The Brandy Library is a stately yet laidback, sepia-toned outpost, with leather furniture and shelves of whiskey, Cognac, and Armagnac stretching along four very long walls. On any given night, well-suited men rub elbows with young couples on first dates, and hipsters sidle up with questions for the bartenders regarding the pedigree of the various spirits. Flavien Desoblin opened the Tribeca bar in the fall of 2004 when the neighborhood was a cluster of mom’n’pop shops and old-school diners. Only three years after 9/11, the neighborhood was slowly chugging along at best. While development had stalled and the mood was somewhat somber, there were some exceptions: hip, champagne-centric Bubble Lounge’s popularity was growing, and neighborhood stalwarts like Mr. Chow, Nobu, and Bouley kept things moving along at a relative pace.
Fast-forward ten years, and the neighborhood is booming – it’s hard to walk a block without passing a new art gallery, chic eatery, or a trendy bar. And as the neighborhood sees more and more new development and growth, Desoblin (in a way only a bar owner could) has noticed development and growth in his neighbor’s drinking habits. Bartenders everywhere from Tiny’s and the Bar Upstairs in Tribeca to Soho’s Pegu Club are mixing whiskey cocktails and pouring high-end bourbons to eager and satisfied patrons.
If anyone can speak to the evolution of New Yorkers’ drinking habits and habitats, it’s Desoblin. And if there’s anyone who can speak to the whiskey boom and how the city has been swept up in its vortex, shifting from an old-school grandfather’s drink to the hipster’s preferred tipple, he’s the guy.
“People have learned the basics around whiskey, and now, people understand the differences among bourbons, single malt scotches and rye” he says. “I’ve been pounding people with that information since we opened. Now it’s established. There’s a greater understanding that whiskey isn’t something to be knocked back like a cowboy. It’s all about elegance after dinner now – or even before dinner.”
And the enthusiasm crosses demographics.
“Young professionals—I’d say 25 to 30 year olds—are not afraid to try new things. They’re reading articles, blogs. People are becoming more open-minded and adventurous. It’s amazing. Tuesday through Saturday, we have to turn people away.”
But perhaps more remarkable than seeing the interest in whiskey grow among average drinkers is the evolution of bourbon as a high-end, expertly made item, especially for a product that was once relegated to the backwoods and dirty saloons. To wit: according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade organization, sales of bourbon increased 20% from 2008 to 2013, with super-premium brands driving the growth. Desoblin has watched brands that were unheard of just a few years ago, like Pappy Van Winkle, Bulleit, and Widow Jane, rise to cult status. Here at Soho Grand, we’ve seen the obsession firsthand with our American whiskey program in the hotel’s Grand Bar, which includes carefully crafted whiskeys from around the country – a favorite of curious hotel guests and true whiskey connoisseurs alike.
“All kinds of whiskeys are fully part of enjoyment; they’re not just what CEOs and your grandpa drink,” says Desoblin. “It wasn’t as much before, but these days it’s a part of everyday life.”
– Liza Weisstuch