Bottle Service for the Masses at Warwick’s Last Whisky Bar | Chronogram Magazine

Bottle Service for the Masses at Warwick’s Last Whisky Bar

Searching for an elevated whiskey experience, or just looking to soak up speakeasy vibes? You’ll find both at The Last Whisky Bar in Warwick.

Brian Smith, Jim Samborski, Michael Forman, and Bill Iurato are part of a 10-member whiskey appreciation group that has met every Wednesday since 2016. A couple years ago, the four men realized that if they wanted to frequent the whiskey-centric bar of their dreams with the Al-Capone-meets-the-Rat-Pack atmosphere they desired, they’d have to create it themselves.

Iurato, who’s owned Peck’s Liquors in the village of Warwick for over 30 years, and Smith, who co-owns a village bar, are the only two of the quartet with liquor biz chops. Samborski is a retired NYPD detective and a consultant for a bank in Puerto Rico, and Forman is a contractor. They collaborated on the concept and just needed the brick-and-mortar space to bring it to life. Forman offered up his 900-square-foot storage shed in Wickham Woodlands, the 733-acre grounds of the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility.

click to enlarge Bottle Service for the Masses at Warwick’s Last Whisky Bar
Sayonara Samborski

The Last Whisky Bar opened last April, and it looks nothing like a storage shed anymore. A seamless, 47-foot-long, domed copper ceiling crowns the interior. Slate tiles that once graced a roof are solidly underfoot. Sunlight slants in through French doors—installed sideways to serve as windows—whose former life was spent in a Tuxedo Park home. The sinuous maple bar and wood-topped stools are etched with fractal-burned images resembling trees or lightning, which is apropos: Forman created them with (fairly dangerous) high-voltage electricity. “Michael is the artist behind all of this,” Smith says with appreciation.

The bar serves up whiskies, craft cocktails ($14 each, curated by cocktail sommelier John Contreras), wines, and beers. The cocktail list rotates throughout the year, with a couple mainstays: The Last Whisky Bar Manhattan (bourbon, sweet and dry vermouth, bitters, lemon) and the Corpse Reviver #2 (gin, Cointreau, Cocchi Americano, Absinthe, lemon), a hangover remedy whose recipe hails from the Prohibition era. A handful of barrel-aged cocktails (Old Fashioned, Manhattan) are offered, as well. They are mixed and finished in small oak barrels that sit behind the bar. Over six weeks, the cocktails take on the essence of the barrel before being served on demand.

click to enlarge Bottle Service for the Masses at Warwick’s Last Whisky Bar
Sayonara Samborski

More than 250 kinds of whiskey, rye, bourbon, and Scotch are served up at LWB. Newbies are invited to start with “Whiskey 101” ($25), a flight of four three-quarter-ounce pours that includes an Irish whiskey, rye, bourbon, and Scotch.

Patrons who know their favorites can choose from the extensive 1.5-ounce-a-pour menu ranging from Jim Beam ($9) up to Whistle Pig Double Malt Rye ($64 a pour), or partake in an experience that sets LWB apart from your neighborhood watering hole: The Bottle Keep.

For $250 per year and the cost of their bottle of choice, a patron (and up to five friends) can purchase a locker space. The bottle of top-shelf curated whiskey (up to a $350 bottle of Johnny Walker Blue and beyond) will be kept safely in the locker; when the locker owner visits, the bartender serves them from their very own bottle—either neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a cocktail—for $6 a drink.

click to enlarge Bottle Service for the Masses at Warwick’s Last Whisky Bar
Sayonara Samborski

There are three lockers with a total capacity of 148 bottles. Two lockers are tall, glass-faced, black wooden cabinets. The third is a wall-mounted set of horizontal cabinets that wrap around an alcove of seating. Some of the doors on those lockers are inlaid with glass interlaced by a diamond pattern of wire: Yes, it’s prison glass—salvaged onsite and cut to fit.

Forman and his electrician son Aiden wired LED lights throughout the lockers, and when a bartender pushes a button, the lights race all around the bottles inside before finally illuminating that particular bottle. Bottles that are in use sit on a shelf behind the bar. When the locker owner is ready to leave, their bottle is safely returned to the locker. LSB’s business is about 20 percent lockers, and the remaining 80 percent is traditional bar service.

click to enlarge Bottle Service for the Masses at Warwick’s Last Whisky Bar
Sayonara Samborski

The locker idea is reminiscent of those at the Flatiron Room whiskey lounge in Manhattan, without the $1,000 annual fees, “We wanted to do something like that here, so everyone can enjoy a high-end atmosphere without the higher price tag,” Forman says. The lockers are popular—of the 148 spots offered this year, only 15 were left as of March 16.

Greg and Christina Stanton are the proud owners of Locker No. 1. “We heard through friends about The Last Whisky Bar and its locker program, and we love it,” says Greg, twirling his wedding ring made from a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Weekly visitors to LWB, the Stantons recently surpassed a bottle threshold set by the bar; in gratitude, the bar’s partners gifted them with a bottle of 15-year Pappy Van Winkle.

Samborski points out that a sense of ownership in the bar has evolved among locker patrons, resulting in a friendliness reminiscent of the ’80s TV show “Cheers.” Not that you could watch a rerun, or any show actually, at LWB, because there are no TVs. “We’re all about conversation; you won’t see people staring at their phones here, either,” says Samborski. “All too often, people are too busy looking at a sporting event or down at their phones. We think of this place as a relief valve for the week.”


There’s plenty to see here without media interrupting the vibe. Two beautiful glass pendants hang over the bar, and a library ladder reaches the topmost mahogany bar shelves. A stained-glass pendant light from Samborski’s first home illuminates the lounge area. Another stained-glass chandelier—from Forman’s parents’ home—hangs next to the wall-mounted liquor locker. A deeply carved door with a thick coat of red paint marks the bar’s ADA-approved bathroom. It, and the sidelights on either side, came from a house Forman had renovated. If that bathroom is in use, patrons are welcome to enter the c.1970s phone booth to their left: Behind the bifold door is a petite but fully equipped bathroom.

The rest of the decor leans heavily toward the smoke-and-leather aesthetic of speakeasy days. Patrons can lounge on the Chesterfield couch in front of an electric fireplace, or curl up on a leather easy chair painted with a portrait of Paddy Van Winkle himself by local artist Kristy Rosen.

There’s live music every week from Thursday to Sunday. Indoors, the bands set up in the lounge area. When the temps warm up outside, the live music finds its way outside. To create a backdrop for the stage, Forman moved two boulders in the backyard and, between them, installed a red gate originally from the prison itself. You’ll hear Frank Sinatra and others Big Band favorites over the indoor and outdoor speakers when live music isn’t playing.

Music isn’t the only programming in the works. Whiskey-appreciation classes on the docket for the near future. “We’re all about educating our customers,” says Smith. “We’re not experts, but we’re all learning, and we invite people to learn with us.” The staff, too, becomes well-schooled in whiskey as they work.

The Last Whisky Bar is open Thursday through Sunday. But on select Mondays and Tuesdays, the bar opens as a speakeasy: Tipped off by LWB’s social media, followers are invited to knock on an inconspicuous gray steel door. Just like in the days of Al Capone, the “Closed” sign will slide open and the patron is asked for the password shared on LWB’s social that day. Their first speakeasy night was December 5—the 89th anniversary of the end of Prohibition—and the password was “Volstead,” the name of the act that began those dark days in 1933. Along with those flexible hours comes a caveat, however. “We will never be open on Wednesdays,” Smith says, as those are reserved for the OG whiskey appreciation nights.

Forman’s sister Dawn and her husband Max Mack run Griddle Me This, serving up gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and other delicacies from a camper and outdoor setup outside LWB. Griddle Me This’s schedule nearly mirrors that of the bar, making it a perfect stop for those late-night eats when most kitchens have closed.

True to their collaborative nature, the four owners cycled through a few names before settling on Last Whisky Bar, which is a reference to the Doors’ classic “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar).” They added ‘last' because, well, according to Samborski, “this is the last whiskey bar you’ll ever need.”

Last Whisky Bar
45 Woodlands Way, Warwick
(845) 986-7851