Hillcrest’s bar scene is getting a solid upgrade in the next couple of months with the opening of Proof Bar + Lounge. Proof is the concept of Gene Lee, longtime bar manager at The Pantry and The Pantry Crest. Lee last week completed the purchase of Next Bar and Bistro on Kavanaugh Blvd. near Kemuri and has begun getting the space ready for Proof. For Lee, this is the end result of a longtime goal.
“It’s one of those things I’ve been talking about for years,” said Lee. “It was going to be when the opportunity was right, when the price was right, and the space that I wanted was right. I’ve always liked this spot, I’ve always thought, ‘If someone went in there and did it right, it would be a good spot.’”
Fans of The Pantry’s bar program will be pleased to know Lee plans on keeping much of his approach the same at Proof. Expect a very good variety of spirits at all price points and a solid wine selection that rotates frequently and stays fresh. Lee is also installing a special 12-tap beer draught system. Half the taps will be devoted to Arkansas craft beer, and most of the rest will go to national craft selections like Oskar Blues and Bell’s. However, with a name like Proof, the emphasis will be on the liquor bar.
“I’ve always had a desire for a whiskey bar, I just didn’t want to push a whiskey bar in this town for fear of it not being accessible to everybody,” said Lee. “Now I can do it without actually calling it a whiskey bar. I want people to be able to come in and get a $4 glass of whiskey or a $40 glass of Scotch and everything in between.”
One way that Lee will be deviating from his methods at The Pantry will be in the cocktail menu. Lee plans on having a primary menu composed only of traditional cocktails to start, like Manhattans and Negronis. His own unique cocktail creations will be available on a more limited basis.
“I’ll have the classics on there, like an old fashioned or a Sazerac, and they’ll go on sale for happy hour,” said Lee. “But then I’ll do a special cocktail for a week or something, it’ll go up on the chalkboard and be available for a short time. That way I’m not trying to come up with a new cocktail list every quarter. I can experiment, and if it works we can put it on; if not, we can do something different.”
Proof will be primarily a bar, but that doesn’t mean you have to go hungry while there. Lee is planning a small food menu of five or six items to start out. Expect classic items like wings and a charcuterie board priced below $10. Lee is collaborating with Pantry chef Titus Holly to put the menu together, so you can likely expect some accessible food done very well.
Right now, Proof Bar + Lounge is shooting for a February grand opening. Lee is working on getting his licensing finalized and renovating the interior in the meantime. There will be some soft opens in the weeks before Proof opens, so keep an eye on the bar’s Facebook page to see when you can get an early taste. When it opens, Proof will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. until after midnight, and Sunday from noon until 10 p.m. We will let you know when Proof announces its opening day.
The Proof logo is the property of Proof Bar + Lounge and is used here with permission.