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Whiskey – CLOSED

Posted by CDB 26 Jul 2009 23 Comments

I just came home from Whiskey.

That sentence just feels good to type.

Upon my first impression, this place is exactly what I’ve wanted to find in Durham these last three years: a place to hang out and have a great drink.  Sure there are plenty of places to have wonderful drinking experiences, a pub crawl, or booty shakin’ good time, but there has never been a great cocktail joint where you can drink alone, carouse with friends, or bring a date–all in equally good fashion.  I’d say Dain’s is the closest it has gotten for me, but I can’t think beyond beer at Dain’s (and I shouldn’t have to!).

And I say this having come from an extremely busy night at the bar.  The place was stuffed shortly after I arrived (I suspect it was egress from DPAC and not my arrival that was to fault), which was annoying.  But the place is beautiful and the bartenders actually make drinks(!).  The bar is stocked with two of the most amazing shelves ever: one of high end bourbon, the other lovely scotch.  I sat in front of my friends Basil and Booker.  It was good to see them, it had been a while.  Beyond good shelves, they also have four or five types of bitters and many of the signature cocktails use one or more of them.

For now the place is probably overcrowded, but soon the tied dyed shirts will disappear.  Not that the bar is pretentious (the decor looks like it could be); they are obviously serious about drinking, and any whisp of pretention  is merely a sign of their sincerity.

Until the initial excitement dies down and the nothing-more-than-curious stop coming, go early and often.  Order a whiskey.  Or a gin cocktail, it looks like they do them right.  Either bring a friend or don’t.  Just sink into a cozy leather chair and enjoy.

P.S.  There was no way I was taking photos in that place tonight, it was too dark and too crowded and too reflective for flash photography.  Check out their site for a feel of the place (I particularly like the shot on their Contact page).  There was also a post on the Durham Magazine blog with some nice pictures.  When I return to the bar I’ll update with some photos of our own.


  • ChrisH said:

    We went to Whiskey on Friday night and unfortunately didn’t have as good of an experience. We were able to find a table in the back to hold all of us, but both of the drinks that I ordered, an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan, were mixed horribly. The Old Fashioned was very watered down, where it should typically have almost no water at all, and the Manhattan tasted almost entirely of cinnamon, due to whatever type of bitters they were using in it. The single whiskey I had on on the rocks was fine, of course, but when you are a whiskey bar and can’t mix two very classic whiskey cocktails well at all, then I won’t be making the effort to go back.


    CDB replies on July 26th, 2009 at 10:51 am:

    I hear you on the Old Fashioned. I’m glad I read the description on the cocktail menu before ordering, because I was thinking of having one. They stray from the old fashioned way of making it by adding soda to the muddled concoction–why you thought it watery.
    And then some would argue (like me) that the muddled business shouldn’t be in there either. Give me a strong bourbon on ice with bitters and a nice bit of lemon zest. Done deal. But that is starting to split a hair or two.


    ChrisH replies on July 26th, 2009 at 8:17 pm:

    Ah, it was so busy when we were there on Friday I wasn’t able to see a menu and just ordered what I would typically drink. I would have appreciated being told that they do the Old Fashioned a little differently, as that would have changed my drink order, and most people probably wouldn’t realize that. What was wrong with the Manhattan (which was undrinkable) I am still not sure.


    D.B. replies on July 29th, 2009 at 8:51 am:

    IMO, most cocktails should have 20-25% dilution and be served up. Agreed that the muddling business & soda are inauthentic; I think Jerry Thomas would cringe at the very thought of either.

    The choice of Canadian Club is also mildly astounding — it’s a blended product, so isn’t even 100% whiskey. If the thought was to use a “Canadian Rye,” most aficionados (the demographic they seem to be targeting) know that the term is a misnomer; the real ryes being produced today are primarily domestic. Not to say that one can’t find a legitimate rye from Canada, but this product is certainly not it.

    Also, the immense cinnamon is stemming from the usage of Fee’s. I’ve found at home that a little Fee’s goes a long way in beginning to take over a drink, and it would have been nice for them to, say, use 1 dash of Fee’s to 3 of Angostura.

    Just IMHO.

  • matimus said:

    I have to say, I enjoyed my Manhattan at Whiskey. The spiciness was a bit of a surprise, but a welcome change from the overwhelming sweetness (often with the use of cherry juice) of the Manhattans I’ve had in some other bars. I could definitely taste the bourbon in my drink, and enjoyed the flavor of the bitters. I will probably try some of the other classic cocktails they have on the menu.

    I’ve been by there twice now, and have been impressed with the atmosphere, the service, and the selection.


  • john b said:

    sounds like foundation in raleigh. and i really like foundation. except it looks a little bigger and perhaps a little snootier. i’ll have to find out for myself though.


  • TSQ75 said:

    so….saldals and flip flops are “discouraged?” um…


    The Gourmez replies on July 31st, 2009 at 6:05 pm:

    I didn’t see any wardrobe police when I went last night and was with a friend wearing flip flops, I believe. Also, the Derby cocktail was pretty darn good! I am no whisky expert, though. Atmosphere was very nice–casually austere, I would say in an nice oxymoronic way.


