UnderTow Founders Embark On Overland Journey With Century Grand

By Gustaf Vincoeur |

Jason Asher and Rich Furnari have some unique ideas about bars. UnderTow, the tiki inspired maiden project from their Barter & Shake group, is a prime example. Sure there are rum drinks and some cool mugs. There’s also a multi chapter storyline, LED screens in portholes, an arrow fight, and a team of former Disney Imagineers. For Asher and Furnari, the genius and the genesis, truly, are in the details. Now, they’re getting the band back together—and they’re going big.

Opening in October, Century Grand, is a one-of-a-kind space housing three beverage concepts unified under the central theme of a journey.

An Immersive Experience

Century Grand includes a full size replica of a railroad car and a staff uniformed as conductors. So, it would be easy to classify the place simply as a “train bar.” But, that would be neglecting the narrative that binds the place together– the story of fictitious bootlegger & railroad tycoon, Hollis Cottley Pennington.

To ignore Pennington’s role would be to ignore the details. And, the details are what set Barter & Shake apart.

Consider the six weeks of training required for the opening staff. Or note that Asher travelled the country to hand select 85 barrels of whiskey to bulk out the bottle list. Also racking up frequent flier miles was the videographer dispatched to Durango to film views from an actual coal-burning train crossing the Rockies.

In fact, details are so important at Barter & Shake that development paused to reconcile what most would consider a secondary detail. 

All aboard! [Photo by Grace Stufkosky for Century Grand]

“When [designer] Wesley James first saw the space, he immediately suggested ‘art deco train station.’ In our heads, we were thinking Victorian train station,” lamented Asher. “At first, we just couldn’t connect the two concepts and everything ground to a halt.”

We dare not call it an ‘obsession.’ But, the attention to detail creates a full immersive experience, the signature of Barter & Shake’s bars.

“We fell in love with immersive [with UnderTow], the idea that’s there’s something more to offer than a drink. Tiki was that vehicle for a long time. It went away in 80’s and now its back,” Asher elaborated. “People are really into this idea of escaping through a drink. We came up with this idea of a train as a vehicle—literally and figuratively—at Century Grand.”

The Station

Seating about 70 people, The Station is the largest of Century Grand’s sub-venues. As the name suggests, the room is an homage to 1920’s train station. 

The decor and uniforms are exactly what one would expect in a deco-driven train station lounge. Several layers of sound will include trains rumbling by, boarding calls. and travelers setting off. Music will also be from the era or inspired by the era.

“The menu is based around major rail lines and stops,” added Asher. “It will feature 400 bottles. Cocktails are garden to glass. Food friendly, food centric.”

Asher also noted that the wine list is designed to build out to about 2600 bottles.

The liquid offerings will  also include pours of Sherry and Madeira. “We already use a ton in cocktails, five or six varieties. We thought it was time [to serve Sherry neat also],” said the cofounder.

The Sherry cocktails will also contribute to a large catalogue of Low & No ABV drink options. Seedlip, Giffard’s range, and house made syrups & cordials utilizing over a 100 different ingredients will round out the Low/No specs. Asher said that the category is necessary.

A few of Grand Central’s Sherry offerings [Photo by Grace Stufkosky for Century Grand]

“With a space where you might spend five hours with us, you’re not going to want to drink whiskey the entire time.”

Of course, also those food friendly drinks will also require some food. Local star chef Sacha Levine will helm the back of house. Her menu is described as “hyper local with worldly flavors.” For good measure, the dishes will be served table side off of rolling carts.

Platform 18

Platform 18 is where Century Grand really gets crazy.

“[P18] is a 36 seat room based on a Pullman Presidential beverage car. 8 windows per side [fitted with LED screens] will show the journey of this train through the rockies,” explained Asher.

That journey will be enhanced by more sound and light effects. For example, when the visuals depict the train entering a tunnel, the lights will flicker and the car will rumble.

The view from the Pullman Presidential [Photo by Grace Stufkosky for Century Grand]

While enjoying a welcome glass of sparkling wine, guests will have the opportunity to peruse the menu. In these pages writer Mat Snapp (UnderTow’s story), artist Mark Reinhill (Dead Rabbit’s menu), and designer Meg Howard bring to life the story of Pennington.

Like Undertow, Grand Century’s story will grow in chapters as time passes. The first installation titled “The Man Behind The Curtain,” uses effects, text, illustrations, and a 46 drink list to introduce guests to the characters. particularly the titular Pennington.

Once again, the Prologue will offer Low/No options like the Pennington Estate (Seedlip Spice 94, Lacto-fermented Blueberries, Lime, Shiso, Tarragon, Kefir Yogurt, Angostura Bitters) and the H.C.P. (Holy Grass Scented Lustau Manzanilla Sherry, Fernet, Rye, Aperol, Dragon’s Blood Sap, Masala Chai, Red Apple Essence, Strawberry, and Lemon Juice.)

Once the story (and the train) picks up speed, there are some stronger options–with just as many pickups for the bartenders.. The Philanthropist (Cacao Bean Infused Hennessy Privilege Cognac, Vermouth, Campari, Giffard Apricot, Averna, Chicory, Coconut Essence, Bittermens Tiki Bitters, Orange Oils) and Weekly Shipments (Montelobos Tobala Mezcal, Worthy Park Single Estate, Dried Red Bell Pepper Infused Campari, Giffard Aprciot, Heirloom Pineapple Amaro, Raspberry, Lapsang Souchung Smoked Black Tea, and Lime Juice) made us want to book a ticket.

If any of this sounds confusing, don’t worry. The menu also features a glossary to help sort it all out.

The train will depart with 90 minute seatings. The videos run on 60 minute loops. Half of the seats will be open for reservations and the remainder are available to walk-ins.

The Grey Hen

The final element of the complex is the two story Grey Hen, an old fashioned apothecary housing hundreds of whiskeys. Managed and curated by whiskey guru John Christie (Young’s Market), the venue will offer bottles as well as the chance to try the juice neat or in a classic cocktail before picking up a bottle.

“This is by far the most aggressive single barrel selection of whiskeys that I’ve ever seen one venue acquire,” said Christie in a statement. “We have over 80 single barrels that will be incorporating into our cocktail program and available for retail that the customer can purchase and take home. It’s just incredible!”

Phoenix

Century Grand is clearly designed to top lists and win awards. Their whiskey selection instantly contends for top ten in the nation and their intricate craft cocktail program is breaking barriers. However, the undertaking is not in a so-called primary market like New York or Los Angeles. Rather, Barter & Shake decided to build out in Asher’s hometown on Phoenix, Arizona.

Just a small sampling of the insane spice collection that Century Grand uses for their drinks [Photo by Grace Stufkosky for Century Grand]

“Phoenix is my home. Born here, raised here. And, I’ve had the privilege of working with all sorts of talented bartenders. here,” declared Asher. “I believe that Phoenix has a lot of potential. I’m not going anywhere. We’re here to make an impact on our community. Put us on the map as a destination and give bartenders an opportunity in  our own state.”

Asher stressed that after all the details, the business is a labor of love.

“I work 100 hours a week because I love what I do. it’s incredible to wake up every day and look forward to it.”

Century Grand is located at Indian School Road and 36th Street in Phoenix, AZ. The venue plans to be open in October.

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