The first time that we walk into any bar or restaurant we’re really unprepared for what the experience will be like. Sure, we may have read a Yelp review or followed a friend’s recommendation, but until we step through the door and the night begins, we’re pretty much a blank slate. This becomes a bit complicated when a restaurant reopens, especially when the name remains the same, but the space and the concept change. Let’s take that a step further and say that the restaurant was also a neighborhood icon with a very unusual upstairs bar, and was much loved by everyone who went there. When revisiting a place like this, it’s hard to really start out as a blank slate. As eager as we may be for our spot to reopen, we’re a bit hesitant too. After all, we have our memories, some of which we may be downright nostalgic about, and it can be hard to have an open mind.
My love affair with Friday Saturday Sunday began years ago when it was our go-to spot in the city. We spent many ordinary nights there sitting at the upstairs tank bar, but we also celebrated a number of important life occasions in the restaurant as well. I’ve been eagerly awaiting their return for some time now, tracking (almost stalking) their progress through head bartender Paul MacDonald’s Instagram account where he’d been posting amazing cocktails. Upon walking through the door of the new Friday Saturday Sunday, my first impression could be summed up in 1 word: elegance. From the large black and white tiles on the floor, to the marble bar and the gorgeous light fixtures above it, to the reclaimed wainscoting and mirrored back wall, rescued from an 1890s office building in NYC, everything spoke of the polish and refinement you’d find in a classic cocktail bar. But there was genuine warmth and comfort here too, in the greeting we received at the door, in the music playing on the sound system, in the plush seating at the bar, and in Paul himself, who goes out of his way to initiate conversation and establish that bartender-customer relationship that is so very important. We had several cocktails at the bar that first night including an Oxford Comma (pictured below) with Nicaraguan rum, lemon, coffee and red wine syrup, topped with soda, and an Assassin’s Handbook with Jamaican rum, mulled wine shrub, Averna, and habanero. We also had the opportunity to taste a Fibonnacci in Winter with Old Tom gin, Cardamaro, crème de cacao, absinthe, and overproof brandy, the latest in Paul’s series of cocktails with measurements based on the mathematical Fibonnacci sequence. If that’s not innovation, then I need a new definition of the word!
I returned to Friday Saturday Sunday last week to sit at the bar to have dinner and some conversation about this blog post. When I questioned Paul MacDonald about the beverage program, I found that his answers gave me so much to think about. Paul believes that bars are a lot like kitchens, in the sense that you strive to create complex, yet balanced flavors in cocktails in much the same way as you do in food, with each drink making a certain statement. The major difference that he sees between the two is that bars offer a great deal more flexibility than kitchens. A bar can go off the menu and offer its guests just about anything they might wish for, within the limits of inventory, of course. He favors an 8 cocktail list that’s always changing, and utilizes the widest range of possible ingredients, while still giving him the opportunity to feature unusual house-made products like smoked eggplant syrup. However, it’s a guest-driven experience, and the off-menu options are a vital part of the bar program at Friday Saturday Sunday. Customers should feel just as comfortable ordering a standard Manhatten or even a vodka club, as they do ordering from the cocktail menu. Paul feels that this comfort level is established when there’s trust and understanding between the bartender and the guest, and that all begins with conversation.
Benji Satlow is responsible for the wine program at Friday Saturday Sunday, and he shares MacDonald’s guest-based focus. Because the restaurant is 70% a neighborhood spot, Benji wants customers to be comfortable with the wine list in terms of both variety and cost. He likes concentrating on lesser known winegrowing regions because he can find better values there than he can in more familiar areas. For example, Benji replaces the typical by-the-glass California Pinot Noir offering with a Teroldego Rotaliano from the Trentino region in Italy. It has a similar flavor profile, but it’s a much better wine for a much better price. Similarly, he substitutes a Lebanese Mediterranean blend for a Côtes du Rhone, with the same idea in mind. These values carry over to the wine list, which is substantial and diverse, and which includes brief keyword descriptions after each selection to help guests make the right choices. The wine list also reflects the fact that the food menu selections require versatile wine choices in order to hit just the right notes in terms of pairing. There are also 3 wines on tap: a Prosecco, a Dolcetto, and a Côtes du Rhone Rosé, as well as an outstanding selection of dessert wines that includes a Reserve Banyuls aged outdoors in big glass jars, a 12-year-old Amontillado, a 1986 Pedro Jimenez, and a Samos Muscat that is especially good with orange tarragon biscotti.
I also had an opportunity to speak with Chad Williams, head chef at the restaurant. He talked about the intentions behind the rebirth of Friday Saturday Sunday and the understanding of all involved that the most important thing was to keep the vibe of the original establishment intact. Despite the fact that Chad knew he needed to update the menu for 2017, he wanted to do so in a way that seemed natural, creating seasonal selections that were contemporary, yet still approachable with the freshest ingredients possible. This was, above all else, a neighborhood place with a neighborhood feel. The interior of the new space, designed by Hanna Whitaker, also had to reflect this concept. The upstairs dining room echoes the elegance and warmth of the downstairs bar, while having an open, airy feel to it, quite the contrast from when the space was dominated by the tank bar. The murals on the wall depict the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, but they’re meant to represent and replicate the feel of nearby Rittenhouse Square. Seating is intimate, yet comfortable, and the service is impeccable.
I finished up my night having dinner at the bar, enjoying Scallop Ceviche, Confit Carrots, and Chad Williams’ favorite dish, the Roasted Potato Gnocchi with potato gremolata and burnt cream, all of which were simply outstanding. The gnocchi, in particular, was like a visit to pasta heaven! I also sampled a few more of Paul MacDonald’s complex, yet balanced cocktails like the one pictured above that doesn’t have a name yet but is made with Old Grand-Dad Bonded, Dubonnet Rouge, quince syrup, savory bitters (black mustard seed, peppercorn, caraway, star anise, and fennel), and sparkling wine. I chatted a bit with bartender Karen Baker, who has been in the business for 16 years, spending a number of those in Chicago honing her skills before returning to Philadelphia, where she has watched the craft cocktail movement shift its emphasis towards drinks made with precision, creativity, and expertise. As the bar filled up I was able to watch the customers settling in, becoming comfortable, and feeling very much at home. This new Friday Saturday Sunday has managed to capture and preserve the spirit of the original one I loved so much, and that makes me very happy. Looking around the bar I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who feels that way!
Friday Saturday Sunday 261 S 21st St, Philadelphia, PA 215-546-4232