Tommy Tardie is no stranger to premium spirits, or to operating world-class bars dedicated to them. As the owner of The Flatiron Room in New York City and its 1,200+ bottles of whiskey, he’s also had a front row view of the massive influx in popularity for all things whiskey-related. For his latest venture though, Fine & Rare, he felt it was time for a slight change.
“The concept of The Flatiron Room was very whiskey-focused,” said Tardie during a recent visit to the new bar, on East 37th Street, which opened in January. “Here, we wanted to depart a little bit. Whiskey is still in my blood but I wanted to go outside that and start tapping into agave spirits, rums, and brandies.”
It’s one thing to offer premium spirits to guests. It’s another thing to be able to guide them through a list and offer a recommendation, providing informative, hands-on service. It’s what Tardie refers to as, “knowledge-based hospitality,” and it’s central to his approach at Fine & Rare.
The staff throughout the night will climb up the ladders, slide them back and forth to get access to the bottles, so it’s part of the theater
“Lots of people are getting into the numbers game [in terms of their whiskey lists] but what’s more important to me is not having those numbers, but having a staff that can represent those numbers,” says Tardie. “Having a staff that can confidently walk you through a list and have solid, fact-based opinions. That’s more important, and for this place, it’s more about that.”
But how many whiskeys does he have on the list? “To be honest I don’t even know,” says Tardie, true to his above-stated credo. He does plan to add more whiskeys in the months ahead but didn’t want to overwhelm his staff as the bar first opened.
“It’s more challenging here because it’s not just whiskey, we have the whole agave side and all of the other spirits,” says Tardie. “Staff education is super important, they have to go through a pretty rigorous training program just to get on the floor. We can’t have all this stuff and not represent it well.”
Fine & Rare still showcases hundreds of whiskeys representing a broad spectrum of styles and price points in addition to the large assortment of Mezcals, Tequilas, Rums, Cognacs, and other brandies. It’s more of an egalitarian approach to imbibing—there’s a spirit for everyone, and all tastes are welcome.
“It’s exciting for me too because I love whiskey but it’s great to learn,” says Tardie. He and his team have taken several trips to Mexico in the name of field research, purchasing a private cask of Tequila Herradura on one occasion, and stopping it at a half dozen tequila distilleries on another.
For those looking to partake in their own education, one place to start is with their lineup of flights. Six spirits are brought to the table in a handheld carrying case that resembles a large wooden six-pack holder, along with pre-printed guide sheets. “It’s all theatrics,” says Tardie.
Their bottles stashed and only accessible via ladders
Theatrics or not, it’s memorable, and it leaves an impression. That impression is further imprinted when particular spirits are ordered from the list and need to be fetched, their bottles stashed away and only accessible via ladders. “The staff throughout the night will climb up the ladders, slide them back and forth to get access to the bottles, so it’s part of the theater,” says Tardie.
In addition to a more diverse spirits list than at sister bar The Flatiron Room, there’s also more of a focus on cocktails at Fine & Rare. That includes the show-stopping Smoking Old Fashioned, available with either whiskey or rum, and with a choice of seven different flavors of smoke.
All Things Fine & Rare
There’s more to Fine & Rare than what goes into your glass, though. As with The Flatiron Room, patrons can expect nightly live jazz, excellent food, and a mood-setting atmosphere.
“What I’ve been calling it is a spirits-focused restaurant,” says Tardie. “We’re still a restaurant, and I love the idea of under-promising, over-delivering. Our food is sensational but I don’t need a ‘celebrity chef.’ Spirits are a big part of the experience, but I like also not falling into a traditional or standard paradigm of what people expect.
“I like when people come in and they don’t know exactly what we are,” continues Tardie. “Are you a jazz club? Are you a restaurant? I like being able to say we’re a bit of everything.”
As for the decor, Tardie also wanted to move in a new direction. “The speakeasy thing… I think it’s played out,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but I didn’t want to be another one. We want to break out from that a little bit. The idea was to create a place where you walk in and it felt like it’s been here forever, it felt like we resurrected a place that used to be something else.”
Fine & Rare pulls that off with aplomb, displaying the mystique of a well-lived-in establishment with decades of history to share, even though it was just built from scratch.
The first space that guests encounter is a small fireside nook with cozy leather seating, showcasing a painting of Rembrandt’s The Man with the Golden Helmet hanging above head. The recreation was apparently done by an artist named Tim Tucker, who signed the piece’s back “to mother” in 1959. The bar has named a drink— a Mezcal, purple yam, falernum (an almond-flavored tiki syrup) and vermouth concoction dubbed the Tim Tucker—in his honor. These little touches provide that desired, unmistakable sense of lore, despite the bar’s newness.
Notable also is that while the entire space is divvied up into a number of such smaller areas, the performance stage itself has the prime positioning. It serves as the true focal point and draws in more attention than the bar, whether or not the jazz music is enjoyably lingering in the background for a particular guest or was the reason he or she came.
In a private back room where classes, meetings, and events can be held, Tardie commissioned a unique piece of art in the fashion of a stitched together David Hockney landscape. “This is a great piece, it’s a big continuous landscape and looks like it’s Scotland or Ireland but when you look close you see all of these pieces don’t match,” he says. “It’s just unique and creates this kind of artificial place. It’s a nice talking point.”
We sell individual bottles, or you can buy the entire locker
In addition to jazz, another popular aspect of The Flatiron Room that Fine & Rare offers as well is their locker or bottle-keep program. “We sell individual bottles, or you can buy the entire locker,” Tardie explains.
To buy a single bottle, guests just pay for the bottle plus tax and gratuity and then get to stash it away in a display case, awaiting their next visit. Once again, Fine & Rare goes the extra step for a bit more special, memorable theater. A metal ID tag is hand stamped at the table with the patron’s name and is hung over the bottle, and when someone buys an entire locker, the stamped plaque is adorned on the locker itself.
“To purchase the entire locker you basically have to buy six bottles upfront, and then four over the course of the year, just maintaining six bottles at a time,” explains Tardie. Corporate accounts often partake in the fun, as do spirits companies themselves, with William Grant & Sons, Glenmorangie and even the Scotch Malt Whisky Society among those who have already stashed away their own private allotment. As for the latter, you’d be wise to see if you could finagle a pour of the luscious 46.31 Sniffing a Bee’s Knees.
Private lockers, immersive design with every detail considered, live jazz providing the soundtrack, art adorning the walls, and of course, a near endless variety of excellent drinks to be had. Truly, all things Fine & Rare.
Originally posted 2017-05-15 11:38:30.
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