PHOENIX — All aboard!
When "The Century Grand" opens for business in Phoenix, potentially as soon as next month, its passengers -- er, guests -- will find themselves fully immersed in a 1920s Art Deco-inspired train station at the start of Prohibition.
There will be sounds of train whistles, music in the background, a presidential Pullman bar car, and, perhaps, a conductor welcoming passengers with a vocal "all aboard."
Manning the tracks are Jason Asher and Rich Furnari, the masterminds behind Barter and Shake Creative Hospitality. The pair also launched UnderTow, an underground tiki bar designed to look like the hull of a 19th-century clipper ship; and Pobrecito, a Latin-inspired cocktail bar located inside a shipping container.
For those who have been to UnderTow and experienced its at-sea adventures -- from the occasional thunderstorm to a bow-and-arrow fight with passing locals -- Asher said their newest concept is different: whiskey focused, more immersive, and unlike anything they have done before.
The concept's narrative surrounds a man who owns a private section of rail somewhere in the United States, and follows the passengers and people who come aboard. "In all other corners of our great country, temperance had crept in and criminalized the sporting life. This was not so at the Pennington's Estate," is the official synopsis.
It is being built next door to Sip and UnderTow, in the former Gino's East building near 36th Street and Indian School Road in Phoenix.
"I think that they're going to walk into The Century Grand with a level of expectation similar to that of the UnderTow not realizing that they're walking into a full dining experience..." Asher told ABC15 in an exclusive interview. "I think their jaws are going to drop."
"They're going to get a surprise in that we're offering a lot more layers and it's going to spark a lot of curiosity and a lot of additional questions which we have answers for. And they're going to find themselves continuing to discover more opportunities in the same place," said Furnari.
That is because The Century Grand actually consists of three cocktail concepts that are separate -- yet connected. There's the train station (The Century Grand), Platform 18, and the Grey Hen Whiskey Saloon.
Here is what we know about each.
THE CENTURY GRAND
When people enter The Century Grand, they will walk into the train station, which is the first bar.
There will be between 16-18 seats at the bar and another 20-24 seats throughout the room. When the weather is right, the patio will open, bringing an additional 20-25 seats, said Furnari.
To start, the bar will be first come, first served and, like UnderTow, limited to 90-minute experiences.
Asher said the bar's drink menu would highlight whiskey-focused cocktails that are "simplistic and approachable" and that each drink would have between five to seven ingredients. It is not a "classic" cocktail bar, but they will make a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned if someone wants one.
By comparison, Platform 18's menu -- which we'll get to later -- will have more complex cocktails, said Asher.
The Century Grand will also have food, but guests will not necessarily order from a menu.
Asher and Furnari recently brought on Sacha Levine, co-chef at Ocotillo, to lead the kitchen.
"Expect less menu and more immediate gratification," said Furnari. "Sacha's food is going to come out on carts and presented for immediate purchase. So you get to sample the food with your eyes rather than read a list of ingredients that might not attract you to something."
The menu is still being finalized, but they were able to share a few ideas that are being considered: chilled oysters, braised celery, fried Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and pancakes.
"You're going to have to be a little adventurous," said Asher. "I don't think the food is going to push you down an adventurous path...but if you're open to being a little adventurous, we're going to sweep you off your feet."
Wine will also be sold by the glass via carts.
Named after the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale and manufacturing of liquor in the United States, Platform 18 is going to be where people looking for an "UnderTow"-type experience will find it.
Instead of a clipper ship, Platform 18 takes the shape of a ritzy Presidential Pullman bar car. There will be 30-36 seats -- a mix of barstools, tables, and communal booths -- and 16 "windows" (large flat-screen TVs) that will take guests along the tracks and through different landscapes.
The team tells us they sent a photographer up to Colorado to film 4K video off the sides of an actual train to capture its sounds, travel, and smoke.
The train's menu will have 46 cocktails, low-ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks and non-alcoholic mocktails, that will only be available on the train.
"The cocktails themselves are, I would say, worldly in flavors. I have taken most of my inspiration from our global travels in terms of types of cocktails, preparations, ingredients, techniques," Asher said. "For this town, this is the furthest not only that I've ever been pushed, [but that] this town's ever been pushed in a cocktail-centric program without question."
The cocktails will use a lot of ingredients that people may not be familiar with, Asher said. There will be a glossary at the back of the menu to explain what those ingredients are, he said.
Riders can expect whiskey-forward cocktails, exotic drinks, and drinks with tropical ingredients, not necessarily "tiki." For those with a sweet tooth, Asher said there would also be alcohol-infused ice cream, sorbets, and "dessert cocktails" on the menu.
As UnderTow does, Platform 18 will limit its seatings to 90-minute increments and tickets (ie: reservations) are recommended.
GREY HEN WHISKEY SALOON
The Grey Hen Whiskey Saloon will be used for special tastings, cocktail classes with local and national distillers, and as a store of sorts where people can purchase the tools and ingredients to make the cocktails from The Century Grand's menu at home.
In true storytelling fashion, Asher said the Grey Hen would close on Jan. 17, 2020, which will mark 100 years since Prohibition began (the 18th amendment was ratified on Jan. 16, 1919 and went into effect on Jan. 17, 1920), and would reopen as the "Grey Hen Drug Co." where "medicinal" whiskey and spirits would be prescribed.
They brought on John Christie, who was the beverage director at Second Story Liquor Bar for a couple years, and most recently served as the director of craft and luxury spirits for Young's Market Company's craft spirits team.
In between the Grey Hen Whiskey Saloon and Platform 18 will be a waiting area for people to order a drink inside the train station while waiting for their train on Platform 18 to board.
WHEN WILL THE CENTURY GRAND OPEN?
An opening date has not been announced yet, but both Asher and Furnari said the train is on track to depart for its first trip in mid-September.
IF YOU GO:
The Century Grand (anticipated mid-September)
3626 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018