I first visited The Century Bar in September 2013. I was going to give a talk on Bourbon history and I remember that I was not expecting much out of the place. It was in Dayton, Ohio and Ohio is a control state. They might have a dozen Bourbons on the bar was my expectations. I was totally wrong! When I arrived and met Diane Spitzig and Joe Head, saw the bar and its Bourbon selection I was impressed. “This place should be in Kentucky!” was my first thought.
The history is that Diane owned the Century Bar and Joe was her bar manager and it was a dive bar. The clientele was rowdy and there were fights and other things that Joe did not like to see happening. Joe talked her into turning it into a bar specializing in Bourbon. There would only be three cocktails available and they were all Bourbon cocktails. The building had a history in the whiskey industry as a rye whiskey distiller had a storefront there before prohibition. The 1913 flood destroyed the business and eventually the Century Bar is opened in the building. The bar itself came from a hotel in Cincinnati and dates back to the 19th century. There is stained glass panels above the bar and stained glass light fixtures hanging above the bar. It has the look of a high classed bar in a fine hotel. The Bourbon and other whiskey selection is amazing consider the fact they are still located in a control state with limited availability.
The menu is a real wonder. There are about 150 Bourbons, about 50 ryes, and categories for Tennessee whiskey, Other American Whiskey, single malt and blended scotch whiskey, Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskey. The prices are for the most part ranging between $5.00 and $12.00 for the pours, but there are more expensive and hard to find products on the menu as well with prices from $15.00 to $100.00. For example, Benchmark is $5.00, I W Harper $8.00 and O.K.I. is $12.00. The more exotic products range from E. H. Taylor single barrel at $17.00, Michter’s 10yo at $26.00 and Pappy 20yo at $100.00.
The staff is very knowledgeable with Joe being very strict on his training. He makes all bartenders apprentice under another until they can pass an exam on Bourbon and other whiskey. Only then will they be trusted behind the bar alone. I taught a Bourbon class at the Century Bar in October 2013 and many of the people now behind the bar were in that class. That tells me Diane and Joe must be great people to work for as they are able to keep the people working for them on a long term basis.
The pours are generous and they have extended their cocktail selection in the last two years. I think I liked the days of the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan and the Smash. The expanded cocktail menu may only be a brief phase as they are opening a speakeasy next door and that will be the main cocktail bar and the century Bar will return to only Bourbon cocktails. The glassware is good with people ordering neat portions of whiskey being able to get it in small brandy snifter.
I would score the Century Bar with 3 points for the menu. It is in a control state but it is more extensive than many of the bars on the Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville. I would give them 3 points for atmosphere, style and service. I would give them another 3 points for the staff being friendly and well educated about all things whiskey. I will give them another 1 point for being able to pull this off in Dayton, Ohio, in the heart of the Temperance country of Ohio. This gives the Century Bar 10 points in my book.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller