Whiskey and wine ‘library’ opens its doors in Marion
MARION — It’s taken two years and 51 days, but The Mary Celeste Whisky and Wine Library is finally open.
The bar and lounge, named after the famous 1861 ghost ship, offers over 100 different whiskeys and wines.
But don’t be fooled, this library on Cottage Street doesn’t have any books.
The “library” in its name comes from owner Mike Achilles idea of the lounge as a learning experience.
“When you go into a library, you have librarians who know everything about the library,” Achilles said.
And Achilles wants his bartenders to be like librarians, knowledgeable about every bottle on the shelf.
When patrons sit down in one of the leather seats at the low tables in the lounge, they can try a few sips of whiskey or wine to help them decide what to order.
“It really starts off with that testing and experimentation,” Achilles said.
Whiskeys made all over the world, from Vermont to Ireland to Japan, are offered at the lounge.
“We tried to curate it based on things the average bar or restaurant wouldn’t have,” Achilles said.
The Mary Celeste has been years in the making, and opened a few months after it amassed $59,500 from a crowdfunding campaign.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Achilles said.
The lounge was initially supposed to be located in the old Bookstall on Front Street, but moved to the former Hariett’s Restaurant building after Achilles realized his plans for the restaurant were too large for the small space.
Now, Achilles said the biggest hurdle ahead of The Mary Celeste is covid, and figuring out how to begin wine and whiskey tasting nights in January.
Though in some ways, covid restrictions have been a blessing for the business. Achilles plans to do tasting nights hybrid in-person and over Zoom, since the state is currently allowing to-go alcohol sales. Plus, he said state restrictions on how long people are allowed to dine are perfect for the cocktail hour vibe of The Mary Celeste.
“The 90 minute stay, that’s what we want,” Achilles said.
In their short time at the lounge, Achilles said he wants customers to be attracted to the interesting bottles on the shelves. Ones which may be too much of a risk for someone to buy for themselves, but they might try in-house.
Like whiskeys up to 138 proof (69% alcohol), or whiskeys that are aged for 20 years and then finished off for a few months in wine or beer barrels to give an extra bit of flavor.
“In everything we have, we’ve tried to put some special spin on it,” Achilles said.
The lounge isn’t tailored just for whiskey connoisseurs, either. The bartenders at the Mary Celeste train to learn all the notes, or flavor indicators, a whiskey or wine has by smelling and tasting (plus a little help from distillery notes, too).
The bartenders also taste the wines and whiskeys alongside some of the chef’s daily offerings.
What goes with a piece of spicy Buffalo cheddar cheese? Well maybe a fruity wine to cut off some of the cheese’s heat. Or, that aged whiskey that was finished in a beer cask, of course.
For Achilles, the lounge is a place to try new things.
“That’s really what it’s about,” he said. “Opening a bottle up and saying ‘what’s this?’”
Achilles also has a mission to help people learn about whiskey and wine, and think about what they’re drinking, while they’re drinking it.
“We would like to teach people that there’s a difference, and how to find that difference,” Achilles said.
Ultimately, Achilles said he wants The Mary Celeste to be a place where people can learn about interesting whiskeys and wines and try new things.
“It’s a conversational place,” he said. “It’s meant for the community.”