I have known Bill Thomas, the owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C., for some time. He has been a regular at the Oscar Getz Master Distillers Auction during the Bourbon Festival for many years. He will purchase old bottles of whiskey and other collector items and use them at Jack Rose. You see, Bill has an advantage at Jack Rose that bar owners in other states will never have and that is no state liquor laws to deal with in Washington D.C.. He can fill out some paperwork, pay some bottle taxes and then sell a bottle at the bar. This makes Jack Rose and other D.C. whiskey bars unique in the country. Some states are changing the law to allow old whiskey bottle sales in bars. Gary Crunkleton has gotten North Carolina to change its laws to allow him to sell old bottles at The Crunkleton but even so he is more limited than what can be done at Jack Rose. Bill has no limits on what he can sell, but Gary does. Gary cannot sell a bottle unless there is no modern equivalent available. Bill can sell the 1933 bottle of Old Taylor, Gary cannot.
Jack Rose is a real pleasure to visit. I have been several times but I am a bit surprised in that I have not been on the second floor. That is one of my goals to find out what is on the second floor. I am told that it is the same availability of whiskey as the first floor so I hope I have not been missing anything. The first floor has enough to keep me busy for many hours or even days. They have a menu of over 2,600 whiskeys. About 700 of them are Bourbon and maybe 400 ryes. These numbers are growing and are constantly updated on their website.
The bar has bottles everywhere and library ladders to give access to the shelves. A person working at Jack Rose has to know how to find the bottles and that is no small task. The menu is a small book. The prices are reasonable and Bill is very good at basing the prices upon what he has paid for the bottle. Back in the day when you could get 1950s Old Taylor for $25 a bottle, the price for a drink was only slightly higher than the price for modern version of Old Taylor. Even with the growing scarcity of this whiskey and the higher price per bottle, it is still very affordable to get a drink of some old whiskey at Jack Rose Dining Saloon.
Bill has a very well trained staff. Bill makes several trips to Kentucky a year to purchase single barrels for the bar and he usually will bring several member of the staff to visit the distilleries and learn about the brands. He also is good about bringing speakers into the bar – everyone from master distillers and brand ambassadors to having me in to teach a Bourbon Country Institute. The staff is very well versed in whiskey knowledge (not just Bourbon and rye but also Scotch, Irish and Canadian). The staff is fairly stable with some employees having been there for years. Jack Rose opened its doors in 2011 and has quickly become known as a great place to work. It is also a great place to drink some whiskey.
You can order a single pour of many different brands or you can have a flight of several brands. The menu offers many options. They also have a very talented staff of mixologists who will be happy to fix you a cocktail, including their namesake cocktail, the Jack Rose. There is an excellent food menu as well. If you have a hard time deciding or have a question about a spirit, they have staff members who specialize on answering those questions. The drinks are served in glassware of choice, including Glencairns, snifters and rocks glasses.
So how would I score Jack Rose Dining Saloon? I would give them 3 points for the menu. Great selection and generous pours. I would give them 1 point for offering flights and another 1 point for segregating the flavored whiskeys. The quality of training of the staff deserve 3 points with another 1 point in that I have found them all to be friendly and courteous patiently answering even simple questions from novice whiskey drinkers. Finally 2 points for the great friendly atmosphere of this classic whiskey bar. This makes their total 11 points.
If you ever find yourself in our nation’s capital then you really should visit Jack Rose Dining Saloon. You will be glad you did and while there tell them you learned about them on BourbonVeach.com.
Photos Courtesy of Michael Veach