Nestled within our nation’s capital, located on the south side of the culturally diverse neighborhood of Adams Morgan, you will find the rarest of gems. An establishment that once visited, will change your whiskey-loving life forever. I’m referring to Jack Rose Dining Saloon, a bar unlike any other. Actually, to even refer to Jack Rose as a “bar” is borderline insulting. A more appropriate term is “whiskey library”; a vast and mind-boggling collection of bourbons, ryes and Scotch whiskies; a collection that likely surpasses any you’ve come across before, and one that’ll make a grown whiskey nerd like myself weep tears of joy. If you’d like to hear more about this magical place I speak of, please read on my friend.
For those of you that follow me on Instagram or have read my introductory blog post, you’re probably aware of the impact that Jack Rose Dining Saloon has had on me. Prior to learning of Jack Rose, if I couldn’t hunt down a rare bottle without paying ridiculous secondary market prices, or it wasn’t stocked at any local bars (chances = slim to none), it was unattainable to me. But now that Jack Rose is a viable option, all of that has changed. Short of befriending a seriously badass bottle hunter, without Jack Rose, I simply wouldn’t have an opportunity to experience rare whiskeys, and for this, I am beyond grateful and count my blessings. And speaking of badass bottle hunters, let’s talk a little bit about the two gentlemen that made Jack Rose a reality: Bill Thomas and Harvey Fry.
From what I’ve read, Jack Rose was conceptualized and created by D.C. natives Bill Thomas, Stephen King, and Michael Hartzer, although I believe Bill Thomas is the primary owner. I can’t find much information about Stephen King (not the novelist) and Michael Hartzer, and I’m not sure what role they played in turning the concept into reality, but that’s immaterial to me. It’s Bill Thomas that I’m most interested in; an unabashed whiskey geek, savvy bourbon collector and successful entrepreneur. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Thomas, and anything that I’ve learned about him has been gleaned from the land of Google, but it’s obvious that he has an insatiable hunger for tasting, collecting and educating himself about whiskey, with bourbon being his first and forever love. He has been hunting and collecting for over decade, and while I was sittin’ on my ass sipping Jim Beam white label, he was out there hunting and curating an awe-inspiring collection of bourbons and ryes. His hunting game is MVP NFL-level, and my hunting game is, in comparison, Fisher-Price-level. Hey, we all need legends to look up to, right? Well, lucky for us all, Bill Thomas isn’t a hoarder that wants only to admire his collection and never part with any of it like we’ve seen a million times on American Pickers. Rather, he dreamed of creating a place where whiskey lovers from around the world could come to enjoy the bottles he painstakingly procured over the years, and at relatively affordable prices. He didn’t create a roped-off museum, where whiskey fans could only admire the bottles from afar, wondering what they would taste like if they were rich enough to afford them. He created a whiskey library where everyday people would have the opportunity to taste some of the best whiskeys ever produced. Now, don’t get me wrong. If you want a pour from a rare bottle, it’s going to be expensive, as it should be. Bill Thomas isn’t in the business of losing money. However, I do believe that the whiskey at Jack Rose is priced fairly. In fact, I was at Jack Rose this weekend and got a pour of Four Roses 2008 Mariage, their first limited edition small batch release. It’s a phenomenal bourbon and it only cost $30 an ounce, which I think is more than reasonable for a one-time limited edition bottle that was released over 7 years ago, especially when I hear about bars out there charging $100 or more for a pour of the 2015 Pappy 15. I’ll pay $100 for a pour of whiskey, but it sure as hell won’t be for this year’s Pappy 15! I was also lucky enough to have a pour of a 1942 bottle of Old Forester Bottled in Bond. This is a bourbon that was distilled in 1937 and bottled 74 years ago. How many bars on the planet have a 74-year-old bottle available for you to swing by and taste? And, by the way, this wasn’t some musty old juice that tasted like it’s been sitting in a bottle for two-thirds of a century. It was one of the best bourbons I’ve tasted in a long time! And how much for the pour? $75! I’d call that pretty damn accessible, and thanks to Bill Thomas’ vision (and lack of greed) for making it so accessible. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to sit down with Bill to share a couple pours and nerd-out about bourbon for a bit. 🙂
Now, despite the amazing selection of bourbons, Jack Rose Dining Saloon isn’t just about bourbon. A huge portion of the 2,300-plus bottle inventory is comprised of Scotch whiskies, and with Bill Thomas having collected mostly domestic whiskeys, he couldn’t bootstrap and sustain such a worldly library of whiskey without some help. And from what I understand, it’s an enigmatic gentlemen by the name of Harvey Fry that provided said help. I don’t know much about Harvey, but from the little I’ve read about him he seems like the kind of guy I’d want to get to know. Much like Bill Thomas, Harvey Fry is a passionate collector, but with a focus on single malt whiskies, rather than bourbons and ryes. Harvey is very well known in whisky circles. He’s been around the block a few times, and in that time he has curated one of the biggest single malt collections in the world. It was Harvey’s willingness to sell off some of his collection to Bill that helped make the Jack Rose vision a reality, and also make Jack Rose the biggest whiskey collection in the western hemisphere, or so I’m told. I’d highly recommend reading this article about Harvey Fry that was published in Washingtonian Magazine back in 2011. He’s not your average guy, to say the least. And if you ever want to meet Harvey, there’s a good chance that you’ll spot him when you visit Jack Rose. If you see a salt-of-the-earth kinda fella with a long white beard and a pair of suspenders walking around, well that’s Harvey. I’d love to meet him, but I haven’t had the nerve to introduce myself to him yet. He looks like such a chill dude, but I wouldn’t want to pester him. Perhaps one day I’ll work up the courage to at least say hello.
Beyond the philosophy and spirit that defines Jack Rose, the space itself, a former boxing gym, is absolutely beautiful and inviting. Even if Jack Rose didn’t have one of the most extensive whiskey collections in the world, as a cocktail bar and fine dining restaurant, it’s one of the best in D.C. The well appointed space is 6,700 square feet and includes 5 bars in total, with a rooftop terrace and a reservations-only “speakeasy” that goes by the name of Dram and Grain. I haven’t explored beyond the main dining/bar area yet because my obsession is with the whiskey collection, and when I walk through those doors, that’s all I care about. Maybe one day, if my whiskey obsession wanes ever so slightly, I might take advantage of JR’s skilled mixologists and spend some time enjoying the rooftop terrace or speakeasy and taste some world class cocktails. In the meantime, I’m on a mission to taste as many bourbons and ryes as I can, and Jack Rose is the place to do it.
If you’re a whiskey fanatic like I am and spend your days dreaming about whiskey unicorns, I think you’ll want to seriously reconsider your next beach or snowboarding vacation and make D.C. your destination. Spend your days visiting the free museums and monuments. Soak in the sites and eat cheap hot dogs from street vendors. But be sure to save the bulk of your vacation funds for Jack Rose Dining Saloon. You’ll saddle up to that bar, grab a water dropper, crack open the 70-page whiskey menu, shed some tears of joy (it’s okay fellas, let it out!), and journey deep into the center of the whiskey universe. You may even find yourself cashing in your return airline tickets to fund just one more pour of that Willett “Iron Fist” rye. Ha! Can you tell I’m a fan of Jack Rose? I’m almost grateful that I live over an hour away. If I lived in the city, I might as well have my paychecks sent directly to JR, because that’s where I’d be spending all of my money. Cheers y’all!
“A perfect whiskey is the next one someone hands me.” – Bill Thomas