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Back in December, I visited the re-branded bar and restaurant Bourbon & Tunns Tavern (221 N. Broadway) (formerly Palms) in the Third Ward. After having a less than stellar experience, I vowed to return after Christmas to give them a fair shake.
A week later I received an iMessage from a friend that read “There was a fire at Bourbon & Tunns!”
After checking my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I learned that no one was hurt by the fire that started in the building’s basement. No reopening date was set, so all I could do was sit – and drink somewhere else.
It was early March when I noticed a Facebook post from Bourbon & Tunns announcing they’d be reopening mid-month. Since its actual re-opening at the end of March, I’ve visited the Third Ward establishment four times. And only the most recent visit provided a glimmer of hope.
The first three times I visited after the fire, the place wasn’t anything near what I’d define as “customer ready.” The bar was sparsely stocked; there were no beer, wine or whiskey lists; and the cocktail list they did have was printed on a white piece of computer paper that was crinkled and stained. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against drink menus on a piece of computer paper, but with most drinks coming with a $10 price tag, I expected better.
The décor, however, was spot on. The dark wood really made the place feel warm and cozy; somewhere I’d see myself fleeing to on a rainy afternoon.
During my visit, I ordered wine and vodka presses. Although we had no idea the price of the glass of wine at the time of the pour, we found out upon receiving our bill that they were $8. The bright spot of most of my visits was the friendly bartender. He would join in on our conversations and his laugh seemed to fill up the empty bar.
My second post-fire visit turned me off the most. It was approximately two weeks after my first visit when my friend Cat and I walked in after trying out Anthony’s on Jefferson. There were a few people at the pub tables by the window, and the bar itself was almost completely full. I was excited at the thought that the management finally had everything ready enough for people to want to pack the place. Oh, was I wrong.
The bartender, who was not the same jolly guy of visits past, asked what we would like to drink. After perusing the list I became fixated on the Old Fashioned. No price listed, just simply “MP,” so I inquired about the market price. I simply wanted to know what the market price of the cocktail was with the house or rail whiskey, but instead I was given a five minute lecture on how this particular Old Fashioned isn’t what we think of today. He pointed to the menu and to the drink's description, which reads:
“Around 1806 The Balance & Colombian Repository Publication, defined the Cocktail as, spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters. In the 1850’s the creation of a new cocktail called the Sazerac caused people to start asking for an ‘Old Fashioned’ Cocktail.”
Essentially, you can choose what kind of alcohol you'd like in your own "Old Fashioned," and as such, the price depends on that. But after answering none of my questions, the bartender seemed shocked when I went with wine instead.
During my last visit, I finally was able to experience some of the positives. First, the jolly bartender was back. Second, there was a hardcover menu that held the cocktail, beer, whiskey and bourbon lists. The wines were on the familiar white crinkled piece of computer paper, but it was an improvement.
I was immediately drawn to the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc as I’ve been hooked on the New Zealand variety since my dad introduced me to it last year. I was a bit shocked to read that a glass of the 2012 wine was $11. I’ve purchased an entire bottle at retail price for $15 at Pick 'n Save, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, so there was no way I’d pay $11 for one glass. I opted for the $8 Massimo instead.
The remainder of the wine list is made up of a handful of Chardonnays, a Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Red Zinfandel with glasses ranging from $6-10.
More impressive were the nearly 50 beers and more than 100 varieties of brown liquor ranging from bourbon and scotch, to Irish whiskey and Canadian whisky.
In addition to mainstream offerings such as Jack Daniel’s, Crown Royal, Jim Beam and Bulliet, Bourbon & Tunns carries many varieties from Kentucky bourbon distillers including Johnny Drum, Pure Kentucky, Rowan’s Creek and Black Maple Hill. Beer on tap includes Bridgeport’s Bear Hug Stout, Krombacher, Magners Irish Cider, Big Sky Brewing’s Moose Drool and Lakefront’s Wisconsinite and Fixed Gear.
After my glass of wine, I ordered one of Bourbon & Tunns’ variations on the Old Fashioned called the "Old West." I didn’t get a lecture about its history, but instead was warned the Old West was “hot.”
That could be the understatement of a lifetime. Made with jalapenos, dried cherries, brown sugar and Bulliet Bourbon, the cocktail served in a rocks glass provides more heat than you can imagine. After the first few sips, I was able to enjoy the $9 drink. I found out the hard way that the Old West is not for the weak of heart.
I really tried to give Bourbon & Tunns a fair shake. You could even say I gave them a second, third and fourth chance at showing me a good time. Perhaps if they introduce specials and adjust their pricing I’ll be back. For now, I’ll go elsewhere.
If you’d like to be the judge, check out Bourbon & Tunns Tavern on Facebook for more information.