New laws rarely make life more fun. But in 2016, when Kentucky legislators passed legislation that freed distilleries to serve cocktails in 2017, a likeable, reasonable and actionable law was finally born, and what a lovely rarity it is.
David Mandell liked it, too, so much so that the president and CEO of Bardstown Bourbon Co. slammed the brakes on finishing his distillery’s visitors center to have it redesigned to have a serious bar. A big bar, in fact, with an ornamental wall of whiskey and a collection of curated rare vintage spirits no one in the Bardstown market would have. Whiskey making is BBC’s core business, yet whiskey instruction and cocktail making would become a new attraction.
Mandell and his partners didn’t want just a bar, however, they wanted a solid restaurant with food and service that matched that all on offer at the bar.
“This is phase two of our vision to make Bardstown Bourbon Company a destination experience,” Mandell said, speaking of his new restaurant, Bottle & Bond.
Phase one is the distillery, which has doubled production capacity in less than two years, a phenomenal leap by any standard. Using a collaborative model of making whiskey for itself and 20 customers, production is booked solid for the next five years. Phase three is a hotel to be built on the distillery’s sprawling campus.
“Since our own whiskey is aging right now, this is what we’re offering to the public,” Mandell said. Public distillery tours have been postponed while a new still and multiple fermenters are added to the barely patina-ed distillery. “We need to take full advantage of what we can offer now, and Bottle & Bond, this restaurant and bar, is our introduction to the public.”
And it’s a fabulously fine howdy-do. The space is enormous, with ceilings soaring well above 30 feet, and a wall of windows that look out onto the distillery’s expansive front lawn. The comfortable and stylish furniture make up the lone creature comforts in a room that’s borderline Bauhaus. Yet the net effect are endless clean lines and a pleasant lack of visual noise and distraction.
The restaurant itself seats about 80, but the room could swallow at least 300 for special events.
A fixed glass wall cordons off the gift shop, while a collapsible glass wall can be extended to enclose the bar for intimate events. I’d sure be sad to be on the opposite side of the glass. It’s a cool bar, one built for extended stays.
Are you getting the idea this is no ordinary restaurant, much less an ordinary distillery restaurant? Woodford Reserve has long had its self-service café, and Maker’s Mark added its exceptional Star Hill Provisions fast-casual spot about two years ago. But when you hear distillery folk talk creating a “Napa Valley-like experience” in bourbon country, Bottle & Bond sets a new standard.
The food is fantastic—which meals often are on press visits. But for any doubters who think executive chef Felix Mosso’s crew put on a show for the media, I say go try it for yourself. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize perfectly cooked food, but it takes a skilled chef and crew to make it. Plus, Mosso’s got the creds: his last stop was at the famed, remote and chi-chi Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. (Click here to see the menu.)
The talent lineup doesn’t stop there:
John Donnelly, executive director of food and beverage, is a veteran of the venerable Matchbox Food Group in Washington, D.C., and Daniel Callaway, director of beverage operations and bourbon education, is the former front-of-the-house manager of Decca restaurant in Louisville. The two created the beverage menu and wine list, as well as its extensive whiskey list. Whiskey writer Fred Minnick curated the vintage whiskey library, a lineup that surely took some amazing booze sleuthing.
Mandell acknowledged the gamble required to open such a significant venture just outside of Bardstown (pop. 13,000), a mini-city with few comparable dining options. But insists he and his partners knew the bet they were placing just opening a distillery, much less a restaurant and hotel.
“We don’t look at it as a restaurant like this in Bardstown, Kentucky,” he said. “What we’re doing is a long-term venture, something that will only grow as the Bourbon Trail grows more popular. If we didn’t believe it would become something truly special and incredible, we’d never have done this.”