Update Dec. 9:
On Saturday, Dec. 8, Katie Loeb died surrounded by loved ones, friends said. Funeral arrangements are pending, and various bars are raising money to pay for it with special drinks in Loeb’s honor (see #cocktailsforkatie for details).
The doors of Penn Hospice in Rittenhouse have been revolving at all hours the past few days, as members of Philly’s restaurant scene drop by before and after shifts to pay respects to one of their matriarchs.
Cocktail author and bartender Katie Loeb, a native of Teaneck, N.J., who graduated from Penn and went on to play a major role in Philadelphia’s food and drink renaissance, is nearing the end of her two-year battle with cancer, close friends say.
They have set up a GoFundMe to help cover expenses — including medical bills and pending funeral costs — noting that “just as Katie helped all her friends get through breakups, career disappointments, social faux pas and novice-chef jitters, we want to help her … tie up loose ends.” (The money will go to Loeb’s cousin, Antonio Arroyo, who has power of attorney.)
Loeb, now 57, tried the corporate world after graduation, but it just wasn’t for her, according college roommate Barbara Spector.
It was back in the ’80s that she started experimenting with cooking and drinks, Spector said. “Once we went out in NYC and had this sangria in a Spanish restaurant and she said ‘I can make that!’ and she did, much better.”
Sangria would turn into a calling card for Loeb, who cut her teeth in the hospitality industry as beverage director for Neil Stein. She moved on from selecting wine for Striped Bass, Rouge, Bleu and Avenue B to creating the opening drink list for Jose Garces’ Amada in Old City — where her red sangria is reportedly still a best-seller.
As quick with her wit as she was with a cocktail shaker, Loeb became one of the city’s most-sought-after beverage professionals. But she never adopted the snootiness common to a certain brand of “mixologists” — instead, she looked to spread the wealth and knowledge, calling herself a “Mama Bear” of the scene.
“Katie was one of the early leaders of craft cocktails in Philadelphia, but more importantly is a good soul,” said Rob Cassell, owner of New Liberty Distillery and creator of Bluecoat Gin. “She would always greet you with a warmth like you had just sat down at home — whether seeing you on the street or from behind the bar.”
With the publication of Shake, Stir, Pour and her talents behind the stick at bars like Chick’s Social, Oyster House and Emanuelle — proven out by her wins at national cocktail competitions — Loeb helped usher Philly into the modern cocktail era.
“All the young kids in Philly who were interested in cocktails both classic and otherwise sat there,” drinks pro Phoebe Esmon wrote on Facebook. “Katie was generous with us. She tasted us on things and made us classics we maybe hadn’t had. She helped us start a conversation that we are still having.”
“Her influence of her love of fresh ingredients is apparent with all the bartenders in Philly keeping it fresh,” added Adam Kanter, who worked with Loeb to bring Tiki drinks to the city at Rum Bar in the early part of the decade.
Loeb’s effect in the community extended beyond just booze.
“Way before she worked for me we were friends,” said restaurateur Han Chiang, for whom Loeb designed several drinks menus. “She was one of my earliest fans. She would tell a lot of people about my place. I owe her a lot from the beginning. She will be greatly missed from the Han Dynasty family and all Philly industry.”
Even those who didn’t get a chance to work with Loeb directly felt her influence. “When I first moved to Philadelphia she was already well-established as one of the leaders in the local cocktail scene,” said Paul MacDonald, whose drinks at Friday, Saturday, Sunday have gained national acclaim. “She went above and beyond to make me feel welcome and give me encouragement as I tried to find my feet.”
Penn Hospice allows visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Loeb’s friends say she is currently welcoming them.
Any monies raised via the GoFundMe in excess of expenses will be donated to the hospice and to a PAWS shelter, in keeping with Loeb’s lifelong love of rescue animals.