Updated: Mar 8, 2019
My sister, Tory, told me about this cool whiskey bar that just opened in Lowell- whiskey?? I'M THERE! Me and Chris were visiting the Boston area for a week already, so we decided that for the first night with my mom and sister, we were going to head to The Keep, an unassuming bar in Lowell, MA that houses a lot of delight inside. We heard that this place gets packed (which is very impressive considering they just opened), so we figured it was best to head there on a Monday night before the major dinner rush hits. My expectations for The Keep were pretty high, I mean, I LOVE me some whiskey, plus my sister heard a lot of well-received word of mouth about this keeper in Lowell.
Right as we arrived I immediately noticed how well designed the logo looked. The tower of an old medieval castle, encompassed by a circle: the castle keep. Very clever and kudos to the designer for this very impressive and interesting design (being surrounded by designers, I have a soft spot for great design). Right inside as you enter, you're greeted by the host station that sits on the divide of the room, with an elaborate bar on the right (the bar was already full), and a long dining room on the left. On the bar side, they had a cozy little lounge in the corner to chill in as well as high tops lining the wall across from the bar. The bar setup was actually very similar to 20 Railroad's (where me and Chris both work) with crystal beakers, cubed ice (if you are at a bar with cubed ice—stay! It makes SUCH a difference in the making of a cocktail...), tons of bitters, jiggers...they had it all. On the other side, the dining room was classy, yet unpretentious at the same time. Just a long narrow dining area with wooden tabletops, easy to mix and match to accommodate any sized party. Up top, the walls were lined with old-looking
lanterns, with LED lights flickering like candles as if we were in a real castle. We took our seats next to the window (yay! Great for taking pictures) looking out at the city of Lowell. This spot was so picturesque that I had to get up and take pictures of the bar where I ended up bumping into the owner—Richard. We got to talking, he told me how they started, about his partners and even some of the fun events they're throwing at The Keep. Like 'Cocktails and Kurosawa' (on June 21st) where patrons will be watching classic Japanese films while tasting AND learning about Japanese Whiskey from a Luxury Brand Specialist, Tyler Wang. Between talking with Richard and watching the bartender stir up some cocktails with a full bar, it hit me, I didn't even order my drink yet! (As I scurried back to my table).
When I got back to the table our server, Nick (also Richard's brother), was patiently waiting for my drink order. Even though it wasn't on their cocktail list, I asked for a Sazerac. I always like to test the skills of the bartender by ordering a Sazerac; America's first cocktail, originating in New Orleans in 1838. And damn did it go down smooth. Luteh (the bartender) made it with class and refinement, it even had a little clothespin to hold up a lemon twist. My mother ordered one of the house cocktails, Life Alive, with house-infused cucumber vodka, elderflower liqueur, basil, and simple syrup. My sister had their Manhattan, with Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica, and bitters. And Chris had (beer—of course), a pint of Grimm Artisanal Ales. Chris was very impressed with their beer selection and how crazy long their bourbon, rye, and whiskey lists were. All of us with our drinks in hand, cheersed one another to a great night out. We all took our very first sips, only to look up and smile at each other....yeah, I could sit here for hours. As much as I would love to sit back and try every cocktail Luteh mixes up for me... I probably shouldn't get majorly intoxicated since I'm kind of representing me and Chris' new business. Coming back to earth I'm starting to realize how hungry I am, I should probably eat some food.
