Whet Your Whistle With the Bourbon Group

July 18, 2018 Written by

When guests step into Whiskey Street off Salt Lake’s downtown Main Street, they are instantly transported into a land where as many as 150 whiskeys from around the world come together in a warm, welcoming environment with southern-inspired food that holds its own.

Housed in a grand old building from the early 1900s, Whiskey Street takes its name from the stretch of road it now resides on. Designated as Whiskey Street by Brigham Young, the area between 200 and 400 South once housed the saloons, breweries, billiard clubs and parlor houses of the city where gentiles were able to quench their thirst. 

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With an eye to history and a sense of what could be, Whiskey Street became the second undertaking of The Bourbon Group—but the one that was destined to make locals and visitors stand up and take notice. “I wanted to build a bar that would rival any great bar in any big city in this country,” explains Jason LeCates, managing partner with The Bourbon Group, which also owns Bourbon House in the bottom of the Walker Building and Whiskey Street’s next-door neighbor, White Horse. Having spent several years working in the liquor industry in Seattle, LeCates took all the things he saw Salt Lake was missing at the time—a lack of appreciation for a great back bar and a huge wall of fine whiskey and other spirits—and put them all together to craft Whiskey Street. The results he says, “made our guests feel like they were in a bar you’d see in Boston or New York City.”

Now celebrating its fifth year of operation, LeCates is still gratified by Utahns’ initial response to the completed project. “Our customers were so stoked and proud that Salt Lake had grown up a bit with the opening of Whiskey Street.” And grow it did. Almost immediately, Whiskey Street became a standing-room-only affair on the weekends with patrons queuing behind the 72-foot-long cherry wood bar for a selection from the impressive spirits collection on display. But, the real surprise behind Whiskey Street might be the food. “Even though we’re primarily a bar we always focus just as much on food as we do drinks,” states LeCates. And convention goers, business people and locals of every stripe have gotten the message, flocking to the bar for lunch, dinner, late-night and brunch outings on a regular basis.

The Bourbon Group’s Executive Chef Matt Crandall has full creative control and direction at Whiskey Street and each restaurant within The Bourbon Group. “I wanted to have a little Southern influence without it being a Southern-style menu,” Crandall says of Whiskey Street’s concept. “I wanted it to be a place people could dine at comfortably and consistently. I also wanted to focus on the food being able to pair well with whiskey and bourbon.”

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Diners at Whiskey Street will find that not only does every item on the menu suggest a spirit pairing, they will also find beer and wine matches, too. In this formula, The Bourbon Group has solidified what their brand stands for, described by LeCates as, “Matt’s cuisine, a great whiskey selection and craft cocktails.”

Crandall’s inspiration behind all of The Bourbon Group’s menus comes from his grandfather who founded Hires Big H—a Utah food institution. “His philosophy was always fresh, quality ingredients done in-house. We use that philosophy; and if we can make it in house, we will. That’s why we take the time to cure and smoke our meats, make ketchup, etc., and do whatever we can to make or use the best product available.” Whether guests are sharing the decadent deviled eggs filled with creamy pimento cheese yolks dressed with crispy double-smoked bacon and pickled mustard seed that’s finished with bourbon-smoked paprika and fresh chive, or diving into the roasted corn crab chowder studded with roasted corn and vegetables along with fresh crab and a flourish of smoked paprika oil, each dish is memorable in its execution and flavor profile.

“My favorite item on the menu is the bourbon buffalo chili,” Crandall says. “I could eat it every day. It has black beans, buffalo, three types of roasted chilies, bourbon and then its topped with fontina and cilantro crème fraiche.” What’s clear is that Whiskey Street doesn’t serve typical bar food yet there’s still something for everyone here. Whereas the short rib grilled cheese will melt even the most ruthless businessman’s façade, the bourbon and coke meatloaf could charm its way into any grandma’s heart.

And even for visitors who want only to enjoy a dram or a cocktail, there’s still bourbon bacon caramel popcorn or curried cashews, Moroccan-spiced peanuts and pecans for snacking. Appreciated from a towering booth along the north wall or the open-air patio at the entrance, the care and thought of every design decision at Whiskey Street—from the inclusion of more than 20 different woods into the interior to the careful curation of quality spirits—has placed the establishment at the forefront of Utah’s growing bar scene and resulted in its tremendous popularity among locals and visitors.

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However, the truth is that Whiskey Street still might never have come to be without the help of Vasilios Priskos—a real estate developer who served as The Bourbon Group’s landlord and ultimately a beloved community leader and champion of downtown Salt Lake City.

“Vasilios Priskos was hands down one of the greatest men I’ve ever met. If it wasn’t for Vasilios’ faith in me, Whiskey Street would have never happened, at least in that space,” recalls LeCates. “We needed that type of space to create what we did. When we approached Vasilios and Eric Fuhrman about leasing the space they had already accepted a letter of intent from another tenant. Vasilios saw our vision and knew we’d be successful. Not only did he like our concept, he knew it was a great thing for Main Street. I miss him a great deal. He loved this city very much.”

Like Priskos and LaCates himself, Whiskey Street and The Bourbon Group have brought marked change to not only one block of Main Street in downtown Salt Lake, but to Utah’s culture as a whole. “Whiskey Street taught us that people in Utah were starting to demand the absolute highest quality in every aspect of their drinking and dining experience,” LeCates concludes. And that’s something we can all raise a glass too.