Plenty of New Orleans bars offer a beer and a shot. But the new Barrel Proof, opened in May by the people who brought you Sylvain in the French Quarter, has organized its entire menu around the concept.
Located in the former Bridge Lounge, 1201 Magazine St. in the Lower Garden District, Barrel Proof offers patrons a selection of more than 60 brews and 200 whiskies to mix and match.
Step inside the cavernous Barrel Proof and you leave the Caribbean flavor of New Orleans for something decidedly more Western. The barnlike structure, adorned with corrugated sheet metal and taxidermied animals, would feel at home in west Texas. A 44-foot bar serves as an altar to whiskey.
As we sat down and scanned the back bar, the only spirits I could see (for miles, it seemed) were whiskies. I flipped through the menu: beer and whiskey. Could this be all they served?
As a woman who loves brown liquor, this was a menu I could get behind, but I also thought it was awfully exclusive and wondered at its commercial viability.
In answer to my question, our bartender pointed to the menu’s final page, where tequilas, vodkas and rums are listed. However, their sum total is less than all of the American bourbons available. You don’t go to Barrel Proof for the rum.
You can get lost in that menu. Organized by country of origin, each whiskey features a brief description. Prices are listed for 1- and 2-ounce pours with no penalty for selecting the smaller serving.
Liam Deegan, Barrel Proof’s manager, says this nudges people to try new whiskies without having to spend too much.
Barrel Proof’s selection is hard to match. In addition to some rare American bourbons, the bar carries all the Japanese whiskies available in Louisiana. While Barrel Proof will soon serve thematically based whiskey flights, the 1-ounce pours make it easy for patrons to design their own.
Barrel Proof offers a price spectrum, from a Schlitz-and-Old-Grandad special for $5 to one of the Japanese imports for $30.
Despite the swank pours on offer, the vibe is decidedly informal, a tone set by the friendly and helpful staff. Facing a menu of dozens of whiskies can be daunting, but the bartenders are there to assist. After we described the flavors we prefer in a whiskey to our bartender, we were soon sampling some new (and delicious) pours.
Though it was a busy Saturday night, the bar didn’t feel a bit crowded. Barrel Proof is a good place for a group to stake out and claim one part of the bar without taking over the whole establishment. It was a decidedly mixed crowd, including several couples who were clearly on dates and a group of boisterous, highly groomed young men celebrating a friend’s birthday. Judging by their rainbow and unicorn T-shirts that declared “I’m totally straight,” they had abandoned the festivities of Southern Decadence for something a little more low-key.
If straight whiskey or a mug of brew is not your thing, fear not. Barrel Proof’s sister restaurant is Sylvain, and all Barrel Proof’s bartenders are adept at creating that cocktail haven’s signature drinks, in addition to doling out whiskey and beer advice.
Elizabeth Pearce is the co-author of “The French Quarter Drinking Companion.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @etpearce.