Story and photos by Rachel Verbits, February 2017 Issue.
There’s an old-school oasis nestled above the sights and sounds of Old Town Scottsdale, away from the foot traffic of tourists and pub-crawlers. In fact, there’s a good chance you might miss it if you weren’t intentionally seeking it out.
Lucky for us, we knew just what to look for when we arrived at Second Story Restaurant & Liquor Bar, as our first “Without Reservations” stop of the New Year.
Located at on the southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Third Avenue (go past The Gelato Spot), a Second Story hostess was waiting to escort us seekers up an unmarked flight of stairs – which I knew was the start of a completely unique experience.
Climbing the narrow, stonewalled staircase gave me the feeling that I was somehow being transported back in time, and when I reached the Second Story (literally), I truly felt as though I had been.
The cozy-sized bar welcomes patrons into a dimly lit room that gives off the feel of a 1920s speakeasy. Plush, leather couches line every corner of the intimate space for a secluded experience, with a crystal chandelier adding a romantic feel to the prohibition-style space.
As I took my seat in a corner booth, the atmosphere enveloped me completely in no time at all. The bustle of the outside world melted away, and forgot the concerns of my day as I turned my attention to the focal point: the bar.
Compared to the vast number of bars in the area, Second Story stands in a class of its own. The wide selection of barware, such as martini glasses and copper mugs, perched perfectly in an aesthetically dazzling display of what an old-fashioned cocktail bar should look like.
With well over 100 different types of whisky to choose from, I quickly discovered that this spirit is the star here. For those who can’t narrow it down on their own (shameless admission), numerous whiskey flights offer are the perfect opportunity to try more than just one. Ranging from 20 to 195 dollars a flight, there are selections to suit the casual drinker, the whiskey connoisseur and everyone in between.
Adding a fun twist, many of the flights themselves boast their own theme. For example, Godzilla vs. Mothra features 3 different types of Japanese whiskey, while Vermont’s Finest delivers a sampling of the best that The Green Mountain State has to offer (with a nip of Vermont Maple Syrup to taste as well). If you’re ready to spend some serious cash to please a more polished palate, the Billionaire Boys Club flight might be right up your alley.
Beyond whiskey, however, there is still a full signature cocktail menu to choose from. When asked for a recommend, my server was knowledgeable and excited to help me choose a unique cocktail based on my own taste and preferences, just as a friendly barkeep would do in the classic cocktail lounges of yesteryear.
After a few easy questions, I settled on The Conquistador, which I was told is a customer favorite throughout the winter months. Created with Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, Amontillado Sherry, lemon, spiced tea and Allspice dram (liqueur flavored with allspice berries) and topped with frothy, whipped egg white. The warm, familiar whiskey mixed with the unique foamy topping makes this a great choice for whiskey lovers who want to try a festive flavor combination.
The classics, such as Manhattans and Sazeracs, were highly recommended as well, so I turned next to an Old Fashioned. Freshly peeled twists of citrus rind sat atop the reliably strong, yet perfectly balanced favorite.
While the Second Story knows what they do well, they also know that keeping their ideas fresh is the way to keep people coming back. Here, the menus change seasonally and reflect the ingredients that are in season and fresh at the moment.
That’s right, I said menus. As in plural. That’s because Second Story is more than just a liquor bar, it’s a full-service restaurant as well – and the food is just as deserving of the spotlight.
Executive Chef Jason McGrath’s passion for local flavors and ingredients is truly apparent in the dishes he creates. Described as “regional, rustic and refined,” McGrath’s cooking style reflects modern Arizona cuisine while also highlighting the rich, native flavors of the region’s heritage. Which is exactly why he makes sure the food is a blend of familiar and unique, just like the bar’s cocktails.
The selections for sharing range from Blistered Shishito Peppers, served with plum, salsify fries, local arugula, saba and dried Monterey Jack cheese, to Fry Bread Sliders, featuring local chorizo from Schreiner’s, manchego cheese, local arugula, grapes and cider onion jam.
Among the starters, which are billed as “local, fresh [and] organic as possible,” The Local serves as an extension of McGrath’s objective here –it’s a selection of personally handpicked seasonal fresh assortments from Arizona farms and local ranches – perfect for all #localvores.
A true measure of any establishment is their version of a burger. So naturally, I opted for Second Story’s popular take on the all-American classic. I requested it medium, and the incredibly succulent, rich and hearty bison patty arrived topped with Welsh cheddar, mesquite onion, Granny Smith apple, frisee and black garlic aioli. Like my experience with The Conquistador, this burger proved to be an exquisite combination of a familiar favorite and a special twist of flavor combinations that more than surpassed my palate’s expectations.
The star of Second Story, however, is Tommy’s Famous Cast Iron Chicken. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, chicken. It’s good, but it’s nothing special,” right? Wrong.
Nothing short of impeccable, this dish is one not to be missed. Surrounding the tender, braised half-chicken was a myriad of roasted seasonal vegetables, which included carrots, parsnips and corn, as well as an oversized 18th century style biscuit.
Delectable pan drippings kept the chicken moist and hot, softened the savory roasted vegetables and soaked into the fluffy biscuit for added indulgence. I learned firsthand the reason this dish is famous, and feel that this chicken is worth coming back for all on its own.
While the dinner menu isn’t exactly extensive, it’s clear that McGrath isn’t resting on the laurels of the success he’s have already enjoyed as he continues to reinvent his take on classic cocktails for more personalized pairings and fantastic food for a more distinct dining experiences than you’ll find elsewhere.
Whether it’s a happy hour or a date night you’re planning, Second Story offers an escape from the modern-day Old Town establishments, making it uniquely intimate and unlike anything else you’ll experience in the Valley.
Second Story Restaurant & Liquor Bar
4166 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
4-10 p.m. Mon-Tue
4-11 p.m. Wed-Thurs