The Best Kind of History Lesson Is One You Can Drink

Speakeasies? Super trendy. Prohibition-era cocktails? So in. Bartenders with handlebar mustaches and suspenders? Down right hot. Now, Steadfast, a new Chicago restaurant, is taking the whole everything-old-is-new-again trend one step further with a bar menu featuring vintage whiskey bottles, some of which clock in at almost 100 years old.

“These bottles are a time capsule,” Tomasz Sas, Steadfast’s lead bartender, told the Chicago Tribune. “You’re not looking for age, you’re looking for a difference between [the distilling styles of] then and now. You see a different kind of craftsmanship.” Over the years, advancements in distilling technology and manufacturing standards have changed not only the ways in which American whiskey is made, but also how it tastes. For example, while many distillers use genetically modified corn today, distillers from the 1940s did not.

Twenty of the whiskeys currently in stock were bottled between the 1930s and 1970s, including a particularly rare bottle from Stitzel-Weller, the first distillery owned by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle. Some of the oldest spirits, such as Old Lancaster, were bootlegging brands created by mobsters during Prohibition.

You can’t find these extra-old bottles at liquor stores. Sas has been snatching them up at auctions with the help of Benjamin Schiller, the beverage director of Fifty/50, Steadfast’s parent restaurant group. Understandably, these hard-to-find bottles don’t come cheap. Because a finite number of these bottles exist, customers can expect to pay a premium for glassfuls at the restaurant. The exact prices will depend on market supply and demand, according to Schiller, but he believes customers are willing to pay top dollar for a time-traveling drinking experience.

“We want to be more than just a happy hour spot,” Sas said. “Our job is to invite you to stay longer. When you sip these old whiskeys, you’re transported.”