Does the name Kristian Niemi ring any bells? It should.
In the 20 years that he’s lived in Columbia, he’s opened Mr. Friendly’s, Gervais & Vine, Solstice, Rosso Trattoria Italia and Bourbon. Located on the bustling block of Main Street in sight of the State House, the location is narrow, dimly lit and cozy. Simply put, it’s a great place to drink whiskey.
“This building sat dormant for 10 years, and the bank thought that they could sit on it and let it cave in on itself because they thought it was in poor repair. It was not,” said Niemi. “The subflooring was all 1869 heart pine. And it was spongy, so we took it out, refinished it and used it to do the front of the bar and the wall in the back. We just sanded it and put polyurethane over it. We didn’t stain it or anything. And then we polyurethaned the (exposed) wall. I couldn’t replicate that [pattern] with every artist in the world so we left it as is.”
The “upscale saloon” is Niemi’s love letter to whiskey and the craft cocktail movement. Featuring more than 250 bourbons, ryes and various American whiskeys, his recommendation to any whiskey novice is to start with the obvious choice: an old-fashioned.
“It’s the granddaddy of all cocktails,” he said. “When it was invented, it was just whiskey, a little bit of sugar and bitters, and ours is pretty back to the basics. We barely muddle the orange, we just tap down on the rind a little bit just to get a little oil. And we don’t build it in the glass. We stir it and then strain it over a fresh cube.”
The whiskey selection is updated as whiskeys are released throughout the year. With so many options, you may want to opt for a whiskey flight to help refine (and accelerate) your whiskey palate.
“I have a list of about a dozen new bourbons that need to go on the menu soon,” said Niemi. “There are some that we had in the past that I didn’t think were that good so we don’t renew their lease on the shelf. It makes room for new ones we want to try. The ones that aren’t big sellers will usually be down on the bottom shelves.”
Looking at the menu, you’ll notice that a standard pour is 2 ounces and a half pour is 1, with hand-cut ice available upon request. (This includes ice spheres common with straight whiskey.)
“We buy 50-pound blocks of ice, and then I chainsaw it down into cubes that go into a press,” said Niemi.
But the name alone does not mean the bar isn’t fully stocked with all other spirits. According to Niemi, the second most popular cocktail ordered is the Moscow mule.
“For us, it’s an easy cocktail. It’s 2 ounces of vodka, 4 ounces of ginger beer, a couple shakes of bitters and a lime wheel,” he said.
Niemi is as passionate about whiskey as he is about creating unique bars in the Midlands. No matter how you pour it, Bourbon knows its bourbon.
Dwaun Sellers, email@example.com
Where: 1214 Main St.
When: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Mondays through Fridays; 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays
Info: (803) 403-1404; www.bourboncolumbia.com