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Billy Penn presents CravePhilly, a video and story series by Hope Cohen about the people who create food, restaurants, and agriculture in the Philadelphia region.
This installation of CravePhilly is dedicated to Lateefah Curtis, a celebrated local mixologist and entrepreneur who died on April 26, 2021.
Many of Lateefah’s huge circle of fans and friends met her at Vernick Food & Drink in Rittenhouse, where she was a beloved and skilled bartender for nearly a decade. She chose to live and work in Philadelphia, near her large extended family, after spending time in both California and Brooklyn.
Lateefah approached the challenges COVID-19 brought to the hospitality industry with marked resilience. When restaurants closed across the city, she took an entrepreneurial pivot that, much like her cocktails, was cool and creative, with a little bit of spice.
From her own kitchen counter-turned-bar, she began facilitating corporate team-building events, hosting vibrant virtual happy hours and offering group cocktail lessons. The 52-year-old expert walked each team through her creative process for crafting great drinks — sharing not only her recipes, but guidance on spirits, glassware, and garnishes.
On screen, Lateefah was just as good as she was in person at putting each participant at ease, with a personality that came across as clear, confident, and warm.
Additionally, under the brand name Paxon & Penn, she launched boxed kits for homemade artisanal cocktails, making available through local delivery everything a novice mixologist might need — recipes, to mixers, glassware, tools, and garnishes. Lateefah’s creativity was as immense as her smile, and her recipes followed suit. Common elements of the cocktail box included locally sourced fruits, vegetables, and herbs, hand-pressed juices, and oven-dried tropical garnishes.
If you were one of the lucky customers to have snagged a seat at one of Lateefah’s bars, you knew her magnetic personality, depth of character, and fierce loyalty to her friends and family. Nobody cared more about her community.
During this segment, Lateefah shared her struggles as a woman in the male-dominated bartending industry, as well as her experiences as a Black lesbian. She was upbeat and hopeful as she witnessed the inclusive shift slowly reshaping her industry in recent years.
Lateefah’s extraordinary professionalism, unmatched joie de vivre, and killer mischievous sideways glance will be deeply and widely missed.