PULLMAN – Among whiskey drinkers there is a Holy Grail of bourbon so rare that most aficionados can only dream of a taste.Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve bourbons have a cult-like following. The owners of a new Pullman cocktail lounge confirmed this first-hand after recently becoming one of the few bars in the state to offer the beverage.
“Half the people who come in to order it whisper about it,” said Blake Loos, 26, one of Etsi Bravo’s bartenders and co-owners.
The nightclub offers five ages of Van Winkle, which the owners say is nearly unheard of anywhere in the U.S. These range from bourbon barrel aged from 10 to 23 years.
“There’s only one bar in Seattle that has it that I can think of,” said Cory Preston, co-owner and bartender.
After word got out Pullman had the drink, a man came in and ordered three pours of 23-year-old Van Winkle, saying he didn’t want to know the cost. The final price would be $750, not including tip.
Van Winkle seekers are prepared to pay. At Etsi Bravo a pour (an ounce and a half) costs $50 for the 10-year-old bourbon and increases to $250 for the 23-year-old.
Enchanted by the allure of how hard it is to find, Preston, 29, hunted for Van Winkle for five years before acquiring five bottles at a Washington auction earlier this year. He was curious to see how well it would sell in the local market. So far response has been good, he said.
“It encourages us to go seek out other rare, higher-end things like that,” said Preston, who has only tasted the 15-year-old bourbon.
“It was awesome.”
A longtime bartender, Preston opened Etsi Bravo six months ago with Loos and Nick Pitsilionis, who owns the 1893 Combine Mall building. Pitsilionis’ restaurant, Black Cypress, is downstairs. Etsi Bravo is upstairs in an elegant black lounge decorated with mirrors and glass chandeliers overlooking Main Street. It also contains a balcony and a large room for dancing with VIP booths where people can have a bartender at their table for the night mixing drinks. The room includes a stage for comedians, deejays and bands. A masquerade ball featuring five deejays is planned for New Year’s Eve.
Preston and Loos learned to bartend during the heart of the craft cocktail resurgence, which puts an emphasis on handmade syrups, fresh juices and guest experience. After working in different places and deciding to make bartending a career, they wanted to open “a cozy cocktail lounge.”
“(Pullman) was lacking the craft aspect of drinks. Also, there were not a lot of options to go out and boogie,” Preston said.
Drinks at Etsi Bravo range from Pabst Blue Ribbon to ambitious cocktails. One of the most popular drinks is the Floradora, Preston said. A new twist on an old drink, Etsi Bravo’s version includes Puerto Rican Rum, fresh lime, strawberry and a house-made ginger syrup. Most drinks range from $6 to $9. The Grand Floradora, $30, serves four. More intimidating to some might be the Gracias Por Todo with rums, the Italian bitter liqueur Amaro Averna, Greek brand Bravo Coffee and banana bitters.
“It’s for a more refined palate,” Preston said.
The venue has attracted a wide demographic of people, from college students to seniors, Preston said. When Etsi Bravo opened the owners considered instituting a dress code for patrons but soon realized they didn’t have to.
“People just did it,” Preston said.
What: New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball
When: 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Dec. 31
Where: 215 E. Main St., Pullman
Cost: Admission is free, ages 21 and older only.