Chef Edward Lee’s newest concept Whiskey Dry opens today on 4th St. Live! He said this bar has been two years in the making, and a lot of thought went into expanding the discussion from the obviously popular bourbon to a discussion about the world of whiskey.
“We took a hard look and asked ourselves if Louisville needs another whiskey bar,” he explained. “Obviously bourbon is very popular right now; bourbon is great, but bourbon is just one chapter in the much much longer story of whiskey. We have an incredible selection of Canadian, Scotch, Irish, and even Japanese, which you can’t find anywhere else in Louisville.”
This bar is different than anything he’s done before. As an owner of four other restaurants (two in Louisville, two in Washington D.C.), he jokingly said the most exciting part of this development was tasting the whiskey, which will be paired with a variety of burgers, including a non-traditional veggie burger that is made from layers of roasted vegetables instead of the typical black bean option.
“There’s so many things that go into opening a new restaurant,” he went on to say. “This is the first bar I’ve ever done, so the process is a little bit different. Every other restaurant I’ve ever done, we’ve always developed the menu first and created the beverage program around the menu. In here, we flipped it. We created the cocktails and the whiskey list first and created everything else around that -including the decor, the staffing, and the food menu. So, really, the bar and the cocktails are the star of the show here. “
If the bar and cocktails are the star of the show, then beverage director Stacie Stewart is center stage. Stewart has been the long term general manager and beverage director at Milkwood, a restaurant she helped Lee open in 2012.
“When you have a super star in your company, and they’re ready to expand their wings, I think as a business owner, it’s your obligation to say ‘Okay, let’s see what you can do,’” said Lee. “So, when it came time to figure out this whole deal, I approached Stacie and said ‘Are you ready?’ And, she said, ‘Yes, I am.’ I said, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’”
Stewart said she’s worked in restaurants since she was 16-years-old and later found herself in a bartending role when someone didn’t show up for work. It turned out she was good at it, and that led to where she is today.
“I’ve always had a creative side and loved restaurants my whole life,” she said. “It was always something that I thought I could do until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up, but then I realized some people do this. I stopped looking for a pathway and started developing the talent I had already fostered and started making that my life.”
Stacie is also excited to see a whiskey bar open that is not focused on just bourbon, saying that she learned a lot preparing for this. For example, she didn’t know that India made whiskey and enjoyed the opportunity to try some. After her many studies, she designed the whiskey list and cocktails — including the cocktail names — and told Food & Dining that Everything was Beautiful is probably her favorite cocktail she’s ever made. It has fernet, blended scotch, Lychee liqueur, egg white, chocolate miso bitters they make in house. Other cocktails she mentioned include low ABV cocktails like the Portuguave (like the flavors you’d find in caipirinha, but made with just a little tequila, two different vermouth, celery, lime, sugar, and a smokey whiskey called Brimstone), or super boozey drinks like the Beard & Axe (Aviation gin, an aperitif, apricot liqueur, and then Drambuie lit on fire for an intense scotch cordial flavor, served with a shishito pepper).
“I cook a lot, so I have a lot of enjoyment from putting ingredients together and making them something really beautiful and delicious that makes people happy.” she explained. “I think that’s what most of us that like bartending really love, is creating something and giving it to someone and saying “I made this for you.” But, what I love the most probably is taking really weird ingredients that don’t really seem to fit anywhere and putting them together into something whole… Like the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Talking with these two, it’s easy to see they both have a driving passion for making their customers happy and providing a great experience. Lee said he will be there every day until the restaurant is ready to run on its own, because the restaurant business is about hard work and listening to your customers.
“I work hard every day,” he said. “It’s salting the food; it’s shaking hands. It’s wiping dishes. You never get away from this. I’ve never been a part of a restaurant group where someone could dial it in. When we open, we won’t be perfect, but we’ll listen to our customers and we’ll improve as needed, and that’s where success comes from.”
In closing, he gave a good description of what Whiskey Dry will be.
“We take concepts and put a creative spin on them, and we always try to push the envelope a bit. This isn’t fancy food; this isn’t haute cuisine here, but under the category of a burger bar, we’re pushing the boundaries. I think the burgers are far more creative than you will usually find in a bar, and the cocktails are far more creative than you’ll usually find in a whiskey bar.”
Photography by Dan Dry