    TSQ75 replies on August 5th, 2009 at 11:26 am:

    from their site, under the Membership category:

    Dress Code:
    No work boots, flip-flops and sandals not recommended
    No athletic gear & hats must be worn forwards
    No sleeveless shirts for men
    No excessively torn or baggy clothes
    No visibly intoxicated person will be admitted

    *Whiskey reserves the right to deny admittance to anyone for any reason.


    flipflopper replies on August 5th, 2009 at 10:57 am:

    Aha! Now I understand the unmistakable whiff of “attitude” I was getting there yesterday afternoon along with my drink. Guess my companion and I weren’t looking up to snuff. Whiskey will surely fill a certain niche, but it surely isn’t mine.


  • no pbr said:

    Their “budget priced” domestic selection is quite limited (bud, miller lite, and high life 7oz bottles). Which is fine I guess, but the bar is a bit pricey, w/ a $8 minimum on the credit car machine, and cocktails ranging around $10 and up. It looks like the fanciest hotel bar you will ever set foot in. I’m gonna love this bar in 10 years when there are a few cigarette burns on the couches and the floor is a bit stickier…


  • Morgan Lamphere said:

    I was excited when Whiskey first came on the scene as it fits in nicely with the other bars in the 5 Points area. I predict this will be “the” Duke bar once the students are back.


    no pbr replies on August 6th, 2009 at 8:11 pm:

    Undoubtedly it will be “the” Duke bar very shortly. Enjoy it for what it is while you can. Soon you will be sharing it w/ gentlemen wearing too much cologne and sporting $150 designer jeans.


  • markw said:

    I have been to Whiskey a few times. The first time i was wearing flips and a tee shirt. i was served just fine but did notice that the employee’s(including Jeff the doorman) were well dressed as were a quite a few of the patrons, so making a note of this i decided to wear a little bit better shirt next time i went. No big deal. The 8 dollar credit card fee, big deal. Hell if you want 0ne drink pay cash otherwise open a tab, they give your card straight back. No PBR? When does PBR stop being the hippster beer and stat being main stream? It is sold in every bar in Durham. Seems people just want every bar in durham to be the same, same beer, same clientel same bitching and moaning.


  • Jackson said:

    I went to Whiskey last night (Saturday, August 15th). My wife and I waited around 15 minutes and not once did a bar tender look our way. After the 15 minutes we decided to leave. I’m cool with waiting a bit for a drink but I expect bartenders to be a bit more aware of their surroundings.

    On the front of the door it says “ages 23 and older only” or something like that, so I would imagine the owners of the bar are trying to keep out the college kids.


    Morgan Lamphere replies on September 14th, 2009 at 11:38 am:

    My husband and I returned to Whiskey on Saturday night for a pre-dinner drink. This was the first time I noticed the 23+ sign on the door, and it is definitely enforced. I stand corrected on my previous comment that this place will become a Duke undergrad hangout. We had a nice time and returned after dinner for an additional drink. My husband is the bourbon drinker of the family, and he was pleasantly surprised to find that they have added Buffalo Trace and their family of bourbons (Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare, etc.) It is rare to find these in Triangle bars and they aren’t carried at ABC stores.


  • Mike said:

    beware, baseball hats are not allowed (even when they’re durham bulls baseball hats worn forwards). apparently there’s a two part explanation for this (per bartender). one, baseball hats are entirely different than fedoras and driving hats (really?). two, they’re a private club and can do whatever they want (so says bartender).

    know where i’ll be enjoying my whiskey? at home.

    pssssst, whiskey…here’s a secret…mad men isn’t REAL.


    Mike replies on February 6th, 2010 at 9:31 am:

    I should also have posted that the bartender was extremely polite in explaining the “no baseball caps” reasoning to me.

    another note: smoking is still allowed at whiskey.


  • blue law said:

    The best Negroni in town, maybe the state. Great jazz on Thursdays.


  • TSQ75 said:

    yeah, but I paid $8 each for a poorly made cocktail.

    and i’m sure all kinds of people will pipe up with excuses and whatever, but sorry, that’s expensive for a simple drink


  • Kaija said:

    Whiskey is one of my favorite chill places to sit and chat with friends whilst out in Durham…before the theater or dinner, after a Bulls game or after work, the vintage atmosphere and emphasis on fine cocktails makes it a different kind of place and a good niche to add to the Durham scene. No, it’s not the place to come for many beers or cheap drinks…it’s a one or two sipping drinks and conversation kind of place and the Thursday night jazz is very cool as well. I like the 23+ policy bc it keeps out the college kids and rookie drinkers but the smoking and cigar policy keeps me away on weekends when it’s really busy. Go after work or during the early part of the week!


  • Thomas said:

    If you are a person who enjoys dressing up like a 1920′s wannabe, likes paying extremely high prices to pretentious bartenders who smoke behind the bar while mixing your drink…. and then walk out into the night air smelling like a spittoon… you have definitely found a place to greedily take your money.

    Oh, and if you question anything, one of the owners, who will be wearing long sleeves to hide his seemingly biker’s past, will gladly talk down to you and let you know it is his place and whatever you think, feel, or, say is nothing he cares about.

    If you read the reviews, and discount the ones that are not obviously planted by the owners, you will see the trend clearly.


  • J_Ronn said:

    I love the fact that these guys have such an incredible selection of bourbons and whiskeys and scotches; most of which can’t be found on the shelves of NC’s state owned liquor stores; it helps me know what to try and find when I hit liquor stores in other states.

    The crowd can be a bit douchey on the weekends, so I like going early in the evening or on a off-night, like a Tuesday or Sunday. They also have an upstairs bar with a non-smoking area.


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