by Corin Hirsch
There's a time to weep, a time to laugh, and a time to mourn. There's also a time for Jameson and a time for single-malt Scotch, a time for Kentucky bourbon and a time for local rye.
More than 100 bottles of whiskey grace the bar of Rí Rá's new Whiskey Room, which officially opened at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Precisely two hours later, I sidled up to that bar and dove into the hefty, bound menu, which has detailed historical and tasting notes on everything from Cooley's to WhistlePig to Blanton's Single-Barrel Bourbon. You can almost taste the libations without actually tasting them, and spend 20 minutes reading until you're able to make a decision.
The rooms feels like an enveloping wooden womb, with intricate, dark-wood ceilings and floors, bar and mantle salvaged from a pub in County Wicklow and reassembled here behind the original pub. A gas fire flickers in one nook. Glass cases along one side of the room hold bottles such as the extremely rare Knappogue Castle Whiskey, which goes for about $350 a pour. Manager Matt Messenger says he and others labored long and hard to get some of these whiskeys inside state borders and are still waiting on a few bottles.
My whiskey-drinkin' days used to consist primarily of playing pool while sipping Jameson until a momentuous early-morning tour of the Talisker distillery on Skye turned me on to single malts. Over the next few years, I dropped way too much dosh on drams of Lagavulin, Laphroig's and Oban. But while age is good for Scotch, it can have its drawbacks for humans — such as the blinding headache I get a few hours after imbibing the amber stuff.
Inside Rí Rá, I somehow forgot this when I saw Scotch I had never tasted before: Auchentoshan. It was a triple-distilled Glaswegian beauty, full of subtle peat burn overlaid with lime, smoke and flowers. A few drops of water made it really come alive.
Before I forget — there are interesting beers on tap here (Trapp, etc.), a lengthy list of wines by the glass, meats and cheese from local farms, and small plates such as ale-steamed mussels and bleu-cheese chips. These are lovely backgrounds, IMHO, to the smoky stuff.
When I went back to the Whiskey Room a few days later to snap some photos, a cast of rosy-cheeked, late-afternoon regulars already seemed to have taken their rightful places at the bar. Most of them had pints in hand, rather than whiskey. I hope they learn.