The corps of dedicated whisky drinkers has long included a division with a deep interest in exclusivity. Think of the enthusiasts that chase after bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon every year or clubs whose members have access to juice sipped by no others. So it only makes sense that whisky bars across the U.S. offering a secure place to store your precious holdings have found an eager audience. These arrangements, variously called locker or keep programs, allow customers to purchase preferred whiskies, or even carry in their own personal stash. The bar then keeps them on hand for whenever the patron chooses to draw on it. It brings a whole new meaning to being a regular.
American Whiskey—New York City
A sprawling bar in midtown Manhattan that opened in 2013, American Whiskey does not advertise its locker program. The service is based on referrals or a personal invitation by the owners. Those who make the cut can either purchase a bottle from the bar with no additional charge for storage or store their own private collection, for which service fees begin at $10 a month per bottle. American Whiskey likes to cater to the private bottle experience. With advance notice of an upcoming visit, the bar will set up the proper mise en place for a tasting, providing Glencairn glassware, Kold-Draft ice, water droppers, and notepads. Special arrangements can be made by request.
Bar Jackalope—Los Angeles
Bar Jackalope is a tiny boîte tucked inside the well-established L.A. whiskey bar Seven Grand, opened in 2013. Modeled after the small, sequestered, quiet cocktail bars of Tokyo, it is stocked with a wide variety of whiskies from around the world, with a focus on Japanese. (The traditional whisky Highball, a Japanese obsession, is a specialty of the house.) The one-time cost of placing a bottle in the bottle keep begins at $200. The entry fee comes with added privileges, including the option of advance reservations and priority placement on the waiting list—not unimportant things at such a small bar. Private bar carts, offering a full selection of ice, glassware, and mixers, add refinement to the experience.
The Flatiron Room—New York City
A visit to Japan inspired Tommy Tardie to open The Flatiron Room in Manhattan in 2012. The clubs there stored private bottles for their patrons. Tardie thought such a perk might be a way to entice customer loyalty. The Flatiron Room habitués can purchase any bottle of whisky in stock with no additional charge for storing. They are then issued a membership card that is swiped each visit to identify the locker location, how much is left in the bottle, and when the customer last visited. The program has proven a success. Currently, more than 3,000 bottles are being kept for regulars, who are mainly in their 30s and 40s. Their tastes range from the usual bourbon and scotch to whiskies hailing from South Africa and India.
The Franklin Room—Chicago
This tavern quickly established itself as a favorite among whisky lovers after opening in the River North neighborhood in late 2014. More than 100 regulars now take advantage of their Whiskey Keep program. Bottles, which are purchased directly from the bar with no extra charge, are stored in plain sight in cabinets all over the room. So far, rare and expensive Japanese and Taiwanese whiskies like Yamazaki and Kavalan have proven popular.
S+W (Steak and Whiskey)—Hermosa Beach, California
This bar in Los Angeles County is one of the most exclusive places to store a private stash. There are only ten whisky lockers, and the rent is a steep $1,000 a year, making the program more a first-class than populist affair. However, that price of entry comes with a 40 percent discount on any bottles purchased from the whisky list, including gems like Elijah Craig 23 year old and Jura 1989 Cask Strength, so a determined whisky lover might well make it a winning proposition.