Which brings us to Prime 21 Lounge, the recently re-invented back bar lounge at Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue, WA.
Daniel’s, perched on the 21st floor of an office building catty-corner from upscale Bellevue Square in the heart of Bellevue’s shopping district, is a steak house. There are many in the Puget Sound region, but this is one of the best for those who like their meat carefully aged and expertly done.
But that’s another story.
Once you thread your way through the larger happy hour lounge filled with Microsofties, there’s a smaller, darker room tucked in the back that now focuses on retro drinks … the kind quaffed by the folks of the Mad Men era … bourbon, scotch, cognac. Nothing particularly frou-frou. Just good, solid, sometimes amazingly special and equally hard-to-get liquor.
This little back lounge has gone through several changes in its life. For a decade, it was Havana Dan’s, where well-heeled types puffed on expensive cigars. That ended in 2005 when an indoor smoking ban became law.
Then the lounge morphed into a wine bar, with two dozen bottles aerated and served on tap.
“It just didn’t do that well,” said Prime 21 spirits director Brad Miller.
So the decision was made to change it again, this time to a retro-speakeasy-high spirits room. It’s all dark wood, comfy couches and glowing whiskeys lining the wall.
Old Time Spirits
Of course, the first thing I asked was where’s the Pappys. This is an amazingly hard to get Kentucky bourbon that in some lounges, goes for $75 a two-ounce-pour.
One doesn’t think of associating bourbon with exclusive or expensive or elegant. Bourbon has traditionally been more thought of in the same class as, well, moonshine. America’s hooch.
Not Pappys, though. And not George T. Stagg or its younger brother, George T. Stagg Jr.
I have to admit here I know next to nothing about retro hard liquor.
So Miller disappeared into his office, came out with a bottle of Junior, and poured me a finger or so in a short whiskey tasting glass. It was golden. The aroma was rich with more than a hint of caramel.
Oh, yes, it went down smooth, with a touch of sweet, a dollop of caramel and … something else that spread across my tongue, setting the edges on fire.
Junior is aged 10 years and is, as Miller explained, barrel strength, uncut, meaning no water has been added, and it’s unfiltered. It’s also a LOT cheaper than Pappys, which when it eventually becomes available, will be $40 a shot for the 20-year vs $24 for the 10-year Junior.
Pappys is made in small batches in the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery in Kentucky. But this fall, 195 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 20 year were stolen from the distillery, making it even harder to get.
The stuff is parceled out to bars in stingy allotments. Prime 21’s allotment, expected this December, is one. As in one bottle per age category, period. That’s one 23-year, one 20-year, one 15-year. Each bottle has about 12 servings.
“I expect it will go in four days,” Miller said.
Pappy’s 10-year (actually called Old Van Winkle) is usually there at fire sale prices, $12 a glass. So when that also comes in to Prime 21, grab it while you can.
Miller explained the emerging popularity of bourbon. It is thought of as America’s national drink, he said, and people are looking these days for something U.S. made. But there is far more to drink here than bourbon.
More Than Retro
Settled comfortably in the cozy bar, my friend and I sampled a few not-so-retro drinks, one based on citrus vodka with mint, lemon and soda (think sort of like a mojito); the other, a concoction based on bourbon with amaro, honey and bitters to balance out the sweet. Our other choices included a truly retro Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, the Vesper (the James Bond vodka, and gin martini), and much more.
My friend and I sipped a bit here and there, then dived into the killer munchies … salmon stuffed endive, bourbon BBQ pork sliders, Dungeness crab legs. And there are other goodies that make your mouth water, from mini lamb chops to burgers to seared ahi tuna. You could easily make this dinner. But you can also order directly from Daniel’s full dinner menu and get happy hour drink specials from the main lounge.
Daniel’s is open for lunch and dinner. The Prime 21 Lounge is open 4pm to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 4pm to 1am Friday and Saturday. Happy hour is 4:30pm to 6:30pm and 9 pm to closing.