If you have ever met Gary Crunkleton, then you know why he is a great bar owner. He is very friendly, extremely knowledgeable about the spirits industry, and hires, trains and retains staff that also possess these qualities. His accomplishments have come despite the handicap that his establishments are located in North Carolina – a control state with limited choices when it comes to purchasing spirits for a bar. Gary’s original location is in Chapel Hill but just in the past year opened a second location in Charlotte, N.C. The difference between the second location and the original The Crunkleton is that the Charlotte location also serves food. Otherwise, you will find the staff to be just as friendly and knowledgeable as the staff at the Chapel Hill bar
So why is Gary Crunkleton one of my “Unsung Heroes”? There are many friendly and knowledgeable bar owners in the United States. Gary is a pioneer in the bar industry. For many years, Bill Thomas and his Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. was unique because a customer could go into the bar and purchase a pour from an old bottle of whiskey, some as old as 100 years, for a price. Jack Rose Dining Saloon could do this due to the fact that Washington, D.C. had no State liquor laws that required bars to get all of their spirits from a distributor. Gary saw this and wanted to do the same at his Chapel Hill bar. So Gary hired some lawyers, talked to his State Representative and Senator and started to work to get the North Carolina law changed to allow him to serve pours from old bottles. It took years to do, but he did it. He worked out a bill that was fair to the bar owners and still allowed the State to collect their taxes on the spirits. By doing so he not only helped himself, but all other bar owners in the State of North Carolina who wished to do the same and also showed owners in other States, including Kentucky, that it could be done. Since then Kentucky has passed a similar law and bars in Kentucky like Bourbons Bistro and The Silver Dollar benefit from the change in the law.
Gary started with a large collection of old whiskeys ranging in age from Prohibition era pints to 4/5 quarts from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. He invited me out to The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill in February 2016 to be there when he opened his first bottles to sell at the bar. There was a fairly large group of his customers there and I discussed the heritage of the bottles Gary was opening that first night. It was a great event. I was also impressed with not only choices of old bottles, but also the price. Gary charged a price that was based upon what he paid for the bottle so that he would make a profit, but the fact is he could have been charging a lot more for pours from those bottles. That is the type of person Gary is – a generous businessman who makes a profit, but it is a fair profit. He would never dream of gouging his customers’ wallets.
The Charlotte, N.C. location also sells pours from old bottles. The prices there are also very reasonable. The plan is to do the same at any other locations that they decide to open a new The Crunkleton. That means he will have to pick locations that either have already adopted a similar law or work to get the State to allow pours from old bottles. All I have to say is that Kentucky already has such a law and I would love to see Gary and his partners open a place in Kentucky. If not in Louisville, then how about Bardstown or Owensboro?
Gary Crunkleton is an Unsung Hero of the Bourbon Industry. He keeps a very good bar and worked hard to get the North Carolina State law changed to allow the sale of pours from old bottles in bars. He is a trailblazer that has shown bar owners in other States it can be done.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller