At Library of Distilled Spirits, which opened this spring in New York City’s Hyatt Union Square, beverage director Kyle Tran is building an enormous collection of spirits bottles—more than a thousand bottles, to be precise.
Yet don’t mistake “library” for “prim and proper.” Here, Tran and bartenders from the Employees Only team have big plans to make spirits fun, including ladders whizzing by the bar so nimble bartenders can pluck down bottles from shelves high above; an Instagram-worthy space with those bottles displayed in luxe back-lit boxes; and of course, EO-style free pouring and what will soon expand into a huge cocktail list. Tran talked with us about his plans for this newly opened space.
So how did this start?
This started more as a hospitality concept than wanting to have the coolest spirits collection. We wanted anybody who walks into the bar to be able to get exactly what they wanted, no matter where they came from in the world or what their drinking preferences were.
Did you always know you’d have all these shelves and all these bottles?
Yeah, but it has gone back and forth—how many bottles we wanted to showcase. More is always fun, because it gives me a reason to either buy the stuff I wanted to buy for a while or venture into completely new things I’ve never even tasted before.
How many bottles are in the collection?
Right now, we are currently at a little under 1,000. I get a delivery later this week of a huge stock of Irish whiskey, which I think will tip us over 1,000. I don’t see any plans to slow down anytime soon.
I’m starting to focus on rare and vintage spirits to bulk up the collection. Since it’s a library, I do think it’s important to preserve certain pieces of history. Just yesterday, I got a bottle of Kuruizawa Japanese whisky from 1993—in my opinion one of the greatest distilleries that country’s ever seen and which no longer exists. Whatever’s left in the world, that’s it. So it’s important that we have a few pieces like that anchoring the collection, as well as older expressions of bourbon, cognac, Chartreuse, amaros, really fun vintage stuff.
Where do you find these bottles?
Mostly private collections and auction houses.
Every bartender is going to be so jealous that you get to buy pretty much whatever you want.
I think this is the greatest purchasing job anywhere. Nobody has ever had as much fun as I’ve had doing this.
Right now, cocktails are sexy. But how do you make spirits sexy?
At the end of the day, it’s all about hospitality. Of course, we also have world-class bartenders behind the bar and an awesome cocktail selection. To make spirits fun, it starts with curiosity. Cocktails start with spirits. So if you want to delve more into learning about cocktails, you have to learn about spirits. That option is there for you. The amount of neat-spirits drinkers hasn’t dwindled at all because of the cocktail culture. If anything, it has gotten larger because of that curiosity.
Tell me about the ladder over the bar.
It was installed a week ago. I climb up and down it any excuse I can, even if I don’t need anything. If someone asks me a question, I can easily look at the list and be like, “Yes, we have that.” But I’m like, No, I’m going to climb up the ladder and see for myself with my own two eyes! It’s just a show.
Do you deliberately put stuff up there so you have the excuse to go up?
Honestly, yes—kind of. But we do have to think in terms of efficiency. Our back bar is very well-stocked. We’ve gone down the list to determine what will be called the most. I’m not going to put those bottles up the ladder to have my guys climb up there 20 times a night. The secondary and tertiary orders will go up there. We have some obscure spirits I don’t expect to see called that much.
The whole point of us building bars is so they can be fun. I’ve never been a fan of stuffy bars where you can’t have fun, where you can’t laugh too loudly. I just want people to enjoy themselves and feel they’re in a comfortable place, that they’re not being judged for what they’re ordering or for being who they are.