First Look: The Vandy in Forest Park Southeast
The Vandy opened at 1301 Vandeventer Ave. near the Grove in mid-January. The bar is the first brick-and-mortar venue from the team behind STL Barkeep, who have operated pop-up craft cocktail bars at events around St. Louis since 2017.
The bar is located in a standalone building just across Vandeventer Avenue from Rockwell Beer Co. The building was previously used as the office for a construction company, but it has been transformed into an attractive cocktail spot with a long, L-shaped bar for about 10 customers and tables adding seating for a further 22 guests. There’s also plenty of standing room for when the bar gets busier, and co-owner Matt Longueville is keen for customers to take advantage of that. “I want people to feel comfortable to come in and grab a drink and not have to feel like you’ve got to sit down,” he said. Much of the credit for the look of the space goes to Matt Garvey, who worked extensively on the renovations. “He burnt all the wood, he picked out the bar, he made sure the bar was cut appropriately,” Longueville said.
The cocktail selection is divided into two categories, classic drinks and seasonal twists on classic cocktails. The classics include The Vandy’s Old-Fashioned, which uses the bar’s single-barrel pick Maker’s Mark, a Margarita, Manhattan, and the South of the Border Negroni, which includes cacao- and coffee-infused tequila. “For the Old-Fashioned, it’s like we went through 14 different bitters and landed here,” said beverage director Pat Gioia. “So we put a lot of thought into what we’re offering for our classics, to be the epitome of what we think those classics are.”
With Mardi Gras just around the corner, the current seasonal cocktails draw significantly on New Orleans for inspiration, with a “Carnival” list that includes the Soulard Sidecar (5 year El Dorado rum Sotol, Amaro Montenegro, Dry Curacao and lemon) and the Lafayette Sazerac (Knob Creek single barrel rye, Cognac, Herbsaint and Peychaud’s) and The Vandy’s take on a French 75. Gioia said customers may notice the seasonal drinks in some ways mirror the classic selection: the Lafayette Sazerac, for example, could be seen as a distant cousin of the Old-Fashioned.
While the cocktail recipes reflect the full spectrum of spirits, liqueurs and bitters, The Vandy takes a particular interest in bourbon. Customers can explore the bar’s collection of bourbons from a number of angles. There are six whiskey flights, each of which invites drinkers to explore three different bourbons from a single distillery: Maker’s Mark, Old Forester, Booker’s and more. A large collection of bourbons are available in 1-ounce pours, which Longueville said gives customers a chance to sample fine whiskeys at a more accessible price point than they would pay for a standard full pour.
Among those bourbons are The Vandy’s single-barrel picks, selected especially for the bar and unavailable anywhere else. If you find one you really like or are looking for a gift, the single-barrel picks are also for sale by the bottle. One such Yellowstone bourbon is a collaboration between Platypus and The Vandy, with a portion of proceeds helping to raise funds for Park Central Development. The organization offers grants to long-term residents of the Grove who are unable to afford property taxes, and sales of the bourbon will help to support that program.
If you don’t drink or are taking a night off, The Vandy offers three non-alcoholic cocktails using Bare Zero Proof spirits, in addition to NA beer from Athletic Brewing and a CBD seltzer. “We’re really trying to be a safe space or a space that people can feel comfortable as non-drinkers, or ‘just taking a break’ drinkers, sober curious, whatever the hell you want to call it,” said Gioia.
The Vandy doesn’t have its own kitchen, but the bar is keen to collaborate with chefs to offer regular dining-centric events. Throughout February, every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday, with Jeff Friesen (formerly of Taco Buddha and Juniper) bringing the tacos. Food is available from 5 p.m. onward – Longueville said he expects supplies to last until 8 p.m. at least, but perhaps beyond that. Taco Tuesdays will also feature an accompanying list of drinks using agave-based spirits, including tequila, mezcal and sotol.
Over Mardi Gras weekend, Ryan McDonald of Farm Spirit is working with The Vandy to bring a traditional taste of New Orleans Mardi Gras to the bar. On Feb. 17 and 18, Longueville said McDonald will be offering “Mardi Gras snacks” for a la carte ordering, no reservations required. That could include items like boudin balls and gumbo, Longueville said. “We’re trying to celebrate Mardi Gras, but do it a little bit more mature, a little bit more elevated,” he added. On Sunday, Feb. 19, The Vandy will host McDonald for a ticketed dinner featuring a special tasting dinner from McDonald. Tickets will be $80 with optional additional beverage pairings. Finally, The Vandy is teaming up with Damn Fine Hand Pies for two pastry brunches on Saturdays in February. Details of the above events are still being finalized, but follow The Vandy on Instagram for further information.
Longueville and Gioia said they’re looking at developing a patio space on the side of the building, possibly with a service window allowing customers to order from outside the bar. However, plans for that are in the early stages.
The Vandy is open on Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 to 10 p.m., Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight.