The Office Whiskey Parlor Opens in Parkersburg
She pulls a beautiful oblong bottle from the top shelf and explains the amber colored liquid – a whiskey aged in charred barrels and finished in port barrels. It’s the perfect drink for someone who enjoys flavor notes of caramel and spice. She knows who might enjoy that drink, how to serve it for the best flavors, and other options if that isn’t the perfect choice. She knows just about everything there is to know about whiskey.
The Office Whiskey Parlor owner, and Parkersburg native, Amber Deem saw a niche that needed to be filled in the Mid-Ohio Valley and sought to fill that shortly before the lockdowns began with COVID-19. With over 15 years in the hospitality industry, she wanted something that wasn’t a full scale restaurant, but still offered food and drinks – a spot where people could come to relax. However, with her experience, she knew immediately that those types of businesses are rarely profitable because it’s a small market. That’s when she started to think about introducing liquor – whiskey specifically – to her business model.
“Whiskey doesn’t exactly get a good rap, it gets kind of a bad name in the industry. It’s usually the torch holder on bad things happening or things happening that you don’t remember. But, unbeknownst to a lot of people, whiskey is actually something that’s becoming very popular,” Deem said.
More Than a Mixer
Whiskey gained popularity around the time of prohibition, but began fading in popularity until recently. According to Deem, whiskey masqueraded as a drink that was either shot or mixed with Coke, but she’s working to change that and focus on the whiskey sippers who enjoy scotch and other sipping whiskeys.
“A lot of people started digging deeper into whiskey as to the components and how it’s made – like the flavors, the aromas that go behind all of that, the processes between. They even study the beginning of distillation, to the finish in a barrel or particular barrel to change the flavor, or to add flavors,” Deem said.
Deem began exploring the mechanics of whiskey when she began to consider the business. Coupled with her years of experience, she is a walking library of knowledge on the drink.
“I started doing my research which ranged from reading, to going on the particular whiskey brands’ websites, reading and researching what they have to say, what they use in their distillation processes, what specific type of oaks they use in their barrels, and then a lot of research through internet and on TV,” she said.
Balance is key and so is consistency in the recipe – meaning that every time it’s made, no matter who makes it, it’s the same. We always want to meet that expectation.
With this wealth of knowledge, Deem is happy to educate her guests and to help them select the best drinks on the menu for themselves. Her menu features over 60 types of whiskeys and cocktails. For those without a fully expanded palate for whiskey, Deem suggests her blended drinks that feature drinks like Salted Caramel Tea which debuts a salty caramel whiskey that starts with a butterscotch and ends with a caramel flavor or the Heat Wave that utilizes the mango habanero whiskey – sweet at the start and spicy at the finish. There’s even the Island of Misfits made with a Screwball Peanut Butter Whiskey with flavors or pineapple, coconut, and nutmeg.
“People can be turned away from whiskey very quickly – sometimes it has to do with the first time they tried it. The drink that was made with too much alcohol in it or there was not a proper balance to the drink, and that has shunned them away from that drink. If you drink margaritas or martinis, and the first time you tasted it, it tasted like straight tequila or straight vodka, you probably wouldn’t drink it again. Balance is key and so is consistency in the recipe – meaning that every time it’s made, no matter who makes it, it’s the same. We always want to meet that expectation,” Deem said.
Deem has built the entire reputation of her business on the expectations of her clients. From the decor to the business casual dress code, the aesthetics of The Office Whiskey Parlor – a name given because the building used to be a set of small offices and they continued calling it, ‘The Office,’ – are exactly what the clients want. The intimate speakeasy-styled rooms facilitate easy conversation with light music in the background.
Deem is adamant that The Office Whiskey Parlor continues to be a place where people can relax and have conversations without the distractions of typical bar experiences. She noted that Parkersburg has an overabundance of sports bars where people can catch the game or buy buckets of beer – and she’s watched many of those places come and go as she’s studied the local bar scene over the years. While she believes that they absolutely have their own merits in the world of bars, it’s not what The Office Whiskey Parlor should be.
This is somewhere where you can come and get face-to-face time with people and you can actually sit and enjoy the conversation, enjoy some light food, and have some nice cocktails.
“Way back in the day, people had parlor rooms in their homes. This is where the gentleman conducted business, had drinks between businessmen, and traded items. There were even marriage proposals from other landowners – they would discuss the dowry. And so this is much like that. This is a place where you can go and you can conversate. We keep a light music so that people can enjoy conversation,” she said. “There are no TVs for sports, there are no pool tables, there’s no dartboards. This is somewhere where you can come and get face-to-face time with people and you can actually sit and enjoy the conversation, enjoy some light food, and have some nice cocktails.”
