Star Bartender

Going 10 Rounds With American Whiskey Expert Larry Rice

We got Larry Rice, who runs two top Louisville bars, to tackle our speed round of questions.

What do you like to drink after a shift? “I’m pretty simple, so usually it’s just a shot of bourbon.”

What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “‘Little Ole Wine Drinker Me’ by Merle Haggard.”

What drink should be banished and why? “I’m cool with guest ordering whatever they like. But as bar professionals we should quit offering tobacco- and charcoal-infused drinks. They can be dangerous. While we’re on the subject, I could never see another liquid nitrogen drink again and be OK with it.”

Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “When I was first getting into classically built cocktails I ended up at the Violet Hour in Chicago and Stephen Cole was tending bar that day. It was my first time there and my first time meeting him. I asked him to make something that he was into at the moment. I’m not sure he ever gave the drink a name but it was an absinthe-based cocktail and it was remarkable. The next cocktail list I put out had a couple absinthe drinks and Stephen and I are still friends today. That night at the bar and that cocktail had a huge impact on the direction I took in the industry.”

What book on cocktails, spirits, or food is your go-to resource?Imbibe by David Wondrich for cocktails and Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick always ends up on the table when I’m researching bourbon history.”

Ever appropriate to shake a Martini?Vodka sure, I’d never want to shake a Gin Martini but if a guest insisted on it I’d do it.”

What’s your favorite whiskey and food pairing? “I’m more of a whiskey before and after dinner and wine with dinner but a pour of Old Weller Antique with dessert isn’t off the table. Crème brûlée or bread pudding usually do the trick.”

What drink are you most proud of creating? The Porch Swing. I created it for my good friends at Dos Urban Cantina and really like how it presented and how it was received by guests. If you’re ever in Chicago you should check out Dos. The food is amazing.”

What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Lone Star and Wild Turkey 101.”

What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I like to bring my knives. My good friend Freddie Sarkis bought me a chef’s knife while he was in Japan and since then I’ve added a couple to my bag. Once you use good steel it’s hard to go back.”

Larry Rice is the owner of Louisville bars The Silver Dollar and El Camino.

Interview has been condensed and edited.