evolved over time from being specifically French-themed to more wide-ranging and diverse. The menu has a “House Original” section that varies with the season and spotlights more creative and global flavors. The menu also has a traditional crop of drinks in its “Classic” half. Emmanuelle continues to experiment, also offering lighter but no less delicious “session cocktails” modeled after session beer (with a share of proceeds going towards Philadelphia charities).
There is much to be imbibed and enjoyed, definitely requiring another visit for the adventurously thirsty. For a gin-based drink with a kick, the “That Man Is Playing Galaga” ($12) is a refreshing option. Mixed with galangal syrup, blueberry preserves and lime, the Galaga is a unique and surprising drink that showcases the creativity of Emmanuelle’s bartenders. “Bit by a Dead Bee” ($14) is a twist on the classic Bee Sting with reposado tequila and green chartreuse. The chamomile tea flavors provide it a pleasant lightness. The “Naughty House of Disreputation” ($12) is a fantastically decadent bourbon drink with a fall-themed pumpkin lassi as a base. For those with a more traditional palette, Emmanuelle’s selection does not disappoint. Particularly enjoyable was the “Saratoga Brace Up” ($10), a cognac fizz-themed cocktail.
Emmanuelle rewards the taste buds of both the newbie sipper and the experienced tippler. It delivers a great change of pace from some of the cocktail establishments in Center City. You will surely not regret sipping on a cocktail creation in Emmanuelle’s lavish setting.