The Monkey Wrench was, according to bartender Jared Schubert, a “hard core dive bar.”
Until about 18 months ago when Schubert, who waited tables at the Louisville watering hole as part of its opening crew back in 2004, swooped in to help give The Monkey Wrench an appealing new sheen. “We made the space warmer, brought in a chef and built a bourbon program—something they surprisingly didn’t have before,” says Schubert. “Now it’s a place that feels genuine, authentic and not uber-expensive. After all, this is Kentucky.”
It’s hard for a bar to run on anything but bourbon in the distillery-packed Bluegrass State. Schubert was mindful of budgets when building his stash of brown spirits though, opting for “working-class bonded whiskies more than Pappy Van Winkle.”
Jared behind the bar at The Monkey Wrench.
That same pretense-free approach applies to his cocktails, with well-made Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and his Van Leer Rose being the fanciest of Monkey Wrench bar calls. “Most of the time people get a highball, bourbon and Coke or whatever the hell they want to order,” Schubert says. “We’re not too concerned if they’re drinking the ‘right stuff.’ Some great bars around here haven’t stuck around because people are apprehensive of seeing a twelve-dollar cocktail on a menu.”
Schubert, who grew up in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, was always the cook in his family, eager to tinker around the kitchen. But it was a trip to fabled drink den the Violet Hour, in Chicago, that sealed the cocktail deal. “There were no mentors here at the time and so I studied repeatedly. I watched hours and hours of YouTube videos until I got the right hand movements for the Sazerac. I was really popular with my friends for that year,” he recalls.
Jared and The Van Leer Rose.
That unwavering self-discipline paid off when Schubert helped open the sophisticated 732 Social in 2010, where he worked with Larry Rice, now of Silver Dollar and El Camino fame. There, he made his own bitters and started using fresh juices at a time when every other joint in town stuck with pre-made mixes.
Today, he says Louisville’s cocktail scene has taken off, with an “air of white collar-ism” morphing into a more “blue-collar approach that is so much more beneficial to running good beverage programs.”
Schubert’s all-inclusive attitude is perhaps best represented in his role as the co-founder of the annual bourbon immersion–themed Camp Runamok that raises money for Lions Camp Crescendo, which caters to youths in need. In addition to familiar craft bartenders, Runamok attracts drink-slingers “from the Cheesecake Factory and a beer-and-shot place in Wyoming—because bourbon is applicable in all settings,” Schubert says. The inevitable singing around a campfire is a bourbon-fueled bonus.
(Photo courtesy Josh Merideth)
Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer and editor of Edible Queens.