When eyeing Phoenix real estate for their next bar project, Jason Asher and Rich Furnari of Barter & Shake Creative Hospitality took a giant leap of faith by choosing a 4,000-square-foot former pizza parlor as the site of the new space. “The concept of immersive experiences is driving what we’re doing, and I thought the building looked a little bit like a train station,” says Asher. Century Grand, a Disneyland-worthy bar born from a fascination with North America’s rails, opened in fall of 2019.
Located across the street from the duo’s first bar Undertow, Century Grand is a sprawling behemoth when compared to the tiki micro-concept, which only has 480 square feet and 34 seats. To handle the sheer volume of the space, the team broke it up into three different bar areas that would each have their own unique focus tied to the theme of railways. “The building’s bones dictated what we could create out of it,” says Furnari. “It’s cocktails on the train, whiskey in the shop, and great food and wine in the station—a 3-in-1, because we could fit it all in there.”
The experience begins in Century Grand, the restaurant and bar modeled after an art deco 1920s-era train station. Bold, geometric concrete walls, patterned ceiling tiles and glitzy glass chandeliers set an opulent the tone from the get-go. “When guests enter the building they touch the wall. They look at each other, then look at us and you can see the question on their lips of, ‘Was this here before?’ It’s a crazy amount of concrete,” says Furnari. “The way the room undulates and the lights go up and down the walls catch and create shadows, it’s the whole mood of the space. It’s great architecture.” Here, dishes are pushed around the room on dim sum–style carts, the wine is natural, and the cocktail menu is divided by railroad lines. “There are 26 cocktails in the dining room developed around the expansion of the rail lines, so on the menu we share the ups and downs of that history, too,” says Asher.
Platform 18 occupies a custom-built replica of a presidential Pullman train car, where complimentary Champagne and truffles are served, and guests can choose from 46 original cocktails. Long and narrow, the room truly feels like a train car with rich wood paneled walls and fancy brass accents. In the windows, a 90-minute film loops through an actual train ride shot on the Silverton line through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, creating the feeling that you’re watching the snowy landscape scene pass “outside” as you drink. “You actually feel like you’re on a train going somewhere,” says Furnari. “People walk in, and they have to grab the rail on top of the chair to get their bearings because every single element in that room causes you to feel movement in your gut.”
For the drinks at Platform 18, the menu features a storyline built around a fictional character named Hollis Cottley Pennington, a railroad tycoon and bootlegger inspired by the real-life story of George Remus. Many recipes are built off classic cocktail templates with high-level modern technique used behind the scenes to adjust flavors for modern tastes. “We use some drinks from around the time of Prohibition—historic, vintage, classic cocktails—but the genesis of our menu is built around how flavors work together. Whether it’s clarifying or using centrifuges, or using micro-distillation for non-alcoholic ingredients, we’re using a little science when appropriate,” Asher says.
The final space, called Grey Hen, is a 16-seat cocktail bar and bottle shop featuring 80 single barrel selections from around the country. “We’re trying to bring the experience of tasting and picking out bottles of whiskey in Kentucky to Phoenix,” says Asher. “Obviously we can’t bring an entire distillery, but we have over 500 selections of whiskey and all the single barrels, so I think we’ve really captured what it feels like to be there.” With a more modest wood-driven decor and stately ambiance, the understated room puts the focus on the spirit without distraction. “One thing we really want to capture is the smell of when you’re in the distillery. That’s the final piece of the puzzle to sell the shop as transportive.”
Asher says overall the goal is about more than just creating a fun place to drink. In some ways, the team is illuminating part of American history, which makes for an even more memorable drinking experience. “People connect with these concepts; they remember when the rail forged its way across the country. There are people that come in and have been on the Silverton rail line through the Rockies that we show on the screens—they remember the turn and the waterfall, the undulation in the river,” he says.
“Folks are truly amazed when they come in because there is a real sense of escapism. Every visit is a little unique depending on which bar you’re visiting, so that’s pretty cool too,” adds Furnari.
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