Photo Gallery: New Orleans-style cocktail bar Bourbon serves up classic American drinks
Longtime restaurateur and Columbia mainstay Kristian Niemi is set to let the good times roll on downtown’s Main Street with a brand-new cocktail concept in the historic Brennen building. Niemi and Columbia city officials celebrated the opening of Bourbon with a ribbon cutting Monday.
“We are all excited about bringing another fantastic addition to Main Street,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
The concept bar, near the corner of Gervais and Main streets, offers New Orleans-style fare and classic pre-prohibition cocktails including the Old Fashion, Manhattan and Sazarec. Niemi, who was a founding captain of Mardi Gras Columbia, said he wanted to play up Cajun-Creole food with premium classic American drinks.
“As soon as I walked into the building and heard a bit about its history, I knew immediately that it would be called Bourbon and would feature the spirit and the cuisine of New Orleans, with a Southern, Columbia twist,” Niemi said.
Niemi said he offers a dozen cocktails on his menu, but hopes to offer 18 in the future. Each drink has a neat name like the Kentucky Mule, Whiskey Smash and the Knuckclebull, which was an award-winner at last year’s Great American Whiskey Fair.
“A lot of bartenders come from the ‘shot and beer’ place but they want to learn about mixology,” he said.
Niemi tapped Chef Gordon Langston, a Culinary Institute of America alum, to head Bourbon’s kitchen. Langston previously served as sous chef at Fat Hen in Charleston.
Highlights of the menu include twists on traditional favorites like squash jambalaya, vegetarian gumbo and the “slow n’ low” roasted pork po’boy made with pork shoulder and spicy provolone cheese. The Bayou Burger sits on a brioche bun, while cornbread stuffed quail comes from Manchester Farms in Dalzell, South Carolina.
“Like our other restaurants we like to source as much we can locally,” Nemi said.
Niemi, who’s seen Columbia’s food scene evolve over the past 20 years, is excited about Main Street’s progress. Bourbon adds to his collection of other successful restaurants including Gervais & Vine, Mr. Friendly’s Southern Cafe and Rosso Trattoria Italia.
The space at Bourbon is cozy with large leather-backed booths, wooden high-top tables and a rustic bar. A touch of glitz comes from the glass chandeliers above. Niemi said Bourbon does not take reservations as a way to keep in mind that it is designed to be a social gathering space.
“We’re an upscale saloon,” he said.
Bourbon has been open for three weeks, but the bar already has garnered much fanfare. Niemi said he’s received great feedback from customers and used a diverse social media campaign to gain attention to the new spot.
“We eat so we can drink more bourbon,” said Richard Baker, who was sipping drinks at the bar Monday. Baker is the owner of Columbia-based Copper Horse Distillery and supplies whiskey to Niemi’s bar.
Baker said Bourbon reminded him of a “San Francisco speakeasy kind of feel,” something that would be seen in a cosmopolitan city like Chicago.
“It’s really exciting to have a place like this in Columbia,” Baker said. “It’s a classy, nice place.”
Young professionals like Baker are the type of clientele Bourbon looks to draw. With The Oak Table and Cantina 76 nearby, Niemi said he thinks Main Street is about to become a budding district.
“We’re starting to cluster,” he said. “The more the merrier.”
Additionally, the nearly 1,000 students and young professionals that soon will pour into downtown via The Hub, a new high-rise housing development a few blocks from Bourbon, will invite a new upscale clientele that’s ripe for entertainment and fine dining.
“That’s the tipping point for Main Street,” he said. “There’s no going back to the old Main Street.”