Bar Review: Carnival Glory's Alchemy Bar

Between Christmas and New Year's I took my first ever cruise. It was a leap for me because I didn't have a high opinion of cruises. In my brain, they were nothing more than excuses for people to overeat, drink too much cheap booze and see sanitized and "safe" versions of other cultures. And for some of the people on the ship with us, this was certainly true. People abounded who drank nothing but premixed, sugary blended daiquiris and margaritas and Bud Light. These also tended to be the people who never left the gated and guarded confines of the poolside cabana rentals and shops that sold nothing but luxury goods, people whose only interaction with the local people trying recover from multiple recent hurricanes was with the waitstaff at the swim up bar.

Luckily, though this was a sizable portion of my fellow passengers, this wasn't everybody. Knowing that there was a wide variety of passengers with a wide range of tastes, the cruise line made sure to cater to a wide range of expectations. Sure there was a Guy's Burger Joint on board for when you want some grease on a bun, but there was also a fine-dining restaurant that you had to dress up to visit. And, sure, there were plenty of places willing to blend you up an umbrella drink made with flavored syrup, cheap rum, and ice. But on the other end of the spectrum was the subject of tonight's review: the Alchemy Bar.

The Alchemy Bar was the place I visited most often outside of my cabin. I was there every evening for a post-dinner cocktail. Behind the bar were three very talented cocktail creators, Jakub, Andriy, and Majda. I like watching people make cocktails, and these three did that with style. It was my entertainment for each evening. And they didn't just have panache, they also had talent. Yes, there was a menu of tasty drinks for just about every palate. But these folks were adept at making anything they had the ingredients to make. I saw many people just walk up and say: "surprise me." Sometimes, they would make something off the menu, but other times—if you were a regular that talked to them and tipped a buck or two per drink—they would know your likes and dislikes and use that knowledge to make something off the top of their head. 

Jakub was great. After talking with me the first night, he knew I was a big fan of bourbon and rye and had no problem making me a Manhattan or a Sazerac. He even let me talk him through making me my version of a Black Manhattan which uses Campari to up the bitterness. 

 Jakub making a drink

Majda made me a drink that had me worried at first but turned out to be extremely tasty. It contained bourbon, Chambord liqueur, and Grand Marnier. I didn't know how the combination of raspberry and bourbon would go, but it was delicious, though very sweet. She also knew that before I left the bar, I'd want a Buffalo Trace to take back to the room with me. 

And there was one menu drink that I particularly liked. It was called the Island Old Fashioned. You guessed it; it was an Old Fashioned. They made it with eight-year-old rum that they had infused with cinnamon and other spices, house-made bitters, and simple syrup. I ended up having this made for me at least once by all three bartenders. Out of the three, I liked Andriy's version of that the best. I think he added an extra dash of bitters that upped the spice level and made it much more interesting. 

I don't know that you should pay for a cruise just to go to the Alchemy bar. But if you happen to be on a Carnival ship that has one, I think you owe yourself a visit or six. You probably won't have the same folks making you drinks that I had. But I'm sure they will be just as entertaining and talented. And why not toss them a buck while you are at it. You're already paying $11 for a drink, you might as well make it $12. They really seemed to appreciate it.


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The Bourbon Bar at Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace, Bardstown, Kentucky

Let me tell you. I may have found my new favorite place to grab a drink while attending the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. And I came across it quite by accident. 

As you are aware, I visit the Kentucky Bourbon Festival every year. And every year, one of the many things I like to do is visit the lawn area where the distilleries and local craftspeople sell things to the public. I seldom buy anything, but I always like to look. One of the other things I like to do is wander around downtown and see the window displays that the distilleries put into the shop windows. It reminds me of the things that used to happen in the town I grew up in, back before the future happened and people stopped caring what local businesses looked like.  

