I’ve heard a lot about Bourbon, the new whiskey and creole-themed restaurant on Main Street opened by Kristian Niemi (who also happened to start such local favorites as Rosso Trattoria Italia, Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe, Solstice Kitchen, and Gervais & Vine). Little-known fact about Bourbon: It actually had an online presence for over year before it ever physically opened. It had its own Facebook page and did a few catering events so that people actually thought the restaurant was open long before it was. This created quite the “buzz,” if you will, making it one of the most anticipated restaurants in Columbia.
I recently got a chance to hear Niemi speak at a Columbia chapter meeting of the American Marketing Association (AMA), as well as sample some of Bourbon’s delicacies and Mississippi Tea (it’s like Long Island Iced Tea, but better). As you can imagine, this further piqued my interest in checking it out, because You. Guys. The Creole Pimento Cheese dip was fan-freaking-tastic!!!! Did I mention I love cheese?
So when a friend of mine said she wanted to meet for happy hour, Bourbon was the first place that came to mind.
We arrived just after 5:00 on a Wednesday, fought with other cars nearby for parking – always an issue in downtown Columbia (can I get an “Amen?”) – and rushed to the restaurant to try to beat the happy hour crowd. Word to the wise: You will not be seated unless you both A) have your entire party present, and B) are eating actual dinner – like with forks. All other diners can sit at the bar or at the community tables. You will not be allowed to
hover over stand at the bar. This is one of Niemi’s specific requirements because he doesn’t want the diners (AKA, people using forks) to feel rushed or constantly get bumped into as they try to enjoy their meal. Understandable. Sometimes this creates a bit of a waiting list, though, ‘cuz…it’s a pretty small place. So get there early is all I’m sayin’.
The atmosphere is sort of rustic-chic. The bar and the tables are made of like, actual wood. Like, my drink was sliding into the middle of the table due to the natural shape of the tree trunk at which we were seated (true story: we actually thought my drink was possessed for half a minute…). But I think this actually adds to the restaurant’s charm. It has this feel like it’s been around for years, even though it’s brand-new. And although the space is smallish for a brand new restaurant, Niemi actually had a vision for putting this specific restaurant at this particular location.
I didn’t see the Mississippi Tea on the menu, but I am sure someone could whip one up for you if you asked nicely… The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, but they will also leave you in peace to have conversations. Our server was very helpful at letting us know what each of the popular drinks tasted like. (My poor husband frequently has to listen to me ask every server at every restaurant to describe in detail what every item on the menu tastes like, as well as list all of the known ingredients…in alphabetical order…while hopping on one foot… so I’m always impressed when someone has the patience to sit there and humor me). I ordered the French 75 (delish!), and my friend had some fantastic bourbon drink that tasted like a cross between Mississippi Tea and a mint julep (yeah…I may or may not have ordered it as my second drink…).
Then we decided to get some appetizers. We ordered the Jalapeño Hush Puppies and, of course, the Creole Pimento Cheese (because cheese). Both were fantastic, and we were told that the hush puppies, which were one of the specials that day, were soon to become a regular part of the menu due to their popularity. So you’re in luck!
Key takeaways for me: 1) Get there early. 2) Order bourbon. 3) Come back for actual dinner.