When you marry a lifelong Notre Dame fan, it's only a matter of time until you find yourself in South Bend. The city of just over 103,000 residents is largely defined by the University of Notre Dame...and its football team.
Names like Joe Theismann, Ara Parseghian, Frank Leahy, Joe Montana, George Gipp, Lou Holtz, and Knute Rockne will forever be imprinted on the storied Fighting Irish program. Even this Alabama fan has to admit that there's something special about spending a college football Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
But as much as football pervades the city, there's a lot more to South Bend than first downs and touchdowns.
Welcome to The Exchange, a speakeasy-style bar housed in a 1913 building that was once Citizen's Bank and Trust. With over 450 whiskeys and bourbons available, there's no doubt you'll return time and time -- and time -- again to try new concoctions.
When the bar opened in 2013, owner Kurt Janowsky told the South Bend Tribune, "This is the kind of place where you can wind down after work over a glass. But I also think a lot of business and deals will be done here."
The space -- which, much to my delight, had been transformed into a winter wonderland on the day we visited -- decidedly feels like the sort of place where titans of industry like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt might have closed deals 100 years ago.
One of my favorite things about The Exchange is that it features both a traditional bar, complete with vintage-looking barstools, and multiple seating areas for a more intimate evening with your party.
This means you don't have to choose between a traditional "going out" experience and feeling like you're sitting in someone's extremely well-decorated living room. If you want to change the vibe of your night halfway through, all you have to do is walk a few steps to the other side of the space.
Our bartender, the fabulous John, introduced us to several of the establishment's Prohibition Era-inspired cocktails throughout our evening.
Each one was incredible in its own right but my favorite was a Mint Julep-esque drink that featured tequila instead of bourbon. I know how this sounds -- I love bourbon country, after all -- but I was wildly impressed with the combination of flavors.
Make sure you give this one a try next time you're in Fighting Irish country.
I also loved the "Don't Tell Lies In Heaven," a drink made with Woodford Rye, Woodford Bourbon, smoked amaro, cherry, and vanilla bitters. This is the perfect cocktail for a cold evening (plus, check out that glassware).
We also tried the "Executive Old Fashioned", which is presented on a smoky serving dish. The bar's menu notes that this signature beverage is "the height of whiskey luxury," featuring applewood smoked Rabbit Hole Dareringer PX Cask Finished Bourbon.
I cannot recommend a night -- or two, or three -- out at The Exchange enough. I know I'll be back to try more Roaring Twenties cocktails next time I'm in town.
More on The Exchange Whiskey Bar
The Exchange South Bend is officially described as:
The original Exchange Whiskey Bar draws its inspiration from its home inside the Citizens' Bank & Trust Building, built in 1913 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a bank, the marble walls and wrought iron accents still make it easy to imagine where the tellers would be.
And, if you're in the Indianapolis area, make sure you pick your poison at the brand's Massachusetts Avenue location as well!
Which drink will you be trying first at The Exchange? Tell me in the comments!
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