Cocktails & Conversations Revisited – Memory Lane

Joel behind the bar at The Astral Plane in Philadelphia

“Hi, how are you? It’s so nice to see you.”

No, that isn’t quite right.

“Hhhhiiiii, how are yooouuuu? It is soOo nice to see you!”

When you arrive at the Astral Plane, Reed’s greeting is the band and the spotlight of your arrival. Still, words on a page fail to express the true impact of the proprietor’s welcome.

Consider this: you walk into a restaurant and your first encounter is typically with a young hostess, who, after smilig and offering her polite greeting, escorts you to your designated table and hands you menus before going to her station to check off your arrival on a neatly laminated floor plan.

At the Astral Plane, customers walk into the small bar area in what was once the living room of a centuries old townhouse. Those who have never been there before, often look for her familiar smiling face. Their eyes ask, are we in the right place, while taking in the gypsy flea market feel of the place. Perhaps the restaurant has a separate entrance?

After a few seconds in limbo, they cease wondering (or do their wonders begin?) when an eccentric man brandishing the biggest smile most will ever receive from someone they’d never before met, enters into their life.

To say that Reed’s bright-eyed, slightly nasal greeting alone has kept him in business for more than thirty years may seem an exaggeration, but as witness to the life it brings to people’s faces, I don’t think the statement is too far off.

Hearing these same words on stage last Friday at the opening night of “Cocktails & Conversations” based on my husband Joel Finsel’s book (of the same name), took me right back to our young & in love nights at the famed Astral Plane restaurant.

It made me miss our first little apartment a block from Pastorius Park in Chestnut Hill. The twinkle lights in the tree out front of the restaurant. The ever-changing tchotchka and billowing tapestries hanging from the ceilings. Candlelight and fresh flowers. Gazing at my handsome fiance shaking his mixer to the cadence of laughter and lilting voices from a bar stool with a white wire-shaped heart. Chef Rudy giving me filet wraps to take home to our sweet Buster. And most of all, Reed’s voice that sounds like home.

I first received Reed’s legendary welcome when I showed up to cover his 28th anniversary party for Monthly Buzz, an online social scene website that was a novelty at the time. Being the consummate showman & marketer, he took extra care in giving me the full Astral experience. The next time I came around with my new-to-Philly boyfriend in tow, who just so happened to be looking for a bartending gig. As luck (or perhaps, the stars) would have it, Reed’s resident bartender Wayne, who had been there for 27 years, was planning to vacate the stage.

Reed decided to throw Joel into the fire by testing him out with one of their busiest nights, an annual AIDS benefit. Joel may have appeared easy going, but the fire burning beneath his cool Scorpio exterior kept each and every martini and wine glass full and their customers starry-eyed and content.

Reed quickly realized Joel’s “talent with liquids” and started signing him up and sending him out for bartendering competions right and left. And, Joel – the unassuming bartender with the shy smile – kept right on winnning them. From Rising Star Mixologist at The Ritz-Carlton to a blind tasting contest with Esquire drink aficiondo David Wondrich at The Cocktail Classic and later, recognization by Playboy as one of the nation’s Top 10 bartenders, this is where Joel’s potent mix of shaman/psychologist meets mixologist began.

Sitting in the dark surrounded by my parents and our closest friends at Theatre Now with Joel watching actor Jacob Keohane as himself in 2003, all he could muster was how incredibly “surreal” it all was.

It’s evident Zach Hanner put a lot of heart into adapting Joel’s work into a play and carefully selected some amazing local actors to bring his vision to life. Read Gwenyfar’s review in the latest issue of Encore (here) and take a walk with us down memory lane to a “world of dreams and land of imagination” with dinner & a show at Theatre Now. Hope to see you tonight!

And, if you won’t be able to make it on Friday or Saturday night from now until September 3rd, you can still visit The Astral Plane by picking up a copy of Joel’s book (here).

Click HERE
to get your tickets to see the play!


Joel’s Cocktails & Conversations pitch letter
Design: Andrea Lewandowski


Astral Plane proprietor Reed Apaghian in the 70’s, around the time he famously used a sledgehammer on a wall upstairs in the restaurant to make more room for The Rolling Stones’ dining party


Reed with Joel during Joel’s tenure behind the bar at The Astral Plane


One of Joel’s drinks during his time at The Astral Plane





Watching “Cocktails & Conversations” the play opening night at Theatre Now with Joel and Shannon


To get yourself a copy now,
please click HERE.

$100 of proceeds from book sales will go towards
Bill Ladd’s cancer treatment.




Thank you to Karyn at Second Skin Vintage for having me as the featured host
of the “I ❤ Vintage” Social Club’s 1920’s edition tonight.

At this special event, I announced the date & new venue
for The Deco Ball / 6th Annual Great Gatsby Gala —


Thursday October 13th
Wrightsville Manor
(the gorgeous new venue behind Lumina Station)

More details coming soon!






Vintage Yard Sale
Sip + Shop

August 27th & 28th
(Sat & Sun)

Jess + Joel are having a not-your-typical yard sale.
$1 bargain bin, $5-$30 racks. Summer tunes. Cold libations.
Join us to shop Style Girl Vintage overstock,
vintage bits, bobs & books.







VIDEO PREMIERE: Solving the Mystery –
Who is Jess James & What does she do?



1 hour, 20 outfits (styled from your closet) for $100

Make an appointment:



Want to have Playboy’s Top 10 Mixologist
slinging drinks at your house party or creating
a signature cocktail at your wedding or special event?
Book Mixologist Joel Finsel of Astral Cocktails now!

* Mention seeing this in the FASHION FIX,
and receive 10% off!

Photo: Leslie Koehn


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