Liam Deegan has moved from Sylvain in the French Quarter to the Lower Garden District, running the new Barrel Proof whiskey and beer bar in the space formerly known as The Bridge Lounge with partners Sean McCusker, Robert Leblanc, and Patrick Finney.
With a beer and whiskey menu of so many pages that it weighs about five pounds, Barrel Proof will also offer wine, cocktails, and eventually food. However, no smoking, dogs, or mojitos. Deegan wants the bar to be neighborhood friendly - during our interview, two neighbors stopped by to pick up a keg of beer the bar donated for the Coliseum Square Neighborhood Association's crawfish boil.
What inspired the bar concept?
It's kind of just based on what Sean, Robert, and I like to drink. We mostly drink whiskey and beer. At the same time, I'm going to build the wine list a little more. To start, I just have three, but we're gonna do all small format wines. Sylvain is a little more cocktail focused, and I love that, but we also wanted a place which was a little more relaxed, a little more casual. Where you can do shots, we have all this cool whiskey, soon we'll have some more cool wine, and we still do all cocktails here. We just wanted a place that reflected how we drink, and we think a lot of people will like it too.
How did you choose this location?
A regular of ours at Sylvain approached us to do this. We weren't looking to do this anywhere, but he came to us and wanted us to handle the bar. He's our partner here as well, Patrick Finney. But it was a cool opportunity for us to get into this building. I don't know if many people know this, but this building's been a bar for a while - it's the second oldest (continuously operating) bar in the city, behind Lafitte's. Lafitte's has it beat by a considerable amount, but this building was built in 1895, and it's been a bar for over a century. It's just a really cool spot. I live up the street, it's a great neighborhood. We've got a brewery across the street [Courtyard Brewing's tap room on Erato is slated to open this summer] - it's my dream!
Do you think the changing attitude toward craft beer and small batch craft whiskey made it possible to succeed with this concept?
In general, people are more educated, they have the internet, iPhones, they're starting to look into what they're eating and drinking. And people also love good stories and good history - that's what's cool about booze, it has all this history.
Will you be serving food?
We're going to eventually do food, we have a lot of space in the back to do food. That's the reason we're doing no smoking, no dogs. It's not because we hate dogs. I love dogs, but we don't want to start letting people smoke and bring dogs in, because you can't do that with food. So we don't want to let them do it for now and then tell them no. That's the main reason for the no smoking and no dogs.
What's the beer situation?
Right now we have four beers on tap and I'm waiting for the equipment to come in so we'll eventually have six beers on tap. It's gonna be five Louisiana beers, and Schlitz is gonna be on always. [Re: beer bottle list] It's between 54 and 62, I want to say? But I have more space and I can probably get up to 100. But I don't want to put a number on it, I don't want to say I'm the place that has a hundred beers. But to start off, it's a relatively slim beer list, for the space we have, but every week I'm gonna add more stuff, until I can't fit anything else.
How many whiskeys do you have?
Right now it's at 150, 152. But that's with a few things out of stock, like half of Buffalo Trace stuff is out.
What was the process in selecting the whiskeys?
I more or less called all my reps and said, "give me everything you've got." (laughs) They were pretty happy with that.
What kind of clientele do you envision for Barrel Proof?
Anybody. Everybody. We'll still make cocktails for people. The big question I get, after dogs, is do you make mojitos? And we're not doing mojitos right now, but someone last night said she only drinks mojitos, and I made her a classic daiquiri, and she said that was her new drink. So that was a cool thing. We're not trying to shut anyone down. We have plenty of other stuff that people are going to like besides just whiskey and beer. We're about making people happy right now, not about making people do shots. Well, we might make a few people do shots. But not everyone has to do shots.