On Wednesday—a day after the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 290, which would loosen restrictions on distilleries, including allowing them to sell mixed drinks on-premises—Durham Distillery announced plans for Corpse Reviver, a craft cocktail bar set to open on the ground floor beneath the facility in early 2020.
Melissa Katrincic, who co-owns the distillery with her husband, Lee, says the bar has been in the works for over a year. But due to the state’s restrictive laws, the Katrincics originally intended to open Corpse Reviver as a separate business; last year, they obtained approval from the ABC Commission to move forward with that plan.
As soon as they found out about the ABC Regulatory Reform Act, however, they decided to see if they could instead open Corpse Reviver as part of their already established organization.
“We had to keep it really quiet,” she says. “But we were hoping that the modernization changes would come through.”
They did—assuming Governor Cooper signs the bill into law.
Katrincic says that she and her husband selected downtown Durham as the distillery’s location more than four years ago because they “wanted to be a destination for people. “Now, we can really bring that to life.”
Corpse Reviver, named for both its basement setting and the classic gin cocktail comprising gin, absinthe, Cointreau, and lemon juice, will enable Durham Distillery to showcase its Conniption brand in a more experiential way, Katrincic says.
“For Lee and I, it was always about building gin that had the flexibility for cocktail applications,” she says. “That’s why the American Dry is so different from the Navy Strength. They really have their own subset of cocktails where they shine.”
The distillery currently holds two tours a week, during which guests are limited to sampling a straight pour of gin. Katrincic says she always has to “talk people through it” to help them imagine what the product may taste like in a cocktail. “But now, people will be able to try something at the cocktail bar, enjoy a couple of cocktails with friends, and if they want to recreate those cocktails at home, we’ll tell them what the recipes are,” she says.
Another provision of SB 290 lifts a cap that previously limited sales at distilleries to only five bottles of liquor a year per customer. But Katrincic says she doesn’t want the distillery to turn into an ABC store.
“That’s not what this is about,” says Katrincic. “It’s about making sure that, as a tourist destination in Durham, which is really exploding, we don’t have to turn people away. It’s nice to know I don’t have to have that conversation anymore.”
As the INDY has previously reported, the expected passage of the bill has already driven Lassiter Distilling Company in Knightdale to start transforming its bare-bones retail space into a chic cocktail bar to showcase its craft rum. The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company, which makes traditional Lithuanian spiced honey liqueur, is excited about the prospect of turning its distillery into a bar as well. And Jonathan Blitz, an owner of Mystic Farm and Distillery in Durham, says the new law will allow Mystic to create a “destination consumer experience.”
The aesthetic at Corpse Reviver will be primarily art deco, featuring an outdoor patio, martini carts, and luxe finishes modeled after the modern gin bars of London. But no need to dress up. Katrincic says she wants the bar to be a casual space where everyone feels welcome.
“Whether you’re in shorts or a suit, we can just enjoy a martini together, or whatever is in the slushy machine,” she says.
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