The Keep's menu seemed more tailored to apps and sharing, so we decided to order a bunch of things to share. We got the Keep Wings, chicken wings with a southern style dry rub served with house-made remoulade dipping sauce; Pork belly sliders, Rye glazed pork belly with collard green slaw and housemade hot pepper relish; and their herb-roasted cauliflower, served in a cold romesco sauce with charred scallions and black pepper. Everything was so incredibly delicious, the wings were to die for, the cauliflower was so savory and different, and the sliders...gone before you knew it. The chef, Peter Mahoney, has created such an inventive menu using local ingredients as much as possible. The wings were so on point, they even paired very nicely with my Sazerac. Even Tory said she would definitely come back for the drinks and wings alone. One after the other we were thoroughly impressed, not to mention the price tag wasn't bad at ALL. For the quality of food, they could have easily charged double. While we were drinking and eating, Richard came over and introduced himself to the rest of my crew. He's a very nice and down to earth man with a lot of knowledge of the food and beverage world. He gave us a taste of some Old Weller antique straight Kentucky bourbon. He even brought over some rocks and spring water to try this special delight any way we preferred. I. Was. Soooo. Happy. Me and Tory took over the Old Weller (mom and Chris wouldn't appreciate it like we would—well, we didn't even ask, we just took it). Next, he had us have a taste of his housemade mango whiskey. Holy crap it was fantastic! A delicious concoction of quality sugar, Irish whiskey, mango and a bit of time (and not thyme). It was pleasantly sweet, like drinking my mom's homemade limoncello. Chris and my mom even enjoyed it! And they're not too keen when it comes to whiskey. This whiskey wasn't on their menu, but it needs to be. It is a testament to the care and knowledge Richard has for great ingredients that go into his own experiments or just The Keep's cocktail list.
Now back to food since I now had 3 drinks in front of me (the Sazerac, Old Weller, and the mango whiskey...) We decided we weren't finished yet and got two more dishes. First, the beer brat, local bratwurst (from Alpine Butcher Shop in Lowell) with caramelized onions, housemade IPA mustard, hot pepper relish served on a soft hoagie bun with hand-cut fries... my first thought was, how is this only $8!? Such high-quality local ingredients yet at a price that's not digging into your pockets (score!). Next, we got the marinated vegetable tartine with Za'atar, mascarpone, fresh marinated vegetables and Horne Farm microgreens. It was so light and crunchy, like a different take on a bruschetta. Last, but not least, the cheese plate (which of course we needed to get- knowing my family). A wonderful collection of local cheeses picked by Lowell's own The Cheesemonger at Mill #5 (I LOVE that place!) served with a sliced banquet, crackers, local honey, and grapes. Tonight they had aged cheddar (not parmesan Ma...), bleu cheese, and as Richard said... "A brie.. from that Sound of Music place..." All at once, Me, my mom, and sister shouted like we were contestants on Jeopardy... "TRAPP FAMILY LODGE!" Chris was pretty embarrassed being associated with us during this moment in time... but I didn't care, I needed that cheese plate! While we waited for the cheese plate, I ordered another drink (I know...wasn't 3 drinks enough?). I needed to try one of their cocktails that was slightly out of the box- Vieux Carre. With Gilles Brisson Cognac, Rittenhouse Rye, Benedictine, and bitters. Now I never really drink cognac, but if I lived in Lowell, I would definitely have this cocktail after work before you go home. It goes down smooth, warm, and helps take the edge off before returning to your busy life.
Now, this is a little unorthodox for me to talk about, but ma, Tor, and Chris all kept telling me about the bathroom. Even Richard, when I was first walking around taking pictures, told me to check it out. Well Okay then, I guess I better check it out. When you open the door, there's a bottle tied to a string on a pulley system, that acts as a counterweight to close the door after you open it, like medieval automatic doors—SO COOL! Keeping in theme with the restaurant, the bathroom was also adorned with simple brass lanterns, mirrors, and even a peekaboo slit (to shoot arrows an enemies back in the day..) with their logo painted around it in the corner. Again- SO COOL, I maybe spent a tad too long taking pictures of the bathroom, but I couldn't help myself.
Looking around this cool whiskey bar, I was in pure bliss, I was also astounded that they had just opened. I have
personally opened with a new restaurant—and let me tell you, it is not easy at all. There are always hiccups along the way, mistakes, and downright infuriating occurrences. The Keep has everything on track, and everyone knew how to do their job well. And with such an amazing staff it's no surprise why. Nick our server, was so knowledgeable about the food and where it came from; the chef, Peter, should be proud of the dishes and creations he's putting out; Lutah, with the drinks, left everyone smiling and loving the fresh spring night; and the owner, Richard, has thought of everything to keep this spot thriving for years to come. Whether you are in Gloucester, Boston, or just down the street- come to The Keep in Lowell, I promise you, it will be worth the trip. Any time I'm in Lowell visiting Tory, I will always make a point to visit this newly opened hidden gem in Lowell Massachusetts.
More Pictures of The Keep down below!
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