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Two new Long Island whiskey bars to visit this winter

Kyra Walls makes an old fashioned at The

Kyra Walls makes an old fashioned at The Whiskey Barrel in Port Jefferson. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

A dad walks into a whiskey bar…

Make that six dads walk into a whiskey bar, one they started together in Port Jefferson, and where they’d eventually mount a $14,000 bottle of bourbon on the wall. Due south, at just about the same time, two longtime friends also unveiled a restaurant in Patchogue devoted to brown spirits in all their forms.

Was there a whiskey zeitgeist in the air in 2020? Possibly. At no other time in U.S. history — since president George Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, his first domestic crisis — has there been so much whiskey, bourbon, Scotch and rye in our midst, hundreds of brands fueling a multibillion dollar industry. At both The Whiskey Barrel in Port Jefferson and WhiskeyNeat in Patchogue, which opened in late spring, there are dozens to choose from — but each spot has its own personality and crowd.

The Whiskey Barrel

The bar "came about on the back of a napkin," said Paul Hess, one of a handful of owners of The Whiskey Barrel. That’s proverbial, somewhat: the members of an online group called Three Village Dads, whose members hail from law enforcement to tech to finance, hatched the idea of a whiskey and cigar bar during the pandemic. John Louis, owner of Rocky Point’s Maui Chop House, helped take the reins in shaping the concept, said Hess, and the group pooled money, found investors and took over the Main Street space where Fork & Fiddle used to be. In May, they unveiled the dream that beaome reality: a comfy tavern with a round wooden tables, a humidor in the back and an outdoor area where cigar aficionados could gather and smoke. Central to the space is a full bar with dozens of whiskeys and bourbons, plus a pub-food-centric menu with fish and chips, sandwiches and burgers created by chef Lucais Burt.

Pours range from $5 shots of blended whiskey (think Jack Daniels or Jamesons) to flights and whiskeys served neat (sans ice) or on the rocks, some of which are hundreds of dollars a glass. "We started with some very high-end whiskeys, and we’ve since brought in more approachable ones,"said Hess, who admits that he wasn’t into whiskey the start of the project and it now fully in its thrall. "I’ve become more of a whiskey lover. It’s an amazing culture."

Whiskey is frequently distilled from corn but can also be made from barley, wheat and other grains; bourbon must be from at least 51 percent corn, and made in Kentucky (the similar product made in Tennessee is simply Tennessee whiskey). The barrels in which whiskey is aged, and the length of time the spirit spends there, lends a constellation of flavors. Scotch is made from barley, in Scotland, and generally has smokier or peaty flavors; rye is made from…well, rye. To add further complication, there’s moonshine (unaged whiskey), Japanese whiskey and blended whiskey, and when you try to comb through the details, it can make your head hurt before you even have that much to drink. At The Whiskey Barrel, help is generally just a question away.

"We love to do tastings, to walk you through and let you try," said Hess. "I’ve been surprised at the wide demographic — we certainly have that old-school of what you picture a whiskey drinker to be, but also some younger folks exploring whiskey." Live music a few times a week helps broaden the clientele even further, he added, and classes are on the horizon.

The Whiskey Barrel opens daily at 11:30 a.m. at 138 Main St., Port Jefferson, 631-743-9418; whiskeybarrelpj.com

WhiskeyNeat

Owners Rob Delgiorno and Michael Jordan have noticed a hospitality-industry crowd gathering at their Patchogue bar-restaurant, partly because it stays open late — 1 a.m. on weeknights, and 2 a.m. on the weekends. Both Delgiorno and Jordan are themselves veterans of the industry, with decades of management, buildouts and catering under their belts (Delgiorno also owns 1-800-BARTEND).

Patchogue seemed like a natural for their idea, since Jordan was one of the first people to live in New Village, the mixed-use complex that opened seven years ago, when the town’s bar scene was heading into its heyday. "As they got a little older, they wanted a more refined spot to hang out in," Delgiorno said.

The friends had a vision of comfortable, polished place that was more restaurant than whiskey bar, per se, with elevated food and cocktails. The term WhiskeyNeat, they thought, exuded a term more bar staffers were familiar with, but also partly guided the concept. "The theme was not really to have a theme, but do everything right," Delgiorno said.

They renovated the former Fulton’s Gate space into an 85-seat restaurant of copper, brick, and wood, marrying vintage details with a lengthy bar and dishes that went from gochujang wings and grilled octopus to pastrami sandwiches, grilled Japanese eggplant with cashew ricotta and a fried boneless chicken thigh over grits that’s doused with hot honey. (Appetizers begin at $8, larger plates at $17; those top out at $41 for skirt steak with chimichurri). "We wanted to speak to classic foodies and those who appreciate the experience you give them," said Delgiorno, who with Jordan also invites in local chefs for monthly popup tasting dinners.

A hallmark from the start was an all-day happy hour, from noon to 7 p.m., that slashes prices by half for every spirit behind the bar. "We wanted people to be able to try all of the cool whiskeys," said Delgiorno, whether Wellers 90 Proof Rye (rare) or Old Rip Van Winkle 12 Year (super rare) which retails at $2,150 or so a bottle.

Those bottles are sometimes a hustle to get a handle on, said Delgiorno, because allocations for certain regions are slim and based on the longevity of a bar’s relationship with a particular distributor. "It takes time to build those relationships," he said. "Wellers, for instance, was pretty hard for us to get."

Even so, WhiskeyNeat has, in a few months, built their collection to over 120 bottles, and they fill the wall behind and above the bar. "We’e running out of space," he said.

WhiskeyNeat opens at noon daily at 124 E. Main St., Patchogue. 631-600-3434; whiskeyneatny.com

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