Show me the way
To the next whiskey bar
Everybody knows about The Elbow Room downtown. It’s that distinctly Midwestern species of neighborhood bar in which you could recognize every face cast in the light of the neon beer signs. Budweiser placards depicting animals that can be either hunted or milked line the walls, a NASA-like array of television screens apprise patrons of sports and only sports, and the occasional clatter of an overenthusiastically struck pool ball bouncing across the floor tiles elicits stares and tacit disapproval of everyone nearby. They all could have made that shot.
Places like that are the lifeblood of America, and will never go away. They can improve, however, as The Elbow Room has with the addition of Roundhouse. In contrast to its neighbor’s traditional watering hole decor, the Roundhouse is a wood and steel affair, with an industrial feel that’s fitting for a joint in what was once a car dealership. It caters better to the dinner crowd who’d like an ambiance wholly uninfluenced by neon.
Roundhouse has an eclectic menu, with classic dishes from all around the country that the chef has added his own flair to. To pay tribute to Bismarck’s German heritage they’ve the oversized schnitzel sandwich, a dish that that Texans would abandon their chicken fried steaks for in an irregular heartbeat. Chicago is represented in full with the authentic Chicago dog, replete with mustard and relish as bright as traffic lights. (Do not commit the cardinal sin of putting ketchup on a real Chicago dog.) Our paisanos out east would gladly feast on hot Italian beef, and whoever lives in Maryland would meet the crab cakes with sound approval. Best of all is the Thanksgiving sandwich, roasted turkey laden with cranberry sauce and laid out on a waffle made of stuffing. Whoever thought to put stuffing in a waffle iron deserves the most appropriate Nobel prize for such a feat.
As good as it is, their food isn’t even the focus at Roundhouse — it’s all about the whiskey. Lining their bar’s shelves are over 110 different bottles of that perfect brown quaff, like a shrine to rye, corn, and wheat. Whether you’re after the industrial solvent grade stuff or liquor that’s been thrice blessed by a monk who broke a decade long vow of silence to do so, so long as it’s whiskey you’ll find it at Roundhouse. No other bar in North Dakota has a selection as vast as theirs.
It can be a bit daunting, picking just one whiskey, so you’re better off having a few. They have Sinatra Select by Jack Daniel’s, an tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes and meant to be enjoyed on the rocks just like he did his several thousand career glasses. They have Rogue’s Dead Guy Whiskey, an invitingly named hooch that’s aged in its barrel by the Pacific’s briney air and mellowed with the aid of coffee afterward. They have several selections from Suntory, the shiningest glimpse you can get at what happens when you mix the best of Scotland and Japan together. They’ve even got Booker’s 30th Anniversary Bourbon, something you’ll be highly unlikely to try again unless the famous distillery ever celebrates another 30th anniversary in the future. It tastes like molten gold, but with a less firey finish.
While drinking straight whiskey is a time-honored tradition in the Bismarckian neck of the woods, your hesitation to do so does not mean you ought to strike Roundhouse off your list of places to go next. Their cocktail bar is bar none, and they have set it up so they can make everything fast and fresh right in front of you. You haven’t experienced an orange crush until you’ve had it with orange juice that was still in its orange of origin only moments before hitting your glass. Manhattans, sours, old fashioneds, revolvers, Irish mules, Irish maids, Irish Jack Roses — you can’t stump the bartender at Roundhouse. (What are they doing in Ireland that led to the discovery of so many whiskey cocktails?)
Roundhouse’s style is bound to be imitated by the next generation of bars to sprout up around town, but none will ever match its panache. Visit roundhousend.com to learn more about the place, or do such vital research in person by visiting there at 113 S 5th Street in Bismarck.
By David Scheller