Where To Go For Fine Food And Finer Whiskey
By Richard Thomas
For even the most diehard and devoted whiskey enthusiast, actual whiskey travel is the exception rather than the rule. Whether it be due to competing interests, family or necessity, entire vacations spent in Speyside, Islay or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are far from the norm for most whiskey fans. Hence, most of the time one needs to make due on the trip that they have, and that means making a grand experience out of going out for a drink.
These restaurants and bars offer that experience, because they meet with three criteria: 1) they have a good selection of whiskey at the bar; 2) they have a dynamite menu; and 3) they are in a city you might find yourself in for just about any kind of trip or vacation in the United States.
Chicago: Longman and Eagle
Longman and Eagle styles itself as a modern take on the old fashioned Chicago inn, and with six rooms available you might just be staying there as well. Down in the bar, they have a selection of over 300 whiskeys, and every day 38 are chosen for the $3 a shot menu. Odds are good there will be something on that menu you haven’t tried yet, making it a good way to go exploring on a budget. Finally, the restaurant menu is packed with items that can be brought to pair well with whatever whiskey suits you, from Smoked Clams in Squid Ink Tagliatelle to Wild Boar Sloppy Joes.
Los Angeles: Scopa Italian Roots
Whiskey isn’t usually associated with Italian food, but this place might change your mind. Yet many traditional Italian starters, as well as the Italian penchant for turning out excellent steaks and veal chops, have serious potential for pairings. Scopa has those, and it also has an impressive amount of shelf space devoted to whiskey at the bar.
Las Vegas/Miami: Yardbird Southern Table And Bar
Let’s just start by saying, as a born-and-bred Kentucky boy, that the word “yardbird” would be enough to confirm the Southern bona fides of this joint in the eyes of my Mom (although she wouldn’t be so sure about the Las Vegas location). Mint juleps and Blackberry Bourbon Lemonades are on the house cocktails list. The whiskey menu is solid. And what goes more naturally with bourbon and even moonshine better than Southern staples like Virginia ham, smoked briskett and fried chicken?
Nashville: Whiskey Kitchen
If you are in Nashville, you may as well stop in at a local micro-distillery, such as Nelson’s Green Brier or Corsair Artisan, but that is no reason not to head for The Whiskey Kitchen after you’re done. A good whiskey selection coupled to a raft of whiskey cocktails meets Tennessee-style pub grub pairings like yam fries and pulled pork.
New York: Maysville
New York is whiskey-central for the world these days, with so many tastings going on all around the city every week (sometimes every day!) that a visitor should be able to drink everything from high-rye bourbon to the latest from Japan cheaply or for free without too much of a fuss. That said, combining that drink with some fine food at the same table isn’t as direct a proposition.
That is where Maysville comes in. This is the kind of place that offers regular classes and tasting events, albeit of the paid variety. The bar has a selection of over 150 whiskeys, including obscure stuff from places like Belgium and Austria, all offered in European-style dram (1 oz) and large (2 oz) portions, as well as 8 oz and 16 oz personal decanters to share around a table. Pairing ideas for your plate: oysters done three different ways, smoked trout and steak.
Portland: Pope House Lounge
If you need to duck out from the Pacific Northwest’s hipster capital and lose yourself in a plate of bourbon-and-coke glazed meatloaf with a nice double of small batch to go with it, this is your place. The whiskey menu is neither as broad or as deep as some of the other selections described here, but this is the best balance of whiskey and grub to be had in the region.
Washington, DC: Jack Rose Dining Saloon
The bottom line on whiskey bars in America is that only New York and Kentucky have multiple top ten contenders for sheer breadth and depth of their whiskey menus. Past that, a few major cities have just one, and for the nation’s capital that one is Jack Rose. The reputation of this joint is such that I hold minor regrets that it opened only after I bid adieu to DC for good!
In terms of whiskey, go to the homepage. There is a counter telling you how many bottles are on the wall (2,390 at the time of posting). Cigars? They have an admired selection. Food? Wherever you are eating—the bar, the restaurant, or upstairs on the terrace—you’ll find items on the menu that go well with your whiskey.