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Behind the Bar: An Old Fashioned with The Exchange Whiskey Bar

If you want Coca Cola with your whiskey, Tracy Bubelenyi will let you pour it in yourself. But she doesn’t encourage it.

That’s because The Exchange Whiskey Bar, 112 W Jefferson Blvd. in South Bend, is all about savoring the taste of a fine spirit straight from the bottle.

“‘Please don’t ask us to ruin any of these wonderful creations by desecrating them with cola,” the menu notes. “Let the ice melt slowly like the aging process.”

The click of cubes in a glass echoes through the sleek wood and marble interior, set with plush bar stools, low lighting, thick tasseled curtains and armchairs to enjoy a drink in stylish comfort.

The Exchange carries 168 bourbons, scotches and whiskies from local distilleries in Indiana and Michigan to far-flung countries like France and Japan, and the list is always growing.

Tracy Bubelenyi acts as general manager, bartender and primary drink creator, and has been behind the bar since The Exchange opened in September 2013.

“We’re the only whiskey bar in northern Indiana,” Bubelenyi said. “We do carry rum, gin, vodka, so we can do any type of cocktail, but the focus is drinks that bring out the natural flavors.”

Behind the counter, bottles are filled with single malt and blended scotch, bourbon from Tennessee and Kentucky, Irish whiskey, brandy and cognac – which run from $6 to $88 a glass.

Bourbon and sweet vermouth have been aging for 11 weeks in a barrel on the bar. There’s a newly acquired Four Roses’ small batch bourbon, which was Whiskey Advocate magazine’s 2013 American Whiskey of the Year. The rarest bourbon whiskey is a 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, which pours for $200 an ounce.

These spirits are all served on the rocks, but the bar does carry 10 specialty cocktail drinks, with names like Sir Robert the Savage (Bushmills, fresh lemon, orgeat) and Horses Neck (JP Wiser’s Rye, ginger ale and bitters).

“It’s the nicest bar in town,” a customer turned around to say. “It’s comfortable and makes you feel at home.”

Featured summer cocktail:

Old Fashioned

  • Orange twist
  • Bone Snapper rye whiskey (from Lawrenceburg, Ind.)
  • Wilks & Wilson Gomme (simple syrup)
  • old fashioned bitters
  • splash of soda

Served on the rocks. “It’s not too sweet and goes down smooth,” Bubelenyi said.

The secret to the perfect cocktail: “Correct measurement and consistency is key to a good cocktail. We like to bring out the natural flavors of the spirits, and we use all fresh juices and all-natural syrup from Wilks and Wilson out of Indianapolis. Our drinks also have 2¾ ounces of spirits instead of the usual 1.5 ounces.”

The way to drink whiskey: “The best way is by itself. If we’re going to drink whiskey, we want to taste how it comes straight from the bottle, not mask the natural flavors. We carry three original blends made specifically for us: Angel’s Envy from Kentucky, Silver Cross Whiskey from Journeyman Distillery in Michigan and Old Scout from West Virginia.”

Best perk of being a bartender: “I love meeting new people every day and having conversations with them. There’s a lot that goes on here. Our clientele is known clientele. As a bartender, you’re a psychiatrist and secret keeper.”

What you wish you didn’t have to deal with: “The challenge is keeping up with the change in demand. Some people want whiskey one month and bourbon the next. But you have to treat every situation with a smile and take it for what it is.”

The trick to bartending: “I’ve always been able to remember someone’s drink right away. You can order it once and come in the next time and I’m going to know what you had.”

The Exchange is located at 112 W Jefferson Blvd. in South Bend and owned by Kurt Janowsky. Hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Wednesday; 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday; 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday; and 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday.

In case you missed it: last time on Behind the Bar, we visited Cerulean in Warsaw.

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