For craft spirit enthusiasts who have gone more than a year without ordering up a specialty cocktail from J.T., the bartender at Quincy Street Distillery, 39 E. Quincy St. in Riverside, your wait is almost over.
Derrick Mancini, owner of the 9-year-old boutique distillery, will reopen the cocktail bar for Friday and Saturday service, for now, on July 24, ending a 16-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bar and table service will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, said Mancini, adding that to at least begin with it’ll be reservations-only in order to limit numbers inside the small cocktail bar space.
Reservations can be made through the company’s website at quincystreetdistillery.com. Maximum capacity between the tables and the bar will be a little more than 20 people in order for people to maintain some physical distance, said Mancini.
There will be a minimum number of people required to reserve a table, said Mancini, and those who are not vaccinated must book a table.
“I’m hoping with those provisions we can meet hygiene requirements suitable at this stage.” Mancini said. “With the new [COVID-19] delta variant, I feel we still need to be a little bit vigilant.”
Having lost the income from the cocktail bar, which could draw standing-room crowds on weekends before the pandemic, for more than a year was a blow, and reopening it even on a limited scale is important for the business.
“The bar not being there was a big deal,” Mancini said.
Early on during the pandemic, Quincy Street Distillery pivoted to making hand sanitizer as a way to bring in some income and keep employees on staff. While the distillery still continued to make its products – vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon, among others – it also saw a major interruption in retail distribution, which put a further strain on the business.
While that distribution channel is now slowly recovering, Quincy Street Distillery maintained steady sales through its retail store, which is open on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m.
“It’s now about the same as it was prior to the epidemic,” said Mancini, who added that many more people have moved from the city into Riverside and other nearby suburbs, and he’s seeing a growth in new customers who are only now learning that there’s a craft distillery nearby.
Quincy Street Distillery restarted tours/tastings for small, separate groups last October and in May began offering cocktail making classes for groups of six to 10 people, which proved popular enough that there will be more coming in the future.
“I’m trying to be optimistic,” Mancini said.
He also hopes some new offerings at the cocktail bar will draw more customers in. Quincy Street Distillery will be rolling out a new “pimento dram” – made with Quincy Street Distillery’s own Jamaican-style rum, allspice and sugar, which will allow the bar to serve authentic Tiki-inspired drinks.
Quincy Street Distillery is also in the process of obtaining a new license that will allow it to use vermouth as a mixer – the cocktail bar previously was prohibited by law from serving any alcoholic liquor other than its own. The new license offers an exception for vermouth only – which is key if you want to serve cocktails like manhattans and martinis.
“That means the number of things we can do is growing,” Mancini said.
Of course, with an expanding set of options, there’s a decision to make on whether to expand what the bar stocks or go another route. In Quincy Street Distillery’s case, said Mancini, he intends to reduce the size of the printed menu and rotate cocktails on offer, though if the ingredients are there for a certain cocktail, the bartender can mix one up.
One effect of the pandemic customers can probably expect is that drink prices will be higher than they were in March 2020.
“We want to pay our people better and there’s inflation in the cost of ingredients used for cocktails,” Mancini said. “Plus, we’ll be running [the cocktail bar] with smaller numbers of people coming through.”