Welcome home…

With much anticipation and little hesitation we jumped into the boiling pot of water that is the restaurant business. With a goal, a mission, a vision; to bring a robust menu, great bourbon, and an aggressively unique wine list to our friends in the community of Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and Huntersville.  This seems a little cliche, because it is. However when you get into a business that grinds the greats in to pieces and leaves little room for error, your focus has to be on a micro level and your execution masterful. So we keep it simple. Our friends are everything, and everyone that walks in is a friend.

It’s a 1906 house, the floors are rough and original, sometimes it’s hot, and sometimes it’s cold, as insulation clearly wasn’t a priority at the turn of the century. We embrace it. It’s not downtown at the bottom of a brand new high rise condo building with flashy lights, furniture, and the occasional athlete strolling by. Its quaint, it has a different calling, and a very distinctive voice.  

The minute you walk in, it should feel like you took a spin back in time. The home is inviting, the brick wall in the bar and the simple wood holding a 100 plus bottles of the finest bourbon and whiskey, reclaim a different time and immediately settle you in.  The original fireplace is a centerpiece that speaks to the craftsmanship of earlier generations. When I asked the contractors to remove the walls covering the fireplace, I was warned of what we may discover, “a piece-meal fireplace made of leftover materials, back in the day that’s what they used” so they said. I objected and disagreed, I had faith. I was correct. It’s a gorgeous piece of simplicity that’s come to life hidden behind drywall for years and years, signs of a new wave in modern culture, forgetting how great it once was. If I sound nostalgic, I am. The steward of the library style bar, seems plucked from the 30’s in his desire to experiment, only using the freshest ingredients, and presenting with a charm and attention to detail that melds with the house.

We created a menu, from scratch. Comfort food, with southern charm, and a hint of the coast. Our Chef isn’t afraid of the challenge and often finds himself looking for local ingredients, NC coastal specials that not only fit our friends but our vibe. Its not the easiest of ventures, there are better ways to earn a living, but nothing is better than being surrounded by friends, food, and of course booze!

Welcome Home!

Much more than a bar…

At Barrel and Fork, a quaint restaurant located on Cornelius’s Main Street of tree lined old Victorian homes, I stood behind the bar to ply my trade. Surrounded as I am with whiskeys, botanical spirits, bitters, and elixirs of all varieties, as if in some ancient apothecary. I prepared to make a drink, the old gal herself, the Manhattan cocktail. Imagining for a moment the residents of the very home I stood, who 1920 almost certainly went through an identical process for their invited guests, I picked up a copper jigger, mixing glass, and bottle of 10 year barrel charred and aged New York rye whiskey to begin.

The process and what it creates, is every bit as sacred a local institution as the soft North Carolina accent, hospitality, and gentile culture that now attracts people from all over the country. In the 1600s and 1700s taverns were places of social gathering in the Carolinas, and some towns grew up around crossroads establishments, not the least of which were the Davidson/Cornelius neighborhoods. Distilled spirits and the art of making them were important in European heritage, and, after the American Indians introduced the settlers to corn, the crop became an instant staple of local whiskey makers. In western North Carolina counties, settlers raised fine apple crops in addition to corn, and with apple cider came apple brandy. So important was this economy that during the 1880s as many as 450 distilleries were shipping their products through Statesville, North Carolina and great fortunes in the whiskey trade where made from the mountains to the Piedmont, prospering towns and communities all along the way.

However it was the social aspect that really greased the wheels of life in the Carolinas. If you were new to town and interested in getting to know the local mayor, tradesmen, (and yes, even the pastor), or simply enjoy interesting conversation, the process was quite simple: head to the tavern located in the heart of town, sit down on an impossibly uncomfortable wooden bar stool, order a Flip from the bartender -a blend of beer, rum, molasses (or dried pumpkin) and eggs whipped into a froth by plunging a hot fire poker (called a flip-dog) into its midst- and strike up a conversation with your bar mates. Here you would find out the gossip of the day, town scandals, upcoming elections, and business opportunities. But most importantly you would “cheers” to some local residents and make invaluable friendships. 

When you sit down at my bar and you’re greeted with a smile, hear the laughter and conversations loosened by imbibing all around you, and presented with a Manhattan served up in an etched Heisey orchid coupe glass from 1938 know that you are part of our community, our history, and our people no matter where you come from. It is here, in this great democratization and connection to the past, where imbibing breaks down political and cultural barriers and allows us to understand one another. You’ll see few cell phones, not because they are disallowed but because conversation and watching the social interactions are just far more interesting, just as they always have been here and, hopefully, always will be.

Jade Finn

The Art of Social Drinking

Yes, I said “Art.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that which is beautiful and expresses important ideas or feelings.” When a person sits down at a sophisticated bar surrounded by a sometimes baffling array of spirits, noise, social norms and expectations, and people who are complete strangers, the feeling is at first slightly disorienting yet intimate. In virtually any other setting in life, when in public, people tend to tune each other out, especially with phone distractions or televisions blaring nearby. Yet here at a bar we sit down and face a bartender, eavesdrop in and most likely join, with perhaps some trepidation at first, nearby conversations, and order a drink.

We imbibe.

We absorb those around us and fall into a rhythm of conversation and connection. We enjoy the pastime of talking about fine whiskey or cocktails, and as that brown or clear juice elevates us we open up and mention a lost time, place, or loved one. We become giddy and laugh. Social barriers come down and understanding, that commodity so rare these days, expands our circle to include those we may never otherwise have the opportunity to know.

When I speak of bartending it is the act of creating; a round of drinks, an ice block chipped for a crystal glass, perhaps a story about the first distillery in Ireland, and an atmosphere of interaction. I never know entirely if the formula will work and some days I have my doubts. Yet invariably people attract, characters and personalities find their flow, and an inexplicable beauty takes place. It is fleeting but genuine and utterly pleasant.   Of course there is a place for solitude here too, for quiet contemplation, for sitting with one’s thoughts and grief. Here imbibing takes its effect too and spirits are lifted and perspectives softened. Words weave as threads through a tapestry from whiskey vintages to 18th century French philosophers to Game of Thrones. The arcane and trivial interspaced by the profoundly enlightening and gently revealing. I have heard confessions to crimes, family troubles, and life’s many foibles. I once had musician Paul Simon sit at my bar, order a tequila and grapefruit juice, and lament his relationship challenges in almost unfathomable sadness.

Ernest Hemingway once quipped to his bartender while sitting with a daiquiri “Madame, I know now that there is no one thing that is true – it is all true.” And as I ponder what an exquisite moment that must have been, I smile to myself knowing that I was part of this long story we weave every day. I also know it is an essential part of living.