A $4.5 million renovation revitalized this Philadelphia landmark restaurant, giving it a new open kitchen with enormous firepower, an oyster bar, a huge lobster tank and a restored, clubby President’s Room with an Amazon mahogany bar.
After being closed since Dec. 30, 2001, the Old Original Bookbinders once again opened its doors on Feb. 21, 2005. The renovated restaurant is a partnership between John Taxin, the third-generation owner, and Renaissance Properties. The arrangement maintained the front of the restaurant as a historic building, while the rest of the structure was demolished and rebuilt as part of a $21 million historic redevelopment project called the Morvian at Independence Park. The redevelopment includes eight new luxury apartments and 19 condominiums that adjoin the new, 13,000-square-foot restaurant that now has 380 seats, 150 of which are in the dining room.
Production kitchen equipment must be durable to hold up under heavy usage needed to serve up to 600 dining room and banquet guests daily. Among the equipment in the back of the kitchen are (from right) a refrigerator for steak and lobster, a double-deck broiler, a six-burner range, a double-stack convection steamer, a double-deck convection oven, a tilting kettle, pizza oven and steamer (not visible in picture).
In the front of the kitchen, across from the line composed of (from left) a refrigerator, a column, a double-deck convection steamer, a six-burner range with a salamander above, fryers, two six-burner ranges and a double-deck broiler is a long prep counter and pass-through shelving. Jutting out is a printer box attached to the computer system. This and the other kitchen equipment allows Executive Chef David Cunningham and staff to produce the restaurant’s standards such as snapper soup, a cold seafood sampler, steamed lobsters and strawberry shortcake, while adding more contemporary dishes such as a new interpretation of bouillabaisse, seafood Cobb salad and yellowfin tuna tartare.
Throughout the renovation, the President’s Bar remained in tact. The restored, club-style room with its Amazon mahogany bar and beveled leaded glass contains antiques that have been in the Taxin family for decades.
A striking, restored chandelier, which once graced one of Bookbinder’s original banquet rooms, hangs over the granite circular bar. “John [Taxin] wanted glass-door coolers,” says Bob Kline, project designer, Singer Equipment Co. “We had to cut out cabinets and doors to get everything to fit without destroying the structure and still give John the look he wanted.” Like the others, this bar is in the midst of table seating. Interior design in this room and throughout the restaurant was provided by Floss Barber.
Seafood has long been the restaurant’s specialty. Greeting customers when they enter the restaurant is a mosaic of a Bookbinder’s lobster on the floor. To the right is a lobster tank, which Taxin claims is the largest circular lobster tank in the country, holding up to 300 pounds of lobsters. Also in this area is a curved raw bar crafted in spice-toned granite, stainless and mahogany.