From dive to dime

The Century Bar ages well

By Katie Christoff

Photo: [l – r] Jerrod Claytor, Tim Fry, Joe Head, Nick Moerman of The Century Bar; photo: Ryan Lewis

Dayton’s own homegrown bourbon bar has received national recognition for two years in a row – and is the only bar in Ohio to claim that title.

The Century Bar, a downtown bourbon and whiskey house, was named one of America’s 55 Best Bourbon Bars by The Bourbon Review, a national quarterly publication dedicated to the bourbon lifestyle. The publication called it, “what could be the most underrated Bourbon bar in the country.”

The Century Bar only recently made its way into the national spotlight, but it’s been around since 1930. Formerly Kettle & Sons Rye Whiskey Distillery, owner Diane Spitzig and then-bartender Joe Head decided the notorious dive bar needed an upgrade in 2011.

Head, now a manager and part-owner, presented Spitzig with a business plan to completely renovate the bar, creating a new image as an establishment specializing in bourbon and whiskey.

Since becoming a bourbon and whiskey house and changing the name to The Century Bar, both business and recognition have improved, according to Head.

“Dayton didn’t have what we provide now,” Head said. “Business has improved every year, almost every month since we remodeled the business.”

The Century Bar has always had its regulars, and still does, but the bar has also attracted a lot of newcomers since receiving national recognition. Head said the bar has great core supporters, but now also welcomes travelers staying in Dayton who have read about it.

“We find ourselves every week having new conversation,” he said, describing what he believes to be a “perfect balance” of regulars and new customers.

Head said he’s glad they’ve finally achieved this recognition, despite the location in a smaller city, when bourbon is more often talked about in nearby Kentucky or Cincinnati.

“It seems to people that we’re off the beaten path, but we’re only an hour away from Kentucky,” Head said. “It’s not so far-fetched that we specialize in bourbon.”

Off the beaten path seems to be a fitting description of The Century Bar, but Head assures the interior is much more welcoming than its dingy exterior suggests. During the remodel, they stripped the bar down to a simpler décor, adding entirely new floors, bourbon barrel tables and a copper bar.

But this new and improved décor isn’t the most welcoming part of The Century Bar’s interior: the people you meet inside are welcoming, too. Head said the staff is not only knowledgeable, but also friendly and approachable, and this is one of the largest parts of the bar’s appeal to new customers.

“We know everyone’s not a connoisseur, and we embrace that,” Head said. “We’re still learning something new about bourbon every day, too.”

The Century Bar hosts tastings every other month in order to share their knowledge of bourbon with customers. These are primarily blind tastings, where the labels are removed before the tasting takes place. The bourbons are revealed much later, as customers are having coffee and dessert.

“We try to take the label prejudice out of tasters so the tasters judge solely based on what’s in their glass,” Head said.

“You never know, you may discover a great bourbon that you would have avoided otherwise,” The Century Bar’s website proclaims of its blind tastings.

The bar hosts some other special events as well, such as women’s bourbon socials and an annual Kentucky Derby party.

After making the decision to transform the bar to a bourbon house, Head set out to offer a variety of 40 different bourbons. Century now offers over 100 bourbons and over 260 whiskeys. He said the most popular of these is their Old Granddad bourbon, which is used in their house Manhattan.

“The Old Granddad is very versatile, and we’re able to use it in a variety of cocktails,” he said.

If you can’t bring yourself to drink bourbon or whiskey, don’t fret. The bar recently expanded its selection of other spirits to meet the demand that came with increased business, according to Head.

Initially after the remodel, the bar only offered one selection of each other spirit, like vodka, tequila and rum. They still only carry one local vodka, but have expanded the variety of other spirits.

“We decided it was time to be more well-rounded, so we started a seasonal craft cocktail menu,” Head said. “We’ve also started to make our own bitters.”

Although they’ve expanded their menu to accommodate the tastes of their expanded clientele, bourbon will always be The Century Bar’s passion, according to Head.

Clearly, this emphasis on bourbon is working. The Bourbon Review concluded its review of The Century Bar by calling it, “the sort of place every Bourbon drinker should visit at least once in his or her life.”

The Century Bar, a bourbon and whiskey house, is located at 10 S. Jefferson St. in Dayton. For more information about upcoming events or a full list of bourbons and whiskeys offered, visit To read the full article in The Bourbon Review, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at

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