Bartender Interview: Sara Justice of The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company 

Photograph by Neal Santos

The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. is named for the company that served as the front for what was once the largest illicit booze ring in the country. The Franklin plays homage to this bygone era in its style and architecture but the drinks are squarely in the 21st century. They may be inspired by classics but the techniques and flavor profiles are definitely modern. The drinks manage to be inventive and creative while still being approachable and downright delicious. So with that in mind I had to interview, Sara Justice, the General Manager behind these great drinks. 

How did you initially get involved in bartending? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 13. I started off bussing tables, and then waited tables part time through high school for extra cash. I tried out college for a semester after high school, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and wasn’t super interested in it. I left school and started working in a bar with a great cocktail program. It was a new experience for me, and I fell in love with the history and craft of it. It seemed kind of perfect, because I have always loved the energy of being in a restaurant. Bars are similar, you get to talk to and meet interesting people, things are constantly changing so that movement is good for me. I eventually started bartending there, and the rest is pretty much history.

You have worked at PDT in NYC, Holeman and Finch in ATL and now The Franklin. How has working at these places shaped your view as a bartender?
Each place specializes in craft cocktails, so all three were very important to building a foundational understanding in how they work. Each place has its own vibe and story, so I feel like getting those different experiences has made me pretty well rounded. Being able to work in a very small and intimate cocktail bar teaches you to be very detailed and focused on remaining poised behind the bar, and on the other hand working in a more high volume spot teaches you the importance of being quick and not making mistakes. I think it’s good to have both of those experiences.

What is your approach when it comes to formulating cocktails? What serves as your inspiration?
I like to try to push myself to try different things, and experiment with off beat flavor combinations. My favorite thing to do is take inspiration from a food or dish that I really love, and create a cocktail off of those flavors. It’s really fun to guests try a drink and see that it reminds them of something they really love. It’s a great way to make a connection with them and give them a memorable experience.

In what ways has being a woman effected you in the industry for good or bad? Do you think being a woman gives you a different perspective when creating drinks?
This is a tricky question. As a bartender, I don’t think I’m really any different from anyone else just because I’m a woman. All people are different and pull inspiration from things that they personally are interested in. Women are still definitely outnumbered behind the bar, and so that can be pretty alienating at times. I’ve found that sometimes people (both guests and coworkers) are more quick to doubt your knowledge and expertise when you are a woman, but I have also worked with and served many amazing people who haven’t treated me any differently for it. I find it best to try not to have a chip on my shoulder about it, and just come to work every day ready to work like everyone else. If you are passionate about what you do, people will notice no matter who you are. I do hope that there continues to be more of a dialogue about the need of more women behind bars, so that it’s less alienating for future generations of women bartenders. 

How did you come up with idea for a cocktail tasting menu?
I love going to restaurants and getting chef’s tasting menus. I feel like there is so much more opportunity to pull guests in and give them a very singular and different experience, and to really tell a story about what most inspires you. I had heard of a few other bars offering cocktail tasting menus, so it was something that I wanted to start offering at The Franklin as well. It kind of gives the guest a magnified view of what it is that our cocktail program is really about.

How is the formulation of a tasting menu different then creating drinks for a menu?
The biggest thing is that the drinks basically go together as one whole experience rather than being separate entities like they would on our regular cocktail list. So you have to think about the whole experience of how the drinks flow one after the other when you are putting together the menu.

If you are stuck on a desert island what would be your drink of choice?
Again, a tricky question. But probably a Vieux Carre. I think it is one of the most well balanced and delicious cocktails. I could definitely drink those for an indefinite amount of time.

If you could share a drink with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Probably my grandfather. He was really interested in what I do. His family used to make gallons of cider every year, and he claimed that there was a distiller in our family several generations back. Later in his life when I started bartending he wasn’t able to get around really well, so he wasn’t able to come visit me at work. I think it would be pretty cool to bring him to the bar, and share a drink with him so he could get to experience it in person.

What do you think is the most underrated drink?
Probably a Martinez. I actually enjoy them more than a Dry Martini.

What’s the craziest drink you ever created that may have looked odd on paper but turned out to be a crowd pleaser?
With this one I don’t think the drink was too out there, but at the time we definitely sold more of them than I thought we would: the drink was comprised of blanco tequila infused with dried mushrooms and coffee bean, zucca , raspberry sryup, and fresh lime juice. It was fruity and refreshing with a nice, bitter, earthy finish.

What is one of your favorite original creations? How did you come up with it? And would you be willing to share the recipe?
It would probably be a drink called Mr. Palomar. It is a variation on a Negroni, which is one of the first cocktails I tried when I first started bartending that made me realize just how little I knew about cocktails. It was very eye opening for me. This one is rum based. Rum is probably my favorite spirit because there are so many styles and diversity as a spirit category. It’s a great ingredient in cocktails for that reason. I switched out the Campari for Gran Classico. I think it’s a little bit sweeter and plays nicely with the rum. Then the sweet vermouth for Cocchi Americano Rosa. Lastly, I added Bitterman’s Elemakule Tiki bitters (they have a lot of allspice and cinnamon), which kind of make it feel like it’s a Negroni you should be drinking on a beach somewhere. It’s served over a large piece of ice, with a little pinch of salt dropped on top of the ice cube.
Mr. Palomar
1oz Rhum JM Agricole Blanc 100 proof 
1oz Gran Classico
1oz Cocchi Americano Rosa
9 Drops Bitterman’s Elemakule Tiki Bitters

Stir and serve in a double rocks glass over one large ice cube. Garnish with a pinch of salt dropped directly onto the ice, and a half orange slice.

Any advice for those seeking to break into the industry?
Stay positive, be flexible, and always show up [and be] ready to put in hard work. If you do those things, you can learn the technique and the craft of whatever it is you want to do in this industry. 

The Franklin Bar
112 S 18th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 467 – 3277


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