The expectation in the atmosphere is echoed in Deem’s liquor choices. The Office Whiskey Parlor carries no well liquor whatsoever. For those not drinking whiskey, they can select from Citron and Don Julio Blanca tequila, The Botanist and Hendrix gin, and a handful of other top shelf liquors for martinis, margaritas, other mixed drinks, and four types of beer. Deem has noticed that the Mid-Ohio Valley seems to enjoy martinis and her menu caters to that. Additionally, her menu clearly details each ingredient in every drink so guests know that they’re getting a quality cocktail every time.
The Office Whiskey Parlor carries food as well. Mainly a light appetizer menu with dishes like salmon bites, bruschetta bites, spinach and artichoke dip, and a meat and cheese tray. Guests can also find four different types of paninis on the menu and two desserts. Right now, they are even offering a seasonal strawberry shortcake. Additionally, they feature a happy hour special every Tuesday and Thursday from open to close. Deem adjusts her hours based on what her clients need. If they’re staying longer, she’ll stay a little longer too with lower table turn-around times which don’t bother her at all because she’s not there to rush customers out the door. In fact, time stops at The Office Whiskey Parlor as all the clocks are set to two minutes after 5 p.m. Small touches like this carry on throughout the entire establishment.
“It was a year in the making. It was paint colors, it was matching paint colors with the flooring, and making sure everything kind of flowed. It was little stuff like this [end table] where you don’t want to be leaning up from your chair reaching clear across to this table. You need a table here and it’s all very intentional. Everything you see is an intentional design from the curtains, the pattern in the curtains, the rug, the darker woods, designs of stills in the beginning. There are even prohibition pictures to remind people where it began,” she said. “They say green is extremely bad for food and drinks because it makes your skin wash out, but I wanted pops of it. So I went with our bankers’ lamps and plants that are all around.”
There are hundreds, hundreds of different types of whiskey and I have 65 bottles on this wall – I have more than 100 bottles in the building.
Deem remains intentional throughout her selection of products as well. In selecting her liquor, she tries to source as many West Virginia-based options as possible including Smooth Ambler and West Virginia Fruit and Berry. As she grows, she hopes to continue sourcing locally and even has some surprises coming up for West Virginia Day featuring a well-known state food from an in-state baker. Her diverse offerings in food and liquor allow her the same benefits in her customer base.
“We have 22 year olds, all the way up. I was amazed at some of the younger crowd coming in – most of them are usually interested in places that are trendier like sports bars or places with unusual cocktails, but they’re here,” she said.
“I spoke to three guys that were sitting here one night and they were in their mid to late 20s and they said they really loved it. One said he wasn’t really into whiskey and was drinking a margarita, but he loved it too. They said we needed somewhere with just more than 10-12 types of whiskey. There are hundreds, hundreds of different types of whiskey and I have 65 bottles on this wall – I have more than 100 bottles in the building.”
Top Shelf Selection
Deem’s wall of whiskey stands proudly lit inside the main entrance featuring brands like Angel’s Envy, Isaac Bowman, Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve, and Pendleton just to name a few. All of the whiskeys on the wall are served in a table side service style meaning that the bartender will come to the table to craft the drink in front of the customer and served neat or on the rocks. All drinks on the rocks are served with spherical ice. For those who can’t decide, they can benefit from Deem’s whiskey flights – also served table side.
“I offer six flights. We have five regular flights that were designed by us. And then we have a flight, that is a private flight, in which you can create your own – you choose four whiskeys off the wall and they come by the ounce. We bring four bottles and we pour them right in front of you and then you have the opportunity to sip and try,” she said.
The glasses Deem uses are specifically designed to encourage whiskey sipping and will not allow anyone to shoot the beverage instead. They are designed with a bulb in the bottom to create a proper swirl and then are narrow at the top to encourage a good olfactory experience for the sipper too.
Get the taste that the distillers created because that is what they wanted you to taste, that was the flavor you were supposed to get.
“It gives you a chance to actually taste the flavors, to break the flavors up in your mouth, and actually taste everything that went into the design,” Deem said. “I always tell people before you try something on the rocks or with water, try it neat. Get the taste that the distillers created because that is what they wanted you to taste, that was the flavor you were supposed to get.”
If the drink is still too strong, then Deem recommends adding water or drinking it one the rocks so the other flavors can come through. Adding water slightly lowers the proof which helps reduce the burn in the final tastes. It will break up the bonds and sometimes even release more flavors than what can be tasted when drinking it neat. Deem loves interacting with her customers and pouring them the perfect whiskey to help them relax.
For those who want to spend an evening in The Office Whiskey Parlor, expect to be carded at the door – no one under 21 may enter and every guest must have an ID and adhere to the business casual dress code. For those who may not be drinking, an ID is still required, but there are soft drinks as well as the food menu to pass the evening. Reservations are not accepted for traditional tables, but guests can reserve the larger parlor room by calling ahead. The Office Whiskey Parlor is located at 4100 College Parkway in Parkersburg and is open Tuesday – Thursday from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.