So last year, we were walking between the lawn and 3rd street on one of the warmer days of the week. We decided to check out this store called the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace. Mostly as a way to hop out of the direct sunlight that was threatening to burn our Northern skin to a crisp. We'd been in there before and knew that in addition to the "souvenir" store and liquor store, there was also a bar in the building. Most of the times I had walked past previously, the bar had been packed, but this time for whatever reason it wasn't and we had the opportunity to stop in for a drink. Weirdly, I knew the bartender...or at least I knew who he was and had interacted with him on previous trips to Bardstown. His name is Don. Longtime readers might remember Don as our first tour guide at the Barton 1792 distillery way back on our first BourbonFest trip in 2012. Don was as good a bartender as he was a tour guide and for most of the same reasons. He's just fun to talk to.

Which means we were extremely happy when we stopped in this year and found that he is still working behind the bar at the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace. And this time around, after talking to Howard (the owner) and realizing he was just as nice and fun to talk to, I decided to take a few photos and let you guys in on the secret of the place too.

You enter the store from Flaget Street. It is very conveniently located one block north and one block west of the roundabout in the center of Bardstown. If you are in Downtown Bardstown you are only a few minute's walk to it, no matter where you start from.

This is a very small place. There are 8-10 seats at the bar and three tables with 3-4 seats each. There is some standing room. I made use of it on Saturday afternoon of my most recent visit. There is also a patio in the warmer months, as weather allows. But one of the things that makes this a good place to visit is the selection. Every pour is $9 aside from the middle section of the shelves. These ranged from $15 up to $90 (as you might guess, the highest proces went for those in the bags on the top shelf...).

Speaking of selection, this was the bar where I had myself my first taste of the Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary Small Batch. It was $15 and it was delicious. I wish I had been able to get a bottle, but I'm happy enough to have tried it in a nice place surrounded by good people.

They also have cocktails. My wife was particularly fond of the Bardstown Bubbler, a house cocktail that won the title of "Official Cocktail of the 2016 Kentucky Bourbon Festival." It has Peach Bitters, Campari, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Buffalo Trace and is topped with sweet Champagne and garnished with a mint sprig. I would, however, avoid their take on the Sazerac. It leaves out the Absinthe and lemon peel and is garnished with an orange peel. So basically, it is a Rye Old Fashioned. 

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But that aside, every bartender there was fun and interesting to talk to. The drinks were reasonably priced. The atmosphere was friendly and fun. All in all, it was a nice place to pass the afternoon and grab a drink or three.

The Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace is located at 110 West Flaget Ave in Bardstown, Kentucky. 


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Bar Review: The Silver Dollar, Louisville, KY

I don't usually review bars. Partly because I live in suburban Minnesota and there are few really good bourbon bars near enough for me to frequent them without a half hour to forty-five-minute drive afterward. So when I'm at home, I tend to have my bourbon in my home. 

When I travel, on the other hand, I go out more. Seriously why wouldn't you? That's part of the reason you are away from home in the first place, to not to do what you do at home.

When I visit most places in the country, I tend to find a brewery taproom to settle down in or at least a bar with a good selection of local things on tap. But when I go to Kentucky, it's all about the bourbon. I try to hit at least one new place every time I'm there. But there is one place I visit every single time. 

My friend Fred introduced me to the Silver Dollar on one of my February road trips to someplace without snow. I was passing through Louisville on my to someplace theoretically warmer than Minnesota, and we made plans to meet for supper and a drink. The weather outside was cold and rainy, but inside, the warm and friendly atmosphere made me immediately feel welcome as I waited for everyone to arrive. This is the kind of place that has big Christmas lights on the walls and where the music comes from a vinyl record.

I was impressed by that first visit, and when my wife and I found ourself back in Louisville on my birthday, it was the first place I thought of to get supper. Smoked brisket and creamy mac and cheese. Mmmmm. Add in a glass or two of bourbon from one of their privately selected barrels, and it made for a perfect birthday meal. 

I've gone back every time I've been to Louisville since. Sometimes more than once. When I have it, the food is always good, and I always search out a private barrel selection for my glass. They often have more than one barrel of whatever they've got. I always ask the bartender which they prefer, and I've never been disappointed when I followed their advice.

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I can't recommend this place highly enough. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you need to remedy that on your next trip to Louisville. 

The Silver Dollar can be found online at http://www.whiskeybythedrink.com/


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!