The latest Clumsy Butcher concept has finally arrived on Washington Avenue.
Julep feels different than other Clumsy Butcher concepts. More feminine, perhaps, since it was designed from the start to be Huerta's.
Just as Hay Merchant's is Kevin Floyd's beer bar, Underbelly is Chris Shepherd's restaurant and Blacksmith is David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto's coffee shop, Julep reflects the vision of Clumsy Butcher's beverage director Huerta and her interest in the South's cocktail history. That means a cocktail program built around Southern spirits with a focus on bourbon and a tidy menu of mostly cold seafood dishes prepared by chef Adam Garcia (ex-Revival Market, The Pass & Provisions).
Two years in the making, Julep is the second bar Huerta has helped Clumsy Butcher launch (she led the cocktail program for The Pastry War), but the first one that's solely hers. "There's a sense of ownership whenever you do things wholeheartedly," Huerta says, but Julep feels different than other Clumsy Butcher concepts. More feminine, perhaps, since it was designed from the start to be Huerta's.
With its lace curtains and copper bar top, Julep has a romantic, almost Victorian quality to its decor that immediately draws people in. Huerta calls it "genteel and sultry" and adds that the design, specifically the signature copper canopy over the bar, was dictated by a desire to link the two structural support beams. Credit local design firm Collaborative Projects and metalworker Spencer Elliott for finding the solution. The metallic elements give the room a glow as the daylight fades away.
"The natural light is awesome," Huerta adds.
The drinks menu is divided into three main sections: juleps (naturally), house cocktails and classics.
The drinks menu is divided into three main sections: juleps (naturally), house cocktails and classics. The julep choices include classic mint as well as two twists: the sparkling julep made with sparkling wine FRV100 and cognac and the spiced julep made with brandy, rum and a combination of spices that are burned prior to be placed in the drink. Patrons watch the bartender burn the seasoning, which adds a bit of theatricality to the presentation.
Of the house cocktails, the Topps and Bottoms shows a bit of whimsy; built around sunflower-infused rum, it's served with a tiny container of sunflower seeds with a real-deal Topps baseball card as a coaster. Huerta understands that people might be tempted to keep the cards as a souvenir; thankfully, she's stocked up with "hundreds" of them. The Cherry Bounce Sour is another winner thanks to its house cherry bounce syrup that gives an Old Fashioned-style taste to the Old Grand Dad 100 bourbon.
Still, it's the back bar's bourbon selection, even more than the cocktails, that has people talking. Julep currently features a full line up of Pappy Van Winkle - the object of cult adoration is more frequently seen as a prop in an episode of Justified than available for purchase. These spirits are so highly coveted that downtown whiskey temple Reserve 101 put out a press release just to announce it would be opening one bottle of each flavor on July 4.
Julep features a full line up of Pappy Van Winkle - the object of cult adoration is more frequently seen as a prop in an episode of Justified than available for purchase.
Julep, meanwhile, opened with multiple bottles of the full Van Winkle line, including the highly coveted 13-year aged rye and the 15, 20 and 23-year old bourbons. In addition, shelves near the bar's entrance reveal dozens of bottles of both the 10 and 12-year old Van Winkle Family bourbons. All told, while the rare stuff will probably run out soon, the "regular" Van Winkle bourbons should be available for quite some time.
Is Huerta the mastermind behind the $25,000 theft of 65 cases of Pappy in 2013? Of course not. As with so many fortuitous events, it comes down to relationships, in this case the one Huerta established with Julian Van Winkle at the Southern Foodways Alliance annual Taste of the South event.
"We talked about the bar for a long time," Huerta says. Van Winkle was intrigued enough to consider allocating some extra bottles her way.
Don't fret if the house cocktails and rare bourbons don't suit the mood on any particular night. Julep's bartenders are all trained to produce 100 classic cocktails, and they'll even pour a vodka tonic. "The vodka we use is from the 86 Company; they're the owners of Employees Only (a high-end cocktail bar in New York)," Huerta says. "I'd be very happy to sell vodka tonics to my friends."
In terms of food, Julep follows the Anvil/Pastry War model of offering a limited selection of well-executed dishes that probably wouldn't be worthy of eating on their own but do provide a fitting companion to the cocktails. Raw oysters are available for $3 each, and a raw seafood tower that adds lobster, crab claws and other goodies should roll out soon. The hush puppies, bursting with sweet cornbread and served with a spicy serrano aioli, provide an excellent companion to the cocktails. The smoked bluefish salad could even serve as a light meal or a pre-dinner snack for two.
Meanwhile, Huerta says her new neighbors are already visiting. "I've been in this business for 14 years," Huerta says. "Everyone has been kind. We're happy to serve our friends a drink."
Julep, 1919 Washington Ave., is open seven days a